Imagine being a devoted fan of your college alma mater, relishing all the memories and successes that you shared as a student and in the years since leaving for the real world. The rivalries, history, annual rituals like conference basketball tournaments — they provide a link from the present to yesterday.
Then, without warning, on a typical September weekend, comes a hot news story from ESPN and other national media. Syracuse and Pittsburgh, two pillars of the Big East Conference, announce their "desire" to leave for the Atlantic Coast Conference. Of course, the reality isn't that vague: By Sunday morning, the ACC school presidents have voted to accept those two new members.
All that history, all that tradition, goes away. Maybe next year, perhaps in 2013, depending on what the attorneys negotiate.
The dominoes don't stop falling there. Monday, reports from the West Coast suggest that the Pacific 12 Conference — having just added Colorado and Utah this fall — might raid Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech from the Big 12, creating the Pac-16 and destroying the Big 12. But Texas and the Pac-12 can't agree on terms, so that falls through. The Big 12 again continues to hang by a thread, with Texas also having been talking to the ACC.
Suddenly, the entire college landscape is changing before our eyes. Not in spring or summer, when schools normally jump to other leagues, but smack-dab in the middle of football season.
And nobody seems happy. Not even Colorado, giddy a few weeks ago at the prospect of facing Southern Cal, UCLA, Oregon, Washington, Stanford and even the Arizona schools.
CU flinched at the thought of a Pac-16 that might have been split east and west, endangering those new, more glamorous relationships. After all, it didn't bolt for the Pac-12 thinking it might still have to make regular football and basketball trips to Stillwater, Lubbock, Norman and Austin.
CU escaped that fate this time around, but must be sobered by the realization that its feelings didn't matter. It can only be thankful that it has a place in a conference that won't be vanishing in this rendition of Survival of the Fittest.
In fact, don't be surprised if this is just the start of many revolutionary changes.
We still might see college football turn into a structure more akin to the National Football League, with only four (or perhaps five) major conferences of 16 members each: North (Big Ten), South (Southeastern), East (Atlantic Coast) and West (Pac-16). That could change if the Big East moves quickly enough to grab Notre Dame, or leftovers from the Big 12 if it disintegrates. Missouri could make the next move by jumping to the SEC, which would threaten the Big 12's future once again.
Here's the strange part: We could have Northwestern (Big Ten), Vanderbilt (SEC) and Wake Forest (ACC) still with the big boys, while Boise State, Kansas and Kansas State are left outside, perhaps slipping to secondary status — like the old Division I-AA — in a New World Order.
This also could lead to totally separate leagues for football and basketball. That's because Kansas and K-State — two members of the basketball elite — might not have a home if their football programs wind up in, say, the Mountain West.
So a conference such as the Big East cannot wait around after losing Syracuse and Pitt — with the prospect of Connecticut, the defending NCAA men's basketball champion, and Rutgers perhaps being the next to defect to the ACC.
What about the Mountain West? It's hard to envision the MWC making it into a new ruling class that would compete for the national title, except for the possibility of a merger with Conference USA that would unite as many as 24 schools.
These changes also could mean the end of independents, notably Notre Dame and Brigham Young. Any league would kill to add Notre Dame, which could save the Big East by going that route (the Irish already are Big East basketball members), but more likely would wind up in the Big Ten — or Big Sixteen, or the NCAA North. BYU could go to the Big 12 or perhaps even return to the Mountain West.
You get the drift. These are crazy times in college athletics.
And the word "stability" no longer is part of the vocabulary.