Thursday, December 4, 2014

Second-class citizenry

You may have missed it in all the excitement over A) Johnny Football actually getting in a football game, and B) Notre Dame narrowing its bowl choices to the Chicken Sandwich, Anyone? Bowl and the Your Website Here Bowl. But the other day, the University of Alabama-Birmingham pulled the plug on its football program.

Opinions vary as to whether that amounted to the first chunk of concrete falling from a crumbling dam.

It's an alarmist position but the perhaps it's time for an alarm or two, or at least an acknowledgment that college football is about to shudder its way through yet another seismic event. And that what will come out on the other side will not necessarily be worse or better than what we have now, but just ... different.

The cold truth of it is there is yet another emerging split between Us and Them in Division I college football, and UAB surrendering to economic realities -- it can't compete with the Alabamas and Auburns in its own backyard, and no longer finds it feasible to try -- is only the latest marker for that  eventuality.

The Power 5 conferences, with the blessing of the NCAA, already are allowed to operate under a different set of rules than their smaller brethren, who right now are still laboring under the delusion that big-time football is for them, too. But the hard reality is, it's not. The game the Power 5 plays bears no resemblance to that played in, say, the Mid-American Conference --  and credit UAB for coming to that conclusion before it drowned in a sea of red ink.

It says here the rest of UAB's natural kin will come to that conclusion, too, eventually, and either drop football or, more likely, break away and form a new division within the college football structure. And they'll do that because they won't have a choice.

Shut out of the playoff system and the big-money bowls (well, except for the one-non-Power-5-berth-per-year bone the NCAA reluctantly throws them), there's very little return anymore on the football investment. UAB just completed one of the best seasons in its history, but even if pulling the plug hadn't likely doomed its bowl chances, what did it really have to look forward to?

The aforementioned Chicken Sandwich/Website Bowls from which it would have chosen don't offer a payout worth the expense, which means the school would have lost money on the deal. Significant money. And those bowls -- I would argue 99 percent of all the bowls, frankly -- are mere exhibitions, anyway. Except for the team itself, what's the benefit to, say, Ball State to accept a bid to, say, the Belk Bowl? How many alumni are going to bother to spend the money to go to it?

The answers: None, and not many. Because the Belk, the GMAC, the Pinstripe, the bowls are completely irrelevant. And to be perfectly honest, so are most of the New Year's Day bowls, now that they're spread over three or four days.

Football does still pay an outsized chunk of the freight at the Ball States of the world. But it could do that under a separate structure from what's now considered Division I, too. And that separate structure is coming.

In its own way, UAB just confirmed that.


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