It is all about the cash generated by football, cash that does not have to trickle down to all those mid-major and low-major gnats who play basketball. College sports are really the perfect metaphor for the 2000s. They really should make Ayn Rand the commissioner. Even 30 years after her death, the Goddess of Greed would be a perfect fit for college sports.
Unlike basketball, whose NCAA Tournament bonanza is actually a socialistic enterprise, in which everybody benefits to some extent, football is a good old monopoly where the money flows to the power conferences and stays there.
What we get from this pursuit of cash is conference chaos, where nothing matters beyond the ability to maximize revenues. But remember this is not a business. It is about the "student-athletes."
If Syracuse is not in the Big East, it is not the Big East, no matter how many time zones and states are included in what now amounts to a chase for massive football television dollars and a spot at the altar of the BCS (or whatever the next version is going to be called).
The Big East was created three decades ago by a visionary who knew the value of television, eastern media markets and college basketball. Dave Gavitt imagined the future. He could not have imagined this. SMU and Houston in the Big East? I catch myself every season thinking Boston College is still in the Big East.
With all the teams now involved, the Big East Tournament is eventually going to take a month to complete. If every team plays, the preliminary games will have to be at high schools in Manhattan and Queens. Can you just imagine that value of a ticket to a first-round game between SMU and South Florida? Not even Larry Brown has enough relatives remaining in New York to buy those tickets.
When your fans can't follow what it is you are doing, you are in danger of losing those fans. When you are making the NCAA Tournament so important (because of the massive television contract) to the exclusion of so many great rivalries (Missouri-Kansas, Syracuse-Georgetown), you risk telling your fan base that the only games that matter will be on Turner or CBS in March.
Then there's the geography problem. Can somebody explain West Virginia in the Big 12? Or Missouri in the SEC? Or Syracuse in the ACC?
What about travel for the minor sports? What about travel for the basketball and football fan bases? What about anything that used to matter?
If you think the changes are done, you really have not been paying attention. Witness the BCS commissioners recent backing a plan for a four-team playoff with a selection committee picking the participants. The football carrot remains in the hands of the powerful. It will be dangled in front of schools that are looking for the next big thing. And the collateral damage will continue unabated.
Now that Temple will be in the Big East, the home-and-home Atlantic 10 series the Owls played each season with La Salle and Saint Joseph's will become one game each. When the Big East goes to 1,000 teams and 100 league games, will Villanova and Temple still be able to play their four Big 5 games each season?
The problem with all this short-term maneuvering is that long-term has become a synonym for tomorrow.
Look, ESPN money made conferences bigger than the City Series. Nobody has to like it, but it is at least understandable, given how expensive it has become to run an athletic program. You need the two revenue-producing sports (men's basketball and football) to sustain athletic budgets.
The Big 5 is not like it once was, but the games still matter to the fans, coaches and players, the three constituencies that have been consistently ignored by this latest money grab. The next time a player is consulted about conference realignment will be the first time. But you must remember that it is always about the "student-athlete."
Coaches recruit players for their schools and their leagues. Then, sometimes before the player has even suited up, his league looks dramatically different from the day he signed his letter of Intent.
The A-10 is going to look different with VCU and Butler and, after next season, without Temple and Charlotte. The league is doing it the American way, taking from somebody else before somebody else takes from you.
Nobody considers all the consequences. What if the Big East finally implodes from its own bulk? How much loyalty will Xavier and Dayton show if the Big East goes back to its basketball-only roots, flashes big money in their faces and summons them to Madison Square Garden each March?
This is a basketball carousel that slows down, but never actually stops. Schools get on and off, searching for that elusive brass ring that contains everything and nothing. Eventually, they will all look around, try to figure out where they are, how they got there and what it all means. They will eventually determine that there is simply no way to make the machine stop and that brass ring is forever just beyond their grasp.