No one likes conference realignment except the conference adding a school and the school on the move. At any given time, everyone else hates the idea. The conference losing the school has to respond, and other conferences/schools get nervous. Even the schools welcoming a new member see diluted schedules and in some cases a long wait for the payoff.
The NCAA Can’t Do Anything
The NCAA, especially the national office, is not fond of realignment. It is a process the NCAA has zero control over, but which consistently delivers a black eye to the NCAA. The NCAA tries to preach financial sustainability, academics, and a check on commercialism, only to see schools shell out millions to fly athletes around a bigger conference in order to increase revenue a few more million down the road.
So the best the NCAA can do is to have President Mark Emmert encourage schools to think before jumping at a bit more revenue or making a move out of fear and uncertainty. All the while, the NCAA gets the criticism from two sides, either for allowing the reshuffling from taking place, or from having the rules that prevent the reshuffling from benefiting athletes more. Conference realignment is one of the best examples of how “whipping boy” seems to be a core function the membership wants the NCAA to perform.
But What if the NCAA Had Some or Any Authority Over Conference Realignment?
Having control over the moves themselves, i.e. having to give explicit approval or having veto power before a school changes conferences is out of the questions. The NCAA members have given up a lot of autonomy, but this is one area they have reserved for themselves.
Also not going to happen is the possibility that the NCAA restrict or regulate how schools change conferences. One example would be a rule that prevents a conference from providing the money for a school to pay another conference’s exit fee. That would limit moves and make schools think about longer term decisions, since they would need to come up with the money themselves. For that reason, the members (who would need to enact such a rule) would almost certainly not be on board.
Any regulation of realignment by the NCAA is unlikely given the membership’s views, but one is a possibility. An idea that has been floated is to limit when realignment discussions take place. Tom Fornelli and Chip Patterson discussed the idea of a rule limiting realignment news to February-August. The core of the idea is good, but it is football-centric (realignment news in the middle of basketball season is just as bad) and announcements are not the only problem. Discussions, deals, and negotiations are as well.
The better rule would be to limit all realignment discussions and announcements to either June, July, or both those months, and that announcements must be made at least one year prior to a school joining a new conference. Penalties for tampering could be a school receiving a postseason ban and a conference losing its automatic bids to NCAA tournaments. The impact would mean that conferences and schools need to have their ducks in a row about a potential move at the start of the “transfer window.” And the response to moves would mostly have to come after 11 months of thought about whether another move is needed.
There would be details to be sorted, like what to do with a conference which loses its 12th team but cannot replace them for two more years and how that impacts things like a conference championship game in football. But it would slow down the falling of dominoes. One move would not necessarily have to lead to four or five more, at least not immediately. And there would be a bit of peace and quiet during the academic year.
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