The bald kid in The Matrix may as well have been explaining the fallout of conference realignment when he explained spoon-bending to Keanu Reeves. For those not geeky enough to remember the exchange, here's the transcript:
Bald kid: Do not try to bend the spoon. That's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.
Keanu: What truth?
Bald kid: There is no spoon.
Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky provided realignment's version of "There is no spoon" on Friday night as he answered a question about whether he thought C-USA's football merger with the Mountain West into a 22-team (for now, at least) mega-something would earn an automatic bid to the BCS.
"I don't think anyone can really predict what the future of the BCS will be or what it will look like at this point," Banowsky said. "We've had so much upheaval in conference associations and in our business over the last 18 months that the idea that the BCS would simply be rebooted as it has been in the past has a significant question mark around it." Given the chance, Banowsky didn't back off that statement. "Who knows what's going to happen? I don't think anyone has a clear idea what will happen in 2014 for sure -- whether there will even be a BCS. If there is, who will be in what conferences? What conferences will have access? Will there even be an automatic qualification?"
The merger of the football operations between Conference USA and the Mountain West seems quite a bit less insane using that logic. Banowsky and Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson began discussing this more than a year ago -- just after the first near-implosion of the Big 12 touched off a series of tectonic shifts that has yet to stop. The presidents of the league's 22 schools voted to approve the merger Friday.
On its surface, it sounds crazy. Why would merging one mediocre league with another mediocre league produce anything more than a giant ball of mediocrity? Look at it from Banowsky and Thompson's perspective. No one knows what the hell is going to happen. This BCS cycle ends after the 2013 season. Since the conferences have changed so much since the last deal was struck, why should we assume the format will in any way resemble the one in place now? Why should we assume the next iteration will even be called the BCS?
Given all that, it makes perfect sense to try an idea that two years ago sounded mad.
Expect Thompson to use that line of reasoning as he tries to convince Boise State and Air Force to decline the invitations they're about to receive from the Big East. Expect Banowsky to do the same as he tries to convince Central Florida, Houston and SMU to stay. Thompson acknowledged Friday that Boise State and Air Force have been in discussions with the Big East. Banowsky acknowledged that UCF has been in discussions, but did not confirm Houston or SMU. Boise State and Air Force would join only in football, while Houston, SMU and UCF would be full members.
(We'll pause here to soak in the deliciousness that is the possibility of a BCS automatic qualifying league crawling to Boise State to salvage any hope of staying in college football's upper echelon. The Broncos -- once shunned and ridiculed by the establishment -- truly represent the Big East's best hope for relevance.)
But what if the Big East wasn't a BCS AQ conference? At that point, would it be any more desirable a football home than the Mount USA, or the Conference West, or the Five Time Zone Conference or whatever they're calling the newly formed monstrosity? No, it wouldn't.
Keep in mind that the consultant who helped mastermind this deal is Chuck Neinas. Yes, the same Chuck Neinas who just became the interim commissioner of the Big 12. Thompson and Banowsky have said their business with Neinas is now concluded -- he's been tough to get on the phone lately, they joked -- but his role in the merger will get the tinfoil hat crowd excited. Especially the conspiracy theorists who happen to work in the Big East office. What was the first thing the Big 12 did after Neinas took over? It grabbed TCU, which was set to join the Big East.
Now, the Big 12 is waiting to find out whether Missouri will depart for the SEC. Neinas said earlier this week that the Tigers would be in the Big 12 in 2012, but a source with knowledge of the SEC's deliberations said this week that if the SEC did elect to add Missouri -- presidents have not decided that yet -- that the league would work to add the Tigers for 2012. Should that happen, and we'll know if it did in the next few weeks, the Big 12 will face the choice of adding either one or three more schools. From which league will one (or two) of those schools come? The Big East. And if those schools are Louisville and West Virginia, that would leave the Big East with the following football members: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Rutgers, South Florida. That isn't any better than the pu-pu platter Banowsky and Thompson assembled Friday. Why would Boise State want to join that bunch over the other one?
Plus, Banowsky may be correct in that there may not be an automatic qualifying arrangement in the next BCS contract. Forget a playoff. Forget even a seeded plus-one, which seems more realistic every day. Maybe the BCS bowls beneath the title game will simply select from a pool of teams. What if the bowls could take any of the teams in the top 16 places in the BCS standings with no limit on how many teams came from each conference? The Mount USA would vote for that. So would the Sun Belt and MAC, because it is their only chance to get a team in a BCS bowl. But guess who else would potentially profit enough from that arrangement to vote for it? The SEC. And the Big Ten. Given their druthers, every bowl game and every TV network would match an SEC team with a Big Ten team. If the BCS bowls could take three of each, they'd be ecstatic. They don't like shoehorning in an average ACC or Big East champ any more than you like watching a shoehorned-in ACC or Big East champ.
No one has a clue how the landscape will look when the next wave of major bowl deals is signed. So why not merge two leagues? It's as good an idea as anything else.
Do not try to bend two conferences into one BCS AQ conference. That's impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth.
That there may not be a BCS.