There is an old aphorism: "College football bears the same relationship to education that bullfighting does to agriculture." Ah, but when there is something of a drought at the bursar's office, it's awfully comforting to have a few toros out there in the fallow fields to take to the bullring to sell tickets and maintain the endowment crop.
So, there's a lot of talk these days about realigning America's most prestigious college conferences. However, despite all the nonsense college presidents are mouthing about finding just the right sort of university to join our sacred conference of institutions of highest learning, the reordering of the college leagues is really only about football . . . and television money. Hey, any conference would take in Satan U. and Beezlebub Tech if they came from the right TV markets.
For example: The Pac-10, which has always been celebrated as a virtual seminary in the pigskin marketplace, hired a promoter from international tennis to be its commissioner. Even if he hasn't been able to snare the University of Texas, projections are that he can add other colleges from east of the Sierra Nevadas and raise the Pac-10's income from $97 million in annual total revenue to $256 million . . . strictly from television.
We are on our way to having four jumbo conferences of the compass -- so it's time to rid them of their quaint names from the varsity drag era of
Out there in the fly-over middle of the realm, does still remain the territory ruled by the erstwhile Big 12 -- although, with defections, it has become the Medium 10. It manages to stay in business only because the University of Texas would rather be the Huge One with a blue-ribbon television deal than just be an equal partner with a lot of glamorous California rivals.
For now, the lingering question is when Notre Dame will finally realize that "independent" has come to mean "irrelevant" and get on board with somebody. Otherwise, the Irish can proudly continue to claim to be the only team in the world operating alone in the 21st Century ... besides the Harlem Globetrotters.
When the dust settles, the real question will be: what happens to the NCAA? Obviously, the four monster conferences can police themselves, so the power is bound to drain out of the NCAA and leave it attenuated, sort of an athletic League of Nations.
And, of course, the beauty of it all: no matter how many mega-millions the colleges make from television and tickets, they don't have to pay the football players a nickel. That's the American way.