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A Few Words on Conference Expansion

Having missed out on the early part of the conference expansion debate, it seems like a good idea to mention it.

First of all, I am against it in all cases where conferences wind up with more than 12 teams.  I don't blame the Pac-10 for wanting to become the Pac-12.  That makes sense in all sorts of ways, from a conference championship game to a less stratified conference, although with the recent NCAA sanctions against USC, that stratification was set to be reduced anyway.

Conferences with more than 12 teams really become two conferences under one roof for the sake of football, and let's face it -- football is what conference expansion is all about.  That is a bad idea in my opinion, not only due to the fact that numerous traditional rivalries are going to have to be scrapped, but because it will inevitably be difficult to balance out the two leagues, and force football into a curious state where we could have two conference members facing off in bowls against each other, or lowering the bar even further to bowl entry.

There are definitely some winners, though, in this realignment.  Many worthy teams have an opportunity to get out from under the shadow of a dominant team (i.e. Texas A&M) or move to a conference that will get them the kind of exposure and opponents that they crave for a shot at the BCS championship (i.e. Boise State).

The Pac-10's apparently decided to do what the Big Ten only dreamed of doing -- expanding to 16 teams.  It remains to be seen if that will actually happen, and the biggest part of that will be what Texas decides to do.  If Texas leaves to the Pac-10, it seems fairly certain that 16 teams will happen for that league.  Whether or not the SEC follows suit is open to debate for now, but to me, it seems very likely that they will.  The Big Ten will not be far behind.

So all this leaves the ACC scrambling to remain coherent, the Big East in limbo, and the Big 12 non-existent.  What will happen to Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Missouri?  I don't know, but some may wind up in the Big Ten and others elsewhere.  What we could wind up with here are some conferences with geographic as well as cultural incoherence, but that seems to be the direction we are going in.

What does all this mean for Kentucky?  Well, 16-team SEC probably won't make that much difference to the Wildcats.  Right now, Kentucky is struggling to win more than a couple of conference games per year, and realignment will likely make that a continuing trend if more football schools are added.  If teams like Clemson, Georgia Tech, A&M, Miami or Florida State come into the SEC, or even Virginia Tech or West Virginia, Kentucky will slide a little further down the pecking order, at least initially.  UK still has a long way to go to be able to consistently compete with schools coming out of Texas or Florida, recruiting wise.

The idea of having a conference so large that inter-conference play is largely impossible (or so infrequent it is meaningless) does not appeal to me, and I wonder why it appeals to the leagues.  Dave over at Maize N' Brew discusses what this would mean for rivalries in the Big Ten, and it would work the same way in a 16-team SEC.  Having two de facto conferences under the same roof may work out somewhat in basketball -- the Big East, after all, makes it work somehow, even though I think the Big East conference tournament is unfair to the teams due to its length and number of games, and makes them less competitive for the NCAA tournament rather than more.

But in football, it just creates a mess, in my opinion.  I completely dislike the idea of having almost no intra-divisional play except for the championship game, and think it just invites even further inequities in the process.  But the 16-team mega-football conference seems doomed to be tried, no matter what logic I can raise up against it.