Hide-and-Go-Athletic Conferences

Some NCAA schools like Notre Dame and West Virginia are moving to conferences thousands of miles away.

College sports really are great. Where else do thousands of students cheer on athletes for school spirit, pride, and bragging rights? Where else do thousands of people paint their faces and bodies and dress up in costumes that rival those of Halloween? And where else do athletes compete for pride, school spirit, and bragging rights instead of salaries and performance bonuses?

But like any other sport, colleges and universities are in it for the big bucks. Even if those big bucks require schools to travel clear across the country for a simple football game. The largest and most confusing trend affecting collegiate athletics today is the pandemonium of conference realignment.

Since 2010, more than 50 colleges and universities have shifted their entire athletic programs to different conferences, with 19 schools changing exclusively in football, and 22 changing in men’s ice hockey. And if that wasn’t puzzling enough, here are some of the ridiculously confusing changes: West Virginia University will compete in the Big 12 conference (schools in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa), the University of Houston will now compete in the Big East, as will Boise State and San Diego State in football only, and Notre Dame will compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The numerous conference changes have turned the Pac-10 Conference into the Pac-12, and the Big 12 Conference now has 10 teams, while the Big Ten has 12.

The point here is that schools are far too reliant on profits and conference revenues that they are willing to travel thousands of miles to play six or seven football games per year so they can make some more profits. Schools are now in danger of compromising academic integrity of athletes for cold hard cash. How is an athlete constantly travelling from West Virginia to Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas supposed to succeed on AND off the field?

Schools that seek to relocate also face another obstacle: exit fees. Many major athletic conferences have exit fines written in their by-laws that prevent schools from jumping ship to another conference. For example, in order to leave the Big East, Syracuse University had to pay the conference $7.5 million and then wait a year. Schools that wish to leave their conference immediately must pay higher fees, such as West Virginia paying $20 million to leave the Big East in February 2012.

Some conferences are now combating the snafu of conference realignment by increasing exit fees, thereby preventing schools from leaving. After West Virginia left, the Big East voted to double its exit fee to $10 million, while the ACC voted in September 2012 to raise its exit fee to an astonishing $50 million, after Notre Dame joined the conference.

Conference realignment is just one of the many complicated issues in college sports today. In the blink of an eye, schools are changing affiliations, and fans can hardly keep up with their favorite schools. But at least these fans can take pride in knowing they will get more frequent flier miles in the next few years.

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