Set up football-only college conferences

There has been plenty of pushback against conference realignment, where regionality and tradition has been steamrolled for bigger and bigger leagues and richer and richer television deals.

Yet even the biggest critic can understand the underlying logic when it comes to football — media executives will pay for the highest viewership possible.

As such, in football, which is the primary, if not exclusive, driver of revenue for all of college athletics, here comes USC-Ohio State, Oregon-Michigan and Texas-Florida.

No one in college athletics, however, even bothers to justify having softball and soccer and gymnastics teams travel coast to coast to compete, especially when, unlike football, the games aren’t exclusively on Saturdays, don’t involve chartered flights and often generate less fan interest than if they played a local rival.

“We’re talking about a football decision … but what about softball and baseball who have to travel cross-country,” wondered Missouri football coach Eli Drinkwitz, whose league, the SEC, will add Texas and Oklahoma in 2024.

“They travel commercial,” Drinkwitz continued. “They get done playing, they have to go to the airport. They come back at 3, 4 in the morning. They’ve got to go to class. I mean, did we ask any of them?”

Of course not. Realignment decisions are about football broadcast money and almost nothing else.

“I chose to play in a high-level softball conference where being close to home would allow my parents to come watch my games,” Oregon softball player Paige Siniki, who hails from Henderson, Nevada, wrote on social media. “It’s unfortunate to hear that my senior year I’ll be playing as far away as New Jersey.”

“I chose to play in the Pac-12 because of the ability to play close to home and in front of family,” wrote California-native Shannon Cunningham, whose Arizona State team will now head east to the Big 12. “This affects athletes in every sport [plus] academics.”

Oregon teammates welcome Janelle Lindvall, left, at home plate after her home run in the seventh inning against Wisconsin in an NCAA regional softball game at Howe Field in Eugene, Ore., Saturday, May 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

Oregon softball could soon be coming to an East Coast city near you. (AP Photo/Chris Pietsch)

In an even more extreme possibility, consider that there are discussions for Bay Area schools Cal and Stanford to potentially join the Atlantic Coast Conference — which operates, you guessed it, along the Atlantic Coast. Essentially every road trip would be 3,000-miles.

Make sense? None of it does. Missed class time. Time-zone travel exhaustion. Expense.

What would make sense, at least a little, is if college athletics made a simple move that would benefit both the bottom line and the welfare of the non-football playing student athletes.

Set up conferences that exist for football only. Or basketball only. Or any sport only. Chase your money in football. Chase sanity in everything else.

USC playing football in the predominantly Midwest and East Coast-based Big Ten may be good for revenue and exposure. Other sports, though, should be more local or regional. Put the softball team on a bus to San Diego State, not a plane and then a bus to Michigan State.

It’s not only sensible, but economical. Cutting travel costs for all these other teams actually increases the value of what football is bringing in.

This isn’t groundbreaking, by the way. It’s common for schools to belong to multiple athletic conferences.

Notre Dame is in the ACC for most sports but the Big Ten for ice hockey and independent for football. Missouri is in the SEC for all sports except wrestling, which remained in its old league, the Big 12.

Utah plays lacrosse in the Atlantic Sun. ECAC Hockey features six Ivy League schools. Johns Hopkins, which is D3 in most sports, competes in the Big Ten for lacrosse.

Out west there is already the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation which serves as a catch-all for numerous sports with limited participation such as gymnastics, track and field and fencing. It counts traditional members of the Pac-12, Mountain West and Big West, as well as D-II and D-III schools. That includes USC, UCLA, Stanford and others who are in it for men’s volleyball and water polo.

So why not expand that out? Why not have regional leagues like that everywhere?

Why not just have the big conferences scale back their membership in so-called non-revenue sports. It’s not insulting to say what’s good for football isn’t good for softball or swimming. It’s actually pro-athlete, if not pro-common sense.

Television executives claim there is a reason for Rutgers to travel to Washington to play football.

Absolutely no one says there is a reason for Rutgers to travel to Washington to play volleyball.

So don’t make them.

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