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Conference realignment has sparked discussion of a football divorce from the NCAA

In a perfect world this would have already happened, but good luck getting it to happen.

Florida A&M v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It feels like every summer at this point our head is spinning from yet another round of conference realignment. In the past three years, Texas and Oklahoma have bolted for the SEC, UCLA and USC made off to the laughably named Big Ten, and now the Pac-12 has essentially fallen apart in the wake of a bad media rights deal. The reason for all of this? Football.

Football has captured the nation’s sports fans on both the pro and collegiate level to the point where everything else is along for the ride. All of the recent ridiculous college rights deals dolled out to conferences were all for their football product, with all of the other sports as a throw-in. Despite the millions that pay attention to both men’s and women’s college basketball, it pales to the numbers that college football draws on Saturdays in the fall. Universities are counting on that football money to keep athletic programs going, whatever the consequences.

Those consequences became a lot more stark this last weekend when Oregon and Washington decided to bolt to the Big Ten for only half of what other schools make in the conference, because it was still better than what the Pac 12 would have made. The problem, of course, is that outside of the two LA-area schools, Oregon and Washington are at the furthest end of the country from the other 12 member institutions. When volleyball has to start piecing together its schedule for the fall, they will have to figure how to get the Ducks to College Park, MD and back all while still going to class on commercial flights. It’s not what a lot of these players signed up for in sports that don’t make any revenue for the schools.

It does make one wonder: why not just do the inevitable thing here and pull the sport that is driving the money and only requires travel for a weekend game out into its own entity, while allowing everything else to go back to the way it was? If you’ve thought that, you aren’t alone.

On Stanford, what’s become even more ridiculous is that now, according Pete Thamel, the ACC is going to have some discussions about adding Stanford and Cal. That’s right, Stanford and Cal in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

We can talk about the ridiculousness of that move another time, but it does just underpin just how much football is ruling everything that two San Fransisco area schools would seriously consider joining a conference of (mostly) Eastern Seaboard teams just so they can get access to the pot that football provides. At this point for them, it likely isn’t about football as much as it is about making sure that they have money to put into their other sports — which they perform a lot better in than football lately.

The problem, of course, is that as easy as it is to say “let football just do its own thing!” the world doesn’t work that way. The money coming is was signed with conferences, not with sports, meaning for anything even remotely like this to happen, conferences would have to let broadcasters out of these contracts, and broadcasters would have to provide some sort of promise to all of the schools in these deals that the money they’d get would be close to what they received before. Good luck selling that to SEC and Big Ten schools right now. You’d also likely be looking at the mere fact that a lot of these schools might be dropped as others realize they are just dead weight. Does Alabama and Auburn really want Vanderbilt to get the same amount of money? How happy is Michigan and Ohio State that Rutgers and Indiana get what they’ve earned?

It does feel like we are eventually heading to this-all of the power schools in football band together near the end of their deals and create a new entity separate of the rest of their sports so that there can be a new alignment in everything else. It would ultimately save schools a ton of money, and help those sports as they can get back to focusing on regional rivalry games that add juice to the events during the regular season. It’s going to take a while, though, because if there’s one thing we’ve seen is that schools would rather cut each other’s heart out for the highest bidder than cooperate for what’s best to the institution as a whole.