If we all took some truth serum, most of us would have to admit to at least one trashy guilty pleasure TV show without any redeeming social value. Some people enjoy Jersey Shore. Others watch some variation of the Real Housewives. The truly prurient are avid viewers of the Oakland Raiders. My favorite trashy TV choice: Cheaters.
The premise of Cheaters is fairly elegant: a girlfriend/wife that is not quite sure of the fidelity of her boyfriend/husband has the Cheaters private detective squad led by host Joey Greco follow the suspect around with hidden cameras. In 100% of the cases, the boyfriend/husband is caught in the act of cheating and a highlight videotape is then shown to the girlfriend/wife. By sheer coincidence in 100% of the cases, the boyfriend/husband happens to be with the temptress at that very moment, which provides the opportunity to the spurned girlfriend/wife to have what it is literally titled in the last segment of every show, “The Confrontation”. Gloriously, The Confrontation almost always occurs in a public place with the girlfriend/wife dumping the cheating bastard in front of about 150 people (plus 40 cameras), typically after verbally and physically beating down the boyfriend/husband and the temptress. In a way, it’s the ultimate form of reality TV justice. Cheaters provides such a high level of quality trash that it’s a constant source of inspiration for Maury Povich, who is essentially the Yoda of Trash TV.
This got me thinking about Missouri and the SEC. (We could go a whole lot of ways with that one, no?) Last year, when the Big Ten was going through its expansion evaluation process, Tom Osborne talked about how Jim Delany had him fly to secret locations in order to avoid any press. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has openly complained about people tracking the private jets that he uses via FlightAware, as that could tip off the public about schools he was meeting with. Last month, a story broke on a random Friday night out of the blue that the ACC was looking to invite Syracuse and Pitt and a press conference confirming the invitations was held less than 48 hours later. Even with all of the rumors surrounding who the Big 12 would invite over the past few weeks, it has kept and continues to keep its true intentions muddled, with the TCU invite coming quickly and it still being unclear how the conference is going to proceed. Much like mergers and acquisitions in the business world, the major conferences have tried to keep their expansion plans in a shroud of secrecy and misdirection, which has fueled a cottage industry of blogs like this one along with providing reams of message board speculation.
The SEC, though, doesn’t play that way. Clandestine expansion operations? Pfffffft. Oh sure, Mike Slive will continuously issue official statements that “The SEC is happy right now and it isn’t inviting any school that’s already a member of another conference.” Of course, that SEC position means that it fully expects and requires any school that wants to join the league to publicly break up with its current conference just like in The Confrontation in Cheaters before applying. This seems to more than just a legal technicality. For all of the CYA tactics that Slive and the SEC presidents used prior to admitting Texas A&M, I honestly think that they get a kick out of public institutions openly going through a divorce with their current leagues. As a result, we have a fairly unprecedented situation where two different schools (Texas A&M and now Missouri) have gone through extremely long, public and acrimonious processes just to get to the point of applying to the SEC. I can’t really tell you whether this is really the right or wrong approach compared to the Big Ten’s Operation Purple Book Cat, but one thing should be clear: the SEC doesn’t do any super secret invites. Thus, forget about the thought that the SEC might be targeting West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Florida State and/or Clemson. It’s all about Missouri right now.
This prolonged period between Missouri announcing that it’s “exploring conference options” and what ought to be a withdrawal from the Big 12 this week has created a whole lot of activity and rumors regarding other schools … but absolutely everything has to be written in pencil. The Mountain West Conference and Conference USA have announced a 22-school alliance/merger/clambake (AKA Mount USA), yet it’s not quite clear whether the largest names in that proposed league, such as Boise State and Air Force, are even going to stick around in Mount USA since they’ve been rumored to be heading to the Big East. In turn, the Big East seems to have a goal of a 12-school alignment with the additions of UCF, Houston and SMU as all-sports members and Navy, Boise State and Air Force as all-sports members, but it can’t be finalized without exit fees that are contingent upon at least Navy and Air Force joining, and who knows whether those two would join if a school like Louisville heads to the Big 12. Lurking in the background, don’t forget about BYU and its own Big 12 prospects. A number of reports earlier this month seemed to intimate that BYU and the Big 12 couldn’t come to an agreement (or maybe more appropriately, BYU and the Big 12’s TV partners regarding BYUtv), yet the school’s athletic director took pains this past weekend to state that no invite was turned down and kept everything as open ended as possible. (I’ll reiterate that I believe BYU-to-the-Big 12 will eventually get done. It makes too much sense.)
A couple of things to note:
(1) The issue with the AQ status of the Mountain West has never been about the strength of its champion and the next top team or two. Instead, the league has always gotten killed on criteria that deal with depth, as its lower two-thirds have generally been abominable. I fail to see how the Mount USA merger with C-USA addresses that issue and, in fact, could very well make it worse even if schools like Boise State stay, which gets to the next point…
(2) If there’s been one constant in conference realignment, it’s been that whenever a weaker conference starts thinking that it can attack a wounded stronger conference, that stronger conference slaps the weaker conference back to the stone age. It’s hard to remember now, but there was about a week in Summer 2010 when the WAC was actually thinking that it could raid the MWC after BYU declared its independence. MWC commissioner Craig Thompson then proceeded to go off on the WAC like Sonny Corleone on Carlo Rizzi by essentially grabbing everyone except for poor Utah State. A lot of Big East fans back in August were having thoughts of absorbing a number of Big 12 schools such as Kansas or even raiding the ACC with the promise of a new lucrative TV deal. That led to the ACC taking two old line Big East members and the Big 12 grabbing didn’t-even-get-a-chance-to-play-in-the-Big-East member TCU while continuing to swarm like a vulture. We now see the Big East will always be in the position of raidee instead of the raider compared to the other AQ conferences.
Even with all of those losses (and possibly more to come), the Big East still has guaranteed AQ status until at least 2013 (and by other reports, until 2015), which means that Mount USA ultimately isn’t going to fend off a Big East raid, either. Maybe the service academies would decline the Big East since they are institutions that are in a different realm than anyone else, but all of the others, including Boise State, know that this is their only chance to jump into the “haves” category of college football. A 10 or 12-school Big East with a guaranteed AQ bid versus a 22-school Mount USA that doesn’t have any guarantee of an AQ bid whatsoever really isn’t a very difficult choice. While there seems to be a lot of Big East haters out in the college football world these days, rationally speaking, there’s no reason why even a Big East that’s down to 2 members left still isn’t more desirable than the Mount USA simply because there’s AQ status at stake. There will always be more leverage for a league to retain its AQ status than a newly formed league to attain it, especially in a BCS system that stacks the deck against upstarts.
So, there’s an avalanche of moves on the precipice of occurring, but they’re all waiting on The Confrontation scene between Missouri and the Big 12. The SEC still only wants single schools to apply.
UPDATE (10/17, 11:50 pm): Big East is reportedly inviting Houston. This dovetails with a scheduled Big East conference call to discuss realignment on Tuesday, so we also might see invites provided to SMU, UCF, Boise State, Navy and Air Force.
(Image from Uncomfortable Moments)