- Tim Keown, ESPN Senior Writer
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You just know there's someone screaming right now -- whether it's into a phone at a talk-show host or at the guy next to him at the bar -- that the Nationals need to sign Bryce Harper in time for him to get in the lineup and catch Stephen Strasburg tonight. We can't help ourselves; it's just how we roll.
Immediacy is our thing. We don't have to wait for the paper to get our scores anymore; we get our stats updated after each at-bat. The immediacy of information breeds a mentality that reduces attention spans and makes people queasy when they have to wait around for something -- or someone -- to develop. Technology has done its best to eliminate the unknown.
Which brings us, perhaps surprisingly, to the slowest-developing and most frustrating story of the current cycle: college conference realignment. This could reupholster the entire college-sports mansion, with about 50,000 square feet reserved for a handful of teams and a cozy yet rustic servants' quarters for the rest.
Without boring into the thousands of permutations currently in play, let's just say the first domino figures to be (A) Notre Dame's decision to accept the bended-knee, dog-slobber entreaties of the Big Ten, or (B) Nebraska's thumbs-up/thumbs-down on the Big 12 if Notre Dame can't decide.
Nebraska is being cast as the Judas of the entire opera, with schools such as Kansas suggesting that Tom Osborne consider his roots before pushing the plunger that detonates college football as we know it. But Nebraska, just like every other school, is trying to position itself to take advantage of the biggest and most lucrative Next the NCAA has to offer. Why should the Cornhusker State care about the fate of Kansas' basketball program?
(By the way, where's the NCAA in all this? Do its officials have any say in what happens here, or are they too busy licking their fingers in preparation for all the money-counting they'll have to do if this comes about? Because as it stands, we're left to listen to the words of people like Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who has shown a tic-like tendency to string together words that contain absolutely no meaning. It's as if he's trying to set the world record for the random use of the odious phrase "at the end of the day.")
What are you supposed to think? There are too many moving parts. Who wants to sink their teeth into a good slow-developing story? We just want answers, and we want them now, and if you don't have them we'll settle for educated guesses. The story is being covered, but it's mostly speculation until something happens. That's the beauty of immediacy: Nobody's wrong anymore, at least not for longer than it takes to do a quick Internet scrub.
I don't really know what to make of it, other than the obvious: A bloated Big Ten and a super-bloated Pac-16 would be another concession to money and power and another cannonball to the nethers of tradition. For people who yearn for the days of the Ohio State-USC Rose Bowls, this is Armageddon.
Eventually, college sports will be centralized and monopolized (even more) by the top 50 or so universities. It'll be kind of like the media. There will be three conferences controlling all the television time, all the money and all the spots in the eventual national playoff system. The Boise States and Bowling Greens of the world will become de facto JV programs, because they won't have the resources to compete for recruits or championships. If you root for the pit bull over the hamster, this plan's for you.
Let's take this to its logical extreme: The players at each of these schools in each of these "super conferences" should be paid. The destruction of tradition might as well be complete, right? If the top handful of schools are going to be the only ones with the opportunity to compete at the highest level, then do away with the amateurism sham and go full bore. Let every blue-chip high schooler go to the highest bidder, and make the figures public. Forget the idea of promoting the high-minded ideals of amateurism so that Texas and Alabama can't pay a kid when Miami (Ohio) can't. In the age of the super conference, Miami (Ohio) isn't going to be playing the same game anymore. An undefeated Ball State will be lucky to get an invite to Shreveport, La., to play the seventh-place finisher in the Pac-16 Arid America Division.
Oh, and academics (it makes me feel almost Dickensian to type that word) will be devalued even more, which means they'll go from being a quaint afterthought to being a quaint non-thought. And that might be preferable, actually, to the hypocritical wink-wink that's being played out in too many universities under the current system.
See? See what I mean about speculation and impatience? Conference cannibalism has the potential to become the endless pasta bowl of sports stories. When the Big Ten's plans first broke, it went from being a complete secret to completely exasperating us in less than a week. (The exasperation part might be a stretch, but play along.) The insatiable need to know everything in order to render a loud and half-educated opinion about it supersedes all. Give it to us right or wrong, but by God, give it to us now.
There are too many moving parts to the college football conference expansion saga. Who wants to sink their teeth into a good slow-developing story? We just want answers, and we want them now.