Realignment, Penalties Change Face of College Football

Conference shifts and USC's penalties alter the college football landscape

By Josh Alper
|  Friday, Feb 24, 2012  |  Updated 2:14 PM EDT
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More than just about any other sport, college football is built on tradition. It's built on familial allegiances to the schools of their grandfathers, the rituals that play out in college towns on fall Saturdays and the indelible images linked to the names of schools.

How funny, then, that the entire face of college football is changing because of decisions made by three schools with some of the richest tradition -- Nebraska, Colorado and USC.

The storied Nebraska Cornhuskers are poised to leave the Big 12 to become the 12th member of the Big Ten (math majors need not apply to BCS conferences).

This move that presages further additions to the conference of Michigan and Ohio State, as well as the demise of the Big 12. Colorado has already left for the Pac-10, and Nebraska's departure would almost certainly lead to Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma, among others, joining the Buffaloes among the palm trees and movie stars out west. 

Conferences have shuffled members before, and college football has soldiered on without much difficulty, but this move would have lasting implications.

The destruction of the Big 12 would likely start a domino effect that would see the Big Ten and SEC moving toward 16 teams. This would decimate the Big East and leave the Big Ten, Pac-10, SEC and ACC as megaconferences in a college football world that's already rigged against schools from smaller conferences. Those four conferences could pull out of the BCS and essentially run their own tournament each year to crown a champion, with Notre Dame likely invited to be part of the dance because of their national appeal. 

That makes sense, since it was Notre Dame that set this whole thing in motion in the first place. If Notre Dame had joined the Big Ten at any point since Penn State became the conference's 11th member, we probably wouldn't be staring at the seismic shift we're facing right now. The Big Ten would have enough members for a lucrative title game, the Big 12 teams wouldn't be used as pawns for the avaricious moves of other conferences and we wouldn't be trading Nebraska-Oklahoma for Washington State-Texas.

Does it make for better college football? Probably not, but it won't be any worse, and a few years from now it will seem perfectly normal that Nebraska and Michigan State have a rivalry. There was once a time when Army and Navy were dominant programs and everyone survived their demise. They'll survive the demise of the Big 12, a conference created for much the same reason as this week's moves, just as well. 

That would be enough change for most sports, but college football is upping the ante by slapping the wrists of USC, the third point in our tradition triad.

The Trojans are banned from the postseason for two years and they'll lose scholarships for the next three years as a result of dirty dealings by Reggie Bush while the running back was at USC. 

The postseason ban won't mean nearly as much as the scholarships, which will weaken USC for much more than three years because of the affect it will have on their depth and on their margin of error for a player who doesn't pan out as hoped.

If Texas and company come to the Pac-10, those losses would be particularly painful. Suddenly, USC wouldn't be the biggest dog in the fight. They wouldn't be able to load up on talent to hold off the invaders. That changes the look at the top of the football world almost as much as the conference musical chairs.

Usually, outsiders storm the gates and destroy tradition. College football is working in reverse, with three of its most venerable names working together to tear down much of what's been built in the past.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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