Friday, July 8, 2022


There is usually a process to conference expansion that starts with rumors, innuendo, denials, and eventually leaked negotiations but instead, moving with a speed and coordination unheard of at universities unless it is to quash a graduate student union, the Big Ten suddenly includes UCLA and USC.  A conference so midwestern that its initial network programming was sponsored entirely by extra large men's pants and a can of vegetables to throw in liquid cheese now bestrides both coasts for some reason and is reborn as the Enormous Ten.

There was a time when a move like this would seem like a titanic upheaval but titanic upheaval is now the only register in which big money college sports operates.  The Big Ten's move to gobble up the two California schools echoes the SEC's devouring of Texas and Oklahoma last year, and part of what seems to be an inevitable move towards Superconferences that will continue to pick the bones of the Big 12 and Pac 12 in the interest of consolidating television money.  As we speak, unconfirmed twitter rumors show the SEC is poised over the ACC like a Habsburg squinting at a map of the Ottoman Empire. 

That's it, the Big Ten just got two teams bigger, believe me. Just got two teams bigger. We're gonna make the Big Ten so much bigger, they say already it's too big that we can't make the Big Ten bigger, but we're gonna make the Big Ten so big, so many teams in the Big Ten, you're not going to believe how big this ten is

Over the past several years, the people in charge of college sports, who have been selling the entire enterprise with the concept of tradition, of rituals and rivalries handed down from time immemorial filled with nineteenth-century pomp and stories of fans vomiting on each other for generations, have acted with the subtle grace of Humphrey Bogart in the last third of the Treasure of Sierra Madre.  They have completely abandoned every single one of their decades-old talking points as soon as they glimpsed their first few dimes of television money.  The leagues and universities have acted so greedily and hastily to fill their pockets that they instantly negated college sports' most important commodity which is access to unlimited unpaid labor and quickly (it is almost impossible to believe how quickly this has happened) professionalized the sports through NIL deals although the schools do not seem to be that concerned beyond the usual huffing and puffing about the corrupting influence of sponsorship money because they have managed to offload the expense of paying players to the various oil barons, car dealership emperors, and prominent local Yosemites Sam who have been playing the players surreptitiously since college sports were invented.

The move will have seismic impact on the people actually playing the sports. On the one hand, it is extraordinarily funny to imagine teams that play in gorgeous, mountainous sunsets forced to confront the grim reality of an 11AM November kickoff at Ryan Field in front of 8,000 people while the players are forced to fend of an onslaught of wind-blown hot dog wrappers.  The effect on their Precious Body Clocks, a previous hobgoblin of Pac 12 teams that had dared to venture into the Central Time Zone, can only be imagined.  On the other hand, I suspect that students having to fly across the entire country to play a volleyball game in Piscataway on a Tuesday night might find this all less amusing.

The college football bigwigs at least used to give us a song and dance and a whole story as the various league commissioners and NCAA officials, and athletic directors, in their suits hooking their thumbs through their suspenders would tell us of the extraordinary educational benefits wrought on the Student Athletes, and how it is a little tough on them when it comes to sometimes going to class or eating enough food, but you can't possibly understand what would happen if schools had to pay the players, after all have you seen the skyrocketing cost of pipettes and protractors these days, why you'd be putting the whole thing at terrible risk they would say while standing in front of the $3.8 billion Gertwig "Cud" Broodbatter IV Athletic Performance Center, but now their pitch for college athletics is give us your money, excuse me, give us your fucking money.

The thing that is most shocking about heretofore unthinkable addition of UCLA and USC to the Big Ten is how not shocking it was.  These precision raids by conferences on their rivals' big money programs have become a regular part of the landscape, no matter how strange, incongruous, or pointless they seem.  Rutgers and Maryland fans seem completely miserable in the conference that only wanted the money from regional cable audiences; Nebraska's entry into the Big Ten has been an unmitigated catastrophe for that football program although the fact that its annual game against Northwestern has become such a hideous and preposterous nightmare that it has been banned from taking place in the United States is incredibly funny.  The Big Ten's transition into the Enormous Ten and the accompanying moves no doubt on the way are less shocking for the moves themselves for naked disregard for anything this sport pretends to be.     

College sports seem to fit in a larger trend, and I hate to be too bleak or dark on a blog as stupid as this, but there really does seem to be a shared sense of being at the end of something, and big businesses and industries seem to have jettisoned any obligation to even try to bullshit us as they nakedly grab at everything in a desperate game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, even if it is just to hold everything for a few moments longer than everyone else.


The biggest question on everyone's mind as soon as they announced the Enormous Ten expansion is simple: how will this affect Northwestern?  Last year just before the season, I wrote about the SEC grabbing Texas and Oklahoma, the formation of Superconferences, and where Northwestern fits in it.  The fact of the matter is that while the college football world's recent desire to rip off its fig leaves about amateurism and tradition and strut around nude and open for business is not really something I care about and in fact has been good for getting at least some money to players, it seems likely to me that this bodes ill for Northwestern's time in a big time football conference.

Northwestern has nothing to rely on to keep it in the Big Ten other than residual tradition.  The school's revenue sports programs offer no revenue to the conference.  Northwestern has been unsuccessfully waging an information war on Chicago-area highways to try to convince an indifferent populace to root for the team since the existence of this blog, which I support because it makes people really angry for some reason; it offers mostly a cold bench once a year to Chicago-area alumni of other schools.  To the extent it has a national brand, it is either the team that sucked a lot in the 1970s and 80s or a factory that produces annoying television sports personalities.

The fact that the football team has been good, or at least good enough to win the Big Ten West twice in the last four years is, I believe, irrelevant.  What Northwestern football represents is a pain in the ass: a win that means nothing to fans of big teams that believe that they should always beat Northwestern no matter how good they are because of the program's legacy of futility and because Pat Fitzgerald has been spending the past decade analyzing football rules to figure out how he can possibly win games one to nothing or 4.3 to 4 or they could lose in the shittiest football game anyone has ever seen and that will immediately drop them 15 points in the rankings and get their dozen most deranged message board posters in a thread called "Uncalled Holding Penalties" put on a watch list.  The times when Northwestern finds itself in Indianapolis or even in a particularly prominent bowl game, opposing fans are either casuals who are confused by the existence of the team or they are someone who has watched Northwestern play this decade and know that they're about to watch four hours of armpit football.

As a Northwestern fan, the prospect of irritating other teams and having one of the program's most prominent fans be a tarp is the best part of college football, but it is hard for me to see how that fits in the sport's new paradigm.  Having a team like Northwestern around when college football was still pretending to be an amateur sport was useful for the Big Ten; I am not sure it makes sense in a professional league for a team that cannot fill its own tiny stadium, has no television audience, and has a name that is even more flagrantly mendacious in a conference that could literally include the northwest.  As long as college football clung to its notions of tradition, Northwestern could slop around with the big boys through organizational inertia.  Now that conferences are being torn up and consolidated and college sports has finally arrived at their fuck you pay me apotheosis, I struggle to see what Northwestern offers.

On the other hand, I am an idiot and don't know anything.  Maybe there's more money in amassing as many teams in a conference as possible.  Maybe college football is such a bulletproof television product that it is more lucrative for the Big Ten to keep broadcasting Northwestern games much like how ESPN pays an unfathomable amount of money to broadcast the Head On Apply Directly To Forehead Bowl to families having low, hissing fights at airport gates even if it takes an amount of precision research with maps rolled out on tables to find a bar that is actually showing a Northwestern game in the very city it is the Big Ten Team of.  Maybe the Northwestern psychology department has put a subliminal signal in every Big Ten broadcast so that every time a Big Ten executive tries to float the concept of kicking the school's ass out of the conference he or she instead makes the Wildcat First Down Noise and immediately pivots to a powerpoint presentation comparing advertising rates for competing gout treatments.  Maybe Northwestern and USC can develop a famous rivalry.   

The situation in college sports is collapsing and exploding day by day.  For the time being, Northwestern plays in the Enormous Ten, one that could be growing more enormous.  Fans are tracking conference realignment the only way they can, by citing anonymous message board sources and analyzing flight logs.  The past week imagining flop-sweated conference commissioners in frantic calls with panicking athletic directors while boosters do donuts in the parking lot in 1970s cadillacs whose horns bleat out the school fight song and while the coaches try to wrangle recruits with NIL promises from the Suspenders King of Mant County is delightful, a Hieronymus Bosch triptych of football decadence unfolding in all corners of the college football universe.  

At least we can be sure of one thing and that is Northwestern's return to the Rose Bowl is now guaranteed.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant top to bottom

Staniel said...

Wow that was great.

Also, don't think your "Yosemites Sam" went unnoticed. I, for one, noticed it and appreciated the effort you took to avoid using "Yosemite Sams" instead, the way a graduate from literally any other school in the Enormous Ten would have written it.

On a semi-serious note, I think that we'll be stickier with the Enormous Ten than one might otherwise think at first blush, if only because Chicago is ten miles away. If you're a fan of an Enormous Ten team, do you want to road trip to:

Lincoln, Nebraska;
Iowa City, Iowa;
Bloomington, Indiana;
one of the other hamlets in the Rust Belt founded by a Jebediah Springfield equivalent;
or... Chicago, Illinois?

For most Enormous Ten fans, the answer is Chicago. The others are still honing their literacy. I think that gives us a little staying power with the conference, if not much.

Anonymous said...

This was a gobsmacking banger.

"College sports seem to fit in a larger trend, and I hate to be too bleak or dark on a blog as stupid as this, but there really does seem to be a shared sense of being at the end of something, and big businesses and industries seem to have jettisoned any obligation to even try to bullshit us as they nakedly grab at everything in a desperate game of Hungry Hungry Hippos, even if it is just to hold everything for a few moments longer than everyone else."

Best summary of the state of the world I've seen. The "this us fine" dog watching a M00N game rerun as the world burns.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, BYCTOM for your perfect analysis as always.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely brilliant once again.

pat said...

Sublime, as always!