The future looks grim for Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas, on the verge of being abandoned in a shell of the Big 12 Conference. But hold the pity and save your sympathy. They have no right to complain.
Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, they should recite the line from "Road to Perdition," when Paul Newman's character sums up existence in organized crime, a not-so-distant cousin of big-time college sports:
"This is the life we choose, the life we lead. And there is only one guarantee: none of us will see heaven."
The folks running Division I's money-making ventures aren't much different than the Tony Sopranos and Don Coreleones running their assorted enterprises. Both groups play hard, fast and for keeps, with a liberal use of muscle when necessary.
What we've witnessed lately in the swirling landscape of college sports is simply the latest change in "The Organization."
The six major crime fami ... er, I mean the six major conferences are in the midst of consolidating, which has put Big 12 capo Dan Beebe and Big East capo John Marinatto on high alert. They're looking to raid each other's crews in case of defections, as rival families make their own recruiting pitches.
Only one thing seems certain: When the smoke clears, we'll be down to the four (or five) major conferences.
Former Big 12 crews Nebraska and Colorado were smart to leave the family in the summer of 2010, joining forces with, respectively, Big 10 capo Jim Delaney and now-Pac 12 capo Larry Scott. The Cornhuskers and Buffaloes saw where the Big 12 was headed, with Texas continuing to make its own moves and continually disrespecting other crews in the family. Now the Huskers and Buffs are safe and secure in stable, well-armed families, while those left behind are beefing with each other and wondering whom to trust.
Texas A&M, finally fed up with the Longhorns' strong-arm tactics and penchant for riding roughshod over the Aggies in territorial disputes, has gone to Southeastern Conference capo Mike Slive, seeking protection and membership. Slive gladly welcomed them — and the Texas markets they bring to the family — but he's wary of retaliation from certain Big 12 crews. He said the Aggies must settle all family business before leaving.
The Bears, Cyclones, Wildcats and Jayhawks want assurances that the Big 12 will remain intact afterward. Otherwise, they've threatened to get the lawyers and accountants involved to make life difficult (and, presumably, less lucrative) for the Aggies and the SEC. Those crews are scared to death of being left alone, forced to fend for themselves without the backing of a major family.
The Big 12 could make a go of it without the Aggies. It could offer proposals to, say, BYU and Louisville, hoping to restore its numbers. But it would be for naught if, as suspected, Oklahoma wants out. There's talk that Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas could all be headed for the Pac-12, making it the first 16-crew superfamily.
That prospect doesn't bother any capos except Beebe and Marinatto, who would scramble to shore up their ranks. Everyone knows that once the Aggies are in the fold, the SEC will be aggressive in seeking a 14th crew to balance the family. And wiseguys say when the dominoes stop falling, either the Big 12 or Big East - or both - will be dearly departed.
The Big East knows how this game works. It carried out a similar hit to earn its seat at the table in the early '90s, raiding the Atlantic 10 for the Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Rutgers crews. And we'll never forget the major shakeup in 1994, when the prominent Southwest Conference - a longstanding member of the syndicate - went to sleep with the fishes because it drew constant heat from the feds, i.e. the NCAA. That infuriated other families, fearing increased scrutiny of their own operations.
The SWC had hoped to merge with the old Big Eight and become the first 16-crew superfamily. But the SWC had no leverage and its crews dispersed, some of them joining mid-major families. Now history is repeating. The four (or five) major conferences will enjoy consolidated power, increased profits and entrenched positions. They'll continue to rake in upwards of 90 percent of the millions paid for bowl appearances and tournament bids.
Meanwhile, the smaller families and the crews with less earning power will be left for dead. With so much loot at stake, major capos feel obligated to look out for themselves while watching their backs. Those who fail to fend off attacks have no choice but to accept their fate.
This is the life they chose.
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