Ignore whatever it is college Athletic Directors are saying these days. Conference realignment has everything to do with the ability to make more money and that’s it. Those who think otherwise are only kidding themselves.
Those schools have every right to do whatever they think is going to help them maximize profits. In that process for pursuing more revenue, however, they are hurting themselves drastically in public relations.
I’m not saying that schools are going to lose money. Between the insatiable demand to watch the top college football/basketball school in the country regardless of where the venue happens to be, there’s no reason to worry about ROI.
However, the universities that are trying to shift conferences need to worry about what the perception of them on campus is going to be as well. Students get pumped up for games like Ohio State vs. Michigan not only because of the rivalry, but also the geography. The states border each other and are just 190 miles apart.
If rumors are true that Kansas bolts for the Big East, I don’t see too many people getting excited over a road trip to Syracuse.
Having the occasional non-conference game against a big-name school will certainly drum up excitement. When I went to Massachsuetts, its football team played Michigan last year in Ann Arbor and there was a large contingency of UMass fans who made the trip over.
But that only worked because the Minutemen play in Division I-AA (not for long, I should add), and games against a big name like Michigan simply don’t come along very often. Those same fans aren’t going to want to make road trips to Toledo, Bowling Green or Northern Illinois when UMass makes the jump to the Mid-American Conference.
Geography matters. Students want to have that ability to rent a van and drive a few hours to a different school when their team is on the road.
No decision maker within the Big Ten is looking at the possibility of adding Maryland and asking itself if anyone from Indiana would actually make the drive to College Park for the weekend.
Who’s benefiting from these conference realignments? Everyone except the students. I’m going to go ahead and include the athletes who, let’s remember, at the end of the day are supposed to be there to get an education. That’s why there’s such strict regulation about who they can associate with, right?
The athletes’ ability to even think about studying is compromised here when they have to worry about flights across the country every week.
In addition, the students who would’ve followed their school on road trips are prevented from doing so, which creates a disconnect between the student’s relationship with his or her sports teams.
This would leave the students ultimately feeling disenfranchised and unappreciated with the team when it should strive to do the opposite.
Schools create student sections specifically to ensure that no matter how popular the team gets, they can still get good seats at an affordable price and have a way to go with friends. Nearly every school will say that having students come to their games is one of the highest priorities on the list when it comes to public relations.
When I used to cover the men’s basketball team at UMass, coach Derek Kellogg would always talk about how attracting students was what mattered most to him and he showed it through some of his/the marketing department’s initiatives. Many schools would agree with Kellogg on that point.
Unfortunately, there is a pretty big disconnect between the party line and the recent news, which could hurt the school’s image in the student’s eyes if they continue to favor money-making opportunities over geography and classic rivalries.