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To everything there is a season: Stop the realignment carousel

Week 5 of the 2011 college football season kicks off this evening with a Big East-Conference USA doubleheader. Day after tomorrow, September will be over, and the regular season will be a third gone. Your team has two more months of guaranteed play. That's all. There's an exquisite pain that comes with loving this sport with your whole heart, and that's knowing that it's all going to be over this year before you can even get your bearings.

With that in mind, here's a radical proposal: Let's keep football season for football, and put all off-field Machiavellian impulses of conference implosion off until February. And let's make that designation mandatory.

Year before last, when that handful of conferences fired up the fiddles for their latest partner-swapping square dance? That was kind of a fun summer, wasn't it? There wasn't a lot going on, and watching grown men try to conceal years of personal and institutional rancor beneath the guise of squalling about tradition and media footprints was entertaining, if you're into slam books.

More than a year later, with actual games to cover, games that contain actual football, and with many of these issues fighting for space with the games themselves, I tire of the too-polite sniping and what-us-worry posturing. Any number of my current and former colleagues are sick to death of chronicling the trivial, bureaucratic tectonic shifts that won't affect any game you'll see in 2011. And if the state of my inbox is any indication, a lot of you are just as sick of reading about realignment as we are of relaying its news to you.

Conference commissioners, college presidents, athletic directors, anybody and everybody with the power to throw a wrench in this thing, I beseech you: Hit the brakes.

Since late this summer, I've been toying with the idea of how an established dead period for conference-jumping would work. There's absolutely no reason these dealings have to interrupt the flow of an already too-short season. Prohibit any and all maneuverings of that sort between, say, July 1 and National Signing Day, and leave all involved parties (and media, and readers) free to focus on crucial recruiting and practice periods unimpeded. Hold the season sacred. It doesn't seem like a lot to ask.

There's a lot of moving parts to account for in a development like Texas A&M's move to the SEC, but in an ideal world, the men who wear the ties would have the better part of five months to get everything inked. Lollygaggers without deals in place by the start of fall camps? That's on you, and you have to wait until next year. There would have to be consequences to keep the borders in place. John Infante, the NCAA's official compliance blogger, threw out a couple suggestions in an unofficial social media capacity that I think have real promise: Postseason bans for schools caught cozying up to other conferences in the dead period, and revocation of bowl auto-bids for the conferences themselves. (On a somewhat more serious note, Infante also has a well-considered piece up on realignment's effect on the NCAA that's worth your time.)

NCAA President Mark Emmert professed embarrassment last week over some of the public comments made in service of recent realignment actions. His additional comments that “The confusion and disruption of the conference realignment adds to, doesn’t detract from, our ability to get these things done,” as well as his assertions this week that college football is not a business, deserve sober examination and lively debate. But not right now. There's football to be consumed, and all we'll have to talk about in the eight-month offseason, in every offseason, is who's hired, fired, hurt, and arrested. It's past time to focus all our senses on our beautiful game, for this brief time we have together.
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