In the classic game of musical chairs, once the music stops, someone is left standing without a seat. The various college institutions involved in the latest round of conference realignment are doing all they can to avoid being stuck standing without a chair. This begs the question: what is going to stop the music?
When the Atlantic Coast Conference increased its number of institutions to 14 by adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the conference also increased its exit fee to a hefty $20 million. By contrast, the Big East’s current exit fee is a pedestrian $5 million, which may be one reason why Syracuse and Pitt were so content with leaving their former conference home. Ponying up $20 million is certainly different from paying $5 million..
With near-daily rumors swirling about changes to the college landscape, conference stability is at a premium. In the mind of the ACC, the best way to ensure its impenetrability was to erect an imposing financial hurdle. It is genius. Texas A&M’s move to the Southeastern Conference ensured that at least one more school would follow the Aggies there. The SEC offers a better football conference, more television revenue, and greater fan support than the ACC. So, rather than watch one of its own possibly succumb to the lure of SEC football, the ACC executed a great defensive play.
What’s important to understand about college football today is that terms like loyalty and tradition, standing alone, are merely the language of idealists. Backing idealism up with a massive financial deterrent is when loyalty and tradition truly set in. Thus, it would be no surprise if the ACC’s decision is eventually copied by other conferences. If the Big 12’s last nine members remain intact, they would likely invite at least one other institution to replace Texas A&M. In courting other schools, the Big 12 has to prove that its long-term survival is a near-certainty. A large exit fee communicates that message because member schools would be the ones to approve it.
Non-BCS leagues would also benefit from increased exit fees. All of the tectonic shifts that are currently affecting major athletic programs will eventually impact smaller conferences. If schools like Boise State, Houston, or SMU ever jump to a BCS league, at least make them pay for it. Then again, maybe I’m preaching to the choir. Perhaps the reason schools are jockeying for position so quickly these days is because they know that new exit fees will eventually stop the music on a dime. When the dust settles, schools may stay put for a long time. Who knows? That could actually lead to loyalty and tradition.
In addition to being a licensed attorney, Patrick Brennan is a Teaching Assistant and doctoral student at the United States Sports Academy. Students continually study contemporary sports issues like conference realignment at the Academy. For more information on Academy programs, please visit www.ussa.edu.