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Jacobsen: The logic behind conferences (Nov. 12)

Victoria Jacobsen | Monday, November 11, 2013

The other day, my mother, who happens to be one of our nation’s more dedicated UConn basketball fans, confessed to me something both horrifying and completely understandable: She could not remember which conference her alma mater now plays in. (For those of you now wondering, it’s the American Athletic Conference. I Googled it.)
Several years of maniacal realignment have left us with a system of conferences that is not only unrecognizable, but makes absolutely no sense. Why would anyone think West Virginia belongs with the plains states of the Big 12 (and judging by their 2-5 record in conference, I’m guessing the Mountaineers are wishing they hadn’t gone west)? Starting next year, Tulane and UConn will be in the same conference, never mind the 1,450-odd miles between them, the fact UConn enrolls about 22,000 more students and a total and complete lack of history between the two teams.
The point of conferences is to bring schools of the same region, size and character together to compete in the fairest way possible, not to throw together 12 random teams from across the country because they need someone to play with. Clearly, we’ve forgotten that along the way.
But I have a solution. This quick quiz, which can be easily administered to the higher-ups at each of our nation’s 340 Division I schools, can be used to sort schools into brand new groups of 10 to 12 like-minded institutions. Up to one oddball is allowed per new conference, because frankly it’s adorable that Vanderbilt tries to compete with Alabama, and I’d like to preserve that.
So it here goes. Choose your answers wisely, athletic directors of America.
1) What part of the country is your school located in?
a. The Northeast
b. The South
c. The Midwest
d. The West
e. Honestly, if it helps the football program we’re willing to relocate out campus to another state.
2) Which best describes your school’s attitude toward intercollegiate athletics?
a. We’re paying our athletes in revenue-generating sports $15,000 a year, so this is a pretty big deal.
b. Sports bring students together in a place that is not a bar or a frat house. You bet we support this.
c. We went to the Rose Bowl in 1916 … that was the apex.
d. Sports are necessary if we want to keep graduating Rhodes Scholars.
e. Our athletes can generate an equation that would graph the arc of a perfect jump shot. Sinking one of those shots during a game has proved to be more difficult.
3) How many students attend your school?
a. Fewer than 1,000
b. Between 1,000 and 5,000
c. Between 5,000 and 10,000
d. Between 10,000 and 20,000
e. We’re currently building a computer that can count that high.
4) Does your school have a religious affiliation?
a. We’re a public school, so no.
b. Yes, we are a Catholic school.
c. Yes, we’re one of those Christian schools that don’t allow dancing.
d. Technically we started as a seminary. If you’ve seen our Greek Week you understand how ironic that is.
e. Yes, we worship football.
5) Does your school play hockey?
a. Ya betcha! (Really, we don’t understand why people bother with other sports.)
b. Yes, it’s a great way to ensure there’s a fun, fast-paced brutal sport to watch once football season ends.
c. We have a club team that costs us a fortune in insurance coverage. Is that what you mean?
d. No, we only play American sports.
e. What’s hockey?
6) Describe the ideal relationship with your conference.
a. Our ideal conference would bring together schools of similar culture and playing style for feisty competition.
b. Our ideal conference would bring in enough money to keep our athletic department from declaring bankruptcy in the next two years. No seriously, we’re broke.
c. Our ideal conference opponents would be successful enough that we have a good excuse for always losing to them.
d. Our ideal conference is really any conference that’s willing to have us.
e. We are a strong, independent institution and we don’t need a conference for validation.