If you frequent some of the other SBNation college blogs, you may have noticed a little project going around the past month. They've been drafting schools into a new set of six conferences, as a thought experiment and kind of comparison of various institutions over a wide variety of factors. Also apparently to generate a ton of e-mail on the back channel. The only real restrictions are, well, these:
On the flipside, for purposes of this game there are two factors that are NOT to be considered. First, do not take travel/geographic concerns into consideration. (For Boston College fans, this shouldn't be a problem as this has become old hat). In real life, Washington and Florida are unrealistic conference partners; in our world, that doesn't matter -- neither from a travel or time zone standpoint. Second, and related, while we may take individual rivalries into consideration (e.g. pairing Michigan and Ohio State), preservation of current conference history/rivalry/alliance is not to be considered. Hopefully for obvious reasons.
Finally, the goal is not to improve the status quo. The goal is not to create a conference that will actually play games. The goal is to use a draft to value schools and have fun strategically grouping them together.
So we're designing conferences without considering location or history. This is kind of like making a chocolate cake without eggs or flour. Or chocolate for that matter. I'm not really interested. In fact, my only opinion was a bet I made with myself – UNC wouldn't be drafted until the fourth round at the earliest.
I was wrong; the Tar Heels were the last pick of the third round.
It's not that I thought Carolina ranks that low among college athletic programs. UNC was, until 2006, the most royalty generating institution in the nation. That year they were knocked off by Texas, who has held the top spot ever since, and was understandably the first school picked in this little exercise. They're still a top ten school, as of last fall. North Carolina is also the odds on favorite to win next years basketball championship, one of the best (I'm being polite here) basketball programs in history, the best women's soccer program in history, and the only school beside Stanford to ever win the Director's Cup. Academically, they're one of the four best public universities in the country, depending on which magazine is trying to goose their circulation numbers. And even on the trivial criteria, like the attractiveness of the female population – a lot of links were e-mailing around about that – UNC holds it own.
But the football team is typically average, so they weren't drafted.
The first two rounds were basically ten of the top fifteen most profitable football programs, plus Southern Cal and Florida State. Among the other schools picked before the Tar Heels were Virginia Tech, Nebraska, Louisville and Oregon. Although in fairness, the consensus on the Louisville pick was that it was completely out of left field. The others were all picked for their football history, and although the phrase "Nike money" turned up a lot with regards to the Ducks, their track team wasn't the draw there. Even now, two rounds later, there's a big push to take Oklahoma State and T. Boone Pickens' cash; it's all pigskin and dollars around here.
I find this funny, because I think we're in the middle of a college football bubble.
Look at the past couple of years. We've seen a huge upheaval in conference alignments, as folks jettison history in a desire to get the cash a conference football championship brings. And it's paid off in the short term, as networks have thrown down large chunks of change in advance of a possible NFL lockout. But more schools and bowls are losing money on the postseason. Last fall saw investigation of agent contact at Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and of course, North Carolina, and since then Ohio State's football program has completely melted down and Oregon is fending off charges of paying for recruits. I'm guessing this aspect is going to get much worse before it gets better. Bowls are throwing around bribe money, and Congress is showing signs of investigating. And finally looming on the horizon is the increased findings on concussions, which is beginning to draw some heat in the NFL, and is just one coach's bad decision away from blowing up in the face of a college football program.
There's a lot of dumb money flowing into college football right now, and it wouldn't surprise me if the popularity slips and it goes rushing out, taking a few programs with it. I know football is the financial engine of all of college athletics, but twelve of the top fifty most profitable college teams play basketball now, and a few schools, most notably Virginia, turn a profit with their non-revenue sports. UNC's basketball team had a larger profit than their football team during the worst hoops season of Roy Williams' career. Something's going to give in the net five years, I think, and the college sports landscape is going to have some serious upheaval.
Anyway, as part of this whole draft project, I'm also supposed to inform you of who my conference drafted after the Tar Heels. Being as how, like all fantasies, in an S-shaped draft, and UNC was the final pick of the third round, we were followed by Stanford, winner of every other Director's Cup ever awarded. With a very good history in both men's and women's basketball. And no slouch academically, either.
They're eighth in the Pac-10 in football revenue, however.