Money and brand: Why college sports are switching conferences

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

23 September 2011

Follow the money

Am I alone in thinking about college sports and that the names of the collegiate conferences would work well under the guidance of Nurse Ratched?

This has been brewing in my brain for some time now, but with the recent application of both Syracuse and Pittsburgh to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, the sheer inanity of it all sent me into a complete tizzy. Well, not quite to the level of throwing my desk chair across my office in a heated moment of passion (thank you Coach Knight), but pretty darn close.

At first glance, it all looks so inane.

“They do teach geography in college, right? Did anyone associated with college sports learn it?”

Pittsburgh, a team that is over 300 miles away from the Atlantic coastline, wants to join the Atlantic Coast Conference? Surely, we all know the motivating factor behind this is money. Playing for a stronger football conference helps with the revenue of the university (football is where the dollars are). But seriously, there is something absolutely mixed-up, backwards and upside down about conference names these days. And being that they represent the world of academia, you would expect a little work from the ole’ noggin to come into play.

Truthfully, I can let the Pittsburgh example slide because it is not nearly the worst example currently on the table. Yes, there is a much worse example.

Take the mid-major basketball conference, the Atlantic 10. You would think that the number 10 would suggest ten teams. Logically, that would make complete sense. But no. The Atlantic 10 boasts 14 teams — one of which is St. Louis University. Because you know, when we think of the Atlantic, we all logically think of St. Louis, Missouri.

Even St. Louis’ coach, Rick Majerus, complains about the team’s placement in the Atlantic 10. Says Majerus: “We belong in the Missouri Valley… the A-10’s a good league, but you’ve got to cross two states… What rivalry do we have? Dayton or Xavier? They sure don’t consider us to be big rivals.”

It goes on. Texas Christian University is now applying for the Big East as well as rumors suggesting that Kansas and Kansas State may join the conference too.

college sportsThey do teach geography in college, right? Did anyone associated with college sports learn it?

What about the Big 10 sporting 12 teams? Or how about the Temple football program playing for the Mid-American Conference? Surely, when I think of Philadelphia, I think of middle America.

However, all this swapping shows the power of the conference brands. (Although, they should be careful. They are all treading very close to becoming meaningless.) Truly great brands are those that exemplify something that we personally covet or want to be. In the world of collegiate athletics, this covetous agenda is of no exception. Take for example, the ACC, a very powerfully branded conference. I ask you, what does the ACC most readily represent? Perhaps that of a league that is home to the really exceptional athletes and the best coaches — teams that have a very real potential to win a national championship. You know, like North Carolina or Duke in basketball, or Florida State and Miami in football. It’s a no brainer. If you could be a part of this elite group, and had the chance to, wouldn’t you?

Or what about the Big East? We might think of hard-nosed, athletic, basketball. Or a conference with the pedigree of players worthy to make it in the NBA.

So, behind all of this rearranging and moving and this and that, there is a semblance of sense as to why some colleges want to move to more elite conferences. Because when they are a part of these conferences, they too own the feeling of being a little bit better than the competition.

But despite all of these truths, it is still really hard to look at this giant cluster of conference names in college sports and yell out — as the world’s greatest basketball coach, John Wooden, once did — “Gracious sakes alive!”


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