Conference commissioners want TV sets more than trophy games. They want 24-hour programming on league networks and league championship games in new domes. They want to shower their schools with enough cash to build the next level of corporate suites.
The motives of conference expansion are rarely limited to the actual product on the field. That's why declaring winners and losers in the realignment game is tricky.
If Jim Delany is right about the East Coast media markets, then maybe adding lowly Rutgers was brilliant after all. If Missouri football drowns in the SEC sharkwaters, suddenly its promotion becomes a mistake.
But for now, with ACC schools relinquishing their media rights and potentially stopping the latest realignment spasm, let's take stock from a fan's standpoint. Let's ask a simple question: Of the five richest conferences, which have a better roster of schools than they did three years ago?
Added: Colorado and Utah Lost: None
Who it left on the table: Boise State
Larry Scott has done a fine job modernizing the conference. But his actual acquisitions have produced next to nothing. The Buffs are arguably the worst major-conference football program in the country — they did almost beat Sacramento State last year. And Utah has been average in football and dreadful in basketball.
It's early, but so far the Pac-12 would've been better off with Colorado State and Utah State.
Added: West Virginia and TCU Lost: Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri
Who it left on the table: BYU
The Big 12's mere existence is surprising considering where the league was 18 months ago. Losing Nebraska was a body blow (notice I didn't mention Colorado). The SEC's shopping spree was equally demoralizing, leaving Kansas without Mizzou and Texas without Texas A&M.
We can't grade the Big 12 on a curve, though. We must base its grade upon who it lost versus who it gained. And West Virginia and TCU, though capable football schools, don't build the Big 12 brand — road trips to Morgantown, however, will do wonders for athletes' geography skills.
The only real bright side of realignment for the Big 12: It didn't water down its product any further with a weak No. 11 and 12.
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Added: Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland Lost: None
Who it left on the table: Notre Dame
Nebraska was widely hailed as a great pickup, but the Huskers have struggled in the big-money sports. Still, it's only a matter of time before Husker football justifies Jim Delany's invitation.
Hopes for Maryland and Rutgers, meanwhile, aren't as high. Neither is expected to help in football anytime soon. Rutgers basketball is recovering from the Mike Rice mess. And the Terps, though proud of their hoops, haven't made the Sweet 16 since 2003.
Worse, their additions bring the Big Ten to that awkward number of 14, complicating schedules. Basically, Delany compromised a cohesive family by extending the strange neighbors an invitation to Sunday dinner.
Added: Texas A&M and Missouri Lost: None
Who it left on the table: Virginia Tech
Nobody looked more destined for 16 schools than Mike Slive. The SEC commish, who could've grabbed just about anybody between Austin, Texas, and the Atlantic Ocean, selected A&M and Mizzou.
The Aggies immediately hit their stride — they might have been the nation's best football team at the end of the 2012 season. They won't go away if Kevin Sumlin sticks around.
Missouri likely will produce forgettable football in the SEC, but the Tigers do take hoops seriously — even if they don't always play it well. Chances are, they'll add credibility to SEC basketball.
We'll dock Slive a point for sitting on 14, an odd number in realignment. But he's done well otherwise.
Added: Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville, Notre Dame Lost: Maryland
Who it left on the table: Connecticut
The ACC is no longer a cozy cradle of hoops in the Carolinas. But Syracuse, Louisville and, to a lesser extent, Pitt have proud programs that will help make the ACC the nation's best basketball conference — just ahead of the Big Ten. That's a big deal for a league that lost its identity after expansion in 2004-05 (Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech).
Keeping Florida State and Clemson out of the Big 12 was a victory for ACC football. So was stealing Notre Dame — even for a few Saturdays each year. Maryland's departure will barely be noticed.
Yes, it'll be weird to see Syracuse go home-and-home with schools like Clemson. But the ACC was in trouble six months ago. Now it looks like a winner.
Tally up the grades and you'll find a report card worthy of academic probation — unless you're in the SEC, of course. Three years after Nebraska jumped to the Big Ten, power brokers in college athletics are undoubtedly richer. But if this truly is a stopping point for realignment, most fans across the country — who won't see a dime from ESPN or Fox — are going to scratch their heads and wonder why.
Hey USC, why did you trade a road trip to Stanford for a vacation to Salt Lake City? Hey Michigan, why did you swap a showdown with Wisconsin for a smackdown of Maryland? Hey Missouri, why did you give up Allen Fieldhouse for, well, wherever the heck South Carolina plays?
The answer: We all want to experience new things. More than that, we all want to be wanted.
The five major conference fraternities are a little more exclusive, their members are a little more elite. But at 3 o'clock on Saturday morning, somebody still has to scrub the shower stalls.
Colorado can't do it every week.
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