Maybe it's just that I'm used to the idea now, that I've already sort of adopted Texas A&M as an honorary SEC team. Or maybe it's that the A&M fans I've interacted with over the last few weeks seem, for the most part, to be friendly and nice enough people. Or maybe it's that my hatred for dictatorships is just as powerful in sports as it is in real life, and that I'm wrapped up in the spirit of the Maroon Revolution.
But often recently, maybe too often for some of the SEC readers of this site, my ambivalence about expansion has faded into the background of my support for Texas A&M making the move from the Big 12. My personal opinion on this hasn't changed, and I doubt it ever will, even if A&M joins: I would be just as happy as anybody else if the SEC stays at 12, but the league can and must take Texas A&M if the opportunity is there.
That probably doesn't really please anyone. It might sound a little dismissive to my Texas A&M friends, though it's certainly not meant that way. And it obviously won't placate SEC fans who want the league to stay at 12 no matter what the cost, because it admits that there might be a better option out there.
Am I worried about going to 14 teams? Of course. But I'm just as worried about what happens if the SEC stands pat and gets passed by as the highest-profile conference in college football. Which seems to be the course some fans are advocating, as long as we stay at 12.
It's human nature to fear what is different, to worry about the new or the unfamiliar. Even the most tolerant or adventurous among us will privately admit to secret prejudices or fleeting insecurities. We are people, and there's no real use in ignoring that.
But fear of the different is not a reason to reject innovation. I don't want 16-team superconferences, though I'm afraid they're coming. And while I thought at one point that it might affect my passion for the game, I now realize how ridiculous that idea is. We are fans of teams and a sport, and while SEC fans have a conference pride that is foreign to some of our counterparts, each SEC fan follows his or her team first.
The idea kind of crystallized for me on Monday night, when Lou Holtz (of all people to start an epiphany for me) was talking about how he would like to go back to when the conferences all had eight teams. And that's when I realized how far we had come in the relatively short history of organized college football. The Big 12, after all, was created when four teams from the Southwest Conference merged with the Big 8. The Big 8 was at one time the Big 6. (Apparently, Midwesterners did not have an aversion to counting back then.)
Conference realignments have changed in college football for as long as any of us have been watching the sport. Georgia Tech was once a member of the SEC; South Carolina was a member of the ACC and an independent. Tulane and Sewanee also spent time in the SEC, which came along decades after the first college football games were played. Before that, many teams spent time as part if the Southern Conference, a 23-team goliath that included 11 current members of the SEC and expansion targets like N.C. State and Virginia Tech. Many of the charter members of the Southern Conference came from the SIAA, the first real southeastern (little s) conference that was also massive at its peak. And the Southern Conference now exists as part of a different subdivision and without a single one of its charter members.
So in a sense, we aren't really moving away from college football traditions, but emracing them again. Everything old is truly new again. It's still different -- as different as the current structure is for fans like Lou Holtz. But it's not the end of the world.
And if 14- or 16-team conferences grow too unwieldy and fan interest lags or schools begin to argue over the terms, college football will do what it has always done: realign, reconfigure and reinvent itself. The anarchy that so many righteously indignant columnists have inveighed against in recent weeks is really college football's greatest strength. Like our federalist system, it allows different conferences to try different things; the best ideas are more widely adopted or even standardized, while those that don't work are discarded.
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Baylor should know that better than most college football teams. After all, Baylor has one of the most bare-knuckled and borderline corrupt histories when it comes to conference realignment.
In fact, Baylor fans were elated when then-Texas Gov. Ann Richards wedged the Bears into a Big 12 that didn't want them. They didn't shed any tears for Houston or TCU or SMU, left behind and consigned to mid-major status when the smoke cleared. And there was no obligation for Baylor fans to do so.
But that history makes it all the more galling for Baylor to be the school threatening legal action, and for morally indignant columnists and Defenders of College Football's Virtue to now be leaping to the Bears defense or cheering them on. Because let's be real about Baylor's motives here. It's a craven cash grab.
Baylor doesn't give a rip about tradition. When the dollar bills were flying around in the 1990s, Baylor was more than happy to leave behind decades-long rivalries to grab some money. Once a few teams that could have been added to the Big 12 on merit were elbowed out of the way, of course.
What Baylor is engaged in now is no less of a money grab than Texas A&M, and perhaps more so. After all, as long as Baylor was assured that it would continue to have access to the financial milk of Texas' bell cow, the Aggies were free to go. It was only when realignment threatened BU's ill-gotten novacaine drip of cash from the Big 12 that the Bears began to threaten a legal nuclear war to destroy the Big 12's reputation in order to save it.
Sure, you can cheer for Baylor as sort of a Machiavellian plot to stop realignment, but you'll have to excuse me if I don't have the stomach for it. Ken Starr isn't really disputing what he is, he's just haggling over the price.
And it won't stop college football realignment. The SEC didn't start this -- the Big Ten did by plundering Nebraska, and the Pac-12 did by taking Colorado and making a play for others, including Texas A&M. (And the Big 8 started it by blowing up the SWC, and ... ) Larry Scott, more than anyone else, destabilized the Big 12 when he tried to blow it up last year. The SEC didn't start this round of realignment, and it probably won't finish it. But it will get the teams it wants, because the alternative to A&M and West Virginia or the like will be Houston and East Carolina, or watching while other teams pile up the money joining superconferences. Would those cheering for Baylor to win this round really like to see that? Because that's exactly what you're asking for.
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Because the future is uncertain. Don't take my word for it -- Year2 has written the same thing in cheering for Baylor
As the old saying goes: prediction is very difficult, especially about the future. Things are rough now, but that doesn't mean they always will be. That doesn't mean that a workable solution can't be found. That doesn't mean that walking away is the only way forward.
Of course, that can be turned on its head for the SEC. Things are good now, but that doesn't mean they always will be. That doesn't mean we should let the perfect be the enemy of the good, or that walking away is the best way forward.
And even if it were -- walking away because a glorified Sun Belt school wants to decide which teams the SEC does and doesn't add is a terrible idea and a terrible precedent. To be honest with you, I'm not sure why any team would ever want to join the SEC again if their conference's Baylor can stop it. "Fine." No, not really. Because if conference expansion were to come anyway, and if other conferences starting passing the SEC by, the league would need the option of expanding.
This is not how a great conference should behave, and it's unseemly for people to be cheering for a malcontent unhappy to see its trust fund cut off. Baylor is not an underdog; it's a brat. There's a difference. And those who would cheer them on would be wise to remember that, because the consequences of forgetting could hurt the SEC for a generation.