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OPINION: Does Big Ten conference realignment fatally wound college sports?

The entire sports world was rocked with the news of Oregon and Washington joining the Big Ten conference on Friday. Now, Penn State football – and college athletic departments across the country – must adapt. According to one writer, the transition may not be for the better.



Big Ten conference realignment, Big Ten, Penn State football, Oregon, Washington
Dec 30, 2017; Glendale, AZ, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley (26) runs the ball as Washington Huskies linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven (25) defends during the second half during the 2017 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Editor’s note: This is an opinion piece and reflects the thoughts and opinions of the author.

With the calendar flipped to August, we should be discussing position battles, player development, and all the other aspects that come with the start of college football season. Instead, we’ve spent the last two weeks fixated on conference realignment. On Friday, the college football world was rocked by the news that Oregon and Washington would join the Big Ten. While this undoubtedly strengthens the conference, it may wound, perhaps fatally, college athletics as a result. Now, in this new world, Penn State football, the entire Penn State athletic department, and universities across the country will have to learn to adapt. And the transition may not be an easy one.

Big Ten conference realignment: Oregon and Washington added to the party

About a year ago, the Big Ten shocked the college sports world by inviting USC and UCLA to the conference. This was seen as a counter move to the SEC pulling in Texas and Oklahoma in 2021. On Friday, the Big Ten stunned the sporting world again by adding Oregon and Washington for the 2024 season.

With the news later in the day that Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah would join the Big 12, it essentially leaves the Pac-12 at death’s door. The Pac-12 will join the Big East, WAC, and SWC as part of the college sports history of defunct conferences.

With the whirlwind of conference realignment news the past few days, I’m reminded of Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park. “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” The scientists, in this case, the school presidents and athletic directors were led by Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond, the big TV networks.

How is all this expansion good for the athletes and the fans? Sure, there will be some interesting future matchups. However, what sets college sports apart, particularly college football, are the traditions and the rivalries. The conferences used to represent shared values and styles of play. That is all out the window now.

College football is moving fast to an NFL model with nationwide “conferences” involving the sport’s biggest brands. And for what? For the greed of more money, of course.

The extra travel will certainly be a challenge. But football teams only play 12 regular season games a year, once a week. What of the Oregon or Washington volleyball teams that will travel to Piscataway, New Jersey, to take on Rutgers on a random Wednesday and need to be back on campus for classes the next day? We are told these are supposed to be student-athletes. But I’m sure the people in charge of this madness did not stop thinking about those details.

The future of Penn State football following conference realignment

I do not want to be entirely negative with this piece. There are some bright spots for Penn State football with the four west additions to the conference. For starters, this could open up recruiting of the western states for James Franklin and his staff. Particularly the talent-rich state of California. During a West Coast trip to play one of the four teams, the team is sure to also plan recruiting stops. Franklin has made it no secret that he wants to recruit nationally and has done well to this point. Playing out west more often will help his goal even more.

As previously mentioned, the expanded conference will create more marque matchups. Penn State football fans grumble a lot about the Nittany Lions’ non-conference schedules. Well, here comes matchups with USC, UCLA, Washington, and Oregon more often, in addition to Ohio State and Michigan. Most likely, at least one, if not two, of those schools are on the schedule yearly.

The downside is the heavy travel. The Athletic’s Audrey Snyder recently had a very good breakdown of the complicated logistics around traveling to the West. The Penn State athletic department has been looking at it since the announcement of USC and UCLA joining. It is not so easy to travel so far mid-season compared to an end-of-season bowl game.

Overall, while there are some nice things, it just seems like money ruled the day when it came to these decisions. Forgive me for sounding old, but the college football we fell in love with as fans is no longer. It is rapidly changing, and mostly not for the better.

Of course, I will still watch the games, and I cannot wait for the 2023 season to start, mainly because it will be the last one before all the upheaval of 2024 starts. But a part of me will always yearn for the traditions and traditional conferences of the sport I first fell in love with. An 18-team Big Ten just is not it.

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Shane has been a Penn State fan since he attended his first game in Beaver Stadium when he was 8 years old. A Class of 2005 alum, he has been a contributing writer for Victory Bell Rings, Saturday Blitz and now Basic Blues Nation. He also hosts The Nittany and Badger: A Big Ten Football Podcast. Shane lives near Pittsburgh with his wife and son.


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