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Why Should College Football Be Immune From The Volatility Of Late Stage Capitalism?

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Your longstanding traditions are a mere market inefficiency

It’s been news for nearly a week and we’ve already produced quite a few takes on it, but Texas and Oklahoma are going to the SEC. That much is true, and in the time since this has been set in motion there have been rumors that ESPN is basically trying to eat the Big XII with the AAC’s mouth.

Nevertheless, like I’ve been doing in Rocket League, I’m gonna come in at top speed just a little too late to hit the ball into the goal. That’s my signature move; flying into the net at the last second of the replay of someone else’s goal. You can watch me stream these matches by coming to my house and watching me play video games.

Anyway, for years I’ve been among the crowd lamenting what college football is losing as it consolidates into the optimal configuration for revenue growth. Jay Busbee compared the SEC to Amazon, and I think he’s absolutely correct to do so.

What’s not as explicitly spelled out is that this is the way this country and indeed most of the world works now more than ever, and if anything college football fans have been lucky that it’s taken this long for them to be shown that their province of pride, escapism and passion is not immune from the broader effects of modern so-called late stage capitalism: the value of what you love is finite and quantifiable, and it must stay above a certain target for what you love to justify its existence. Misery and detachment are less than ideal, but market inefficiencies are a sin.

Are Tradition, History, Stability and Sustainability Worth Abandoning For A Bit More Money Right Now?

Look around you. Everyone who controls the means of production unanimously agrees that the answer is “yes, every single time.” My answer to that question doesn’t matter; all I own are a house, a car and part of intergalactic soccer champions Detroit City FC. I have a used car in part because car manufacturers have finally wised up and started maximizing shareholder value by eliminating such things as sedans, compacts and base models for the North American market. The poors can fend for themselves; who wants a six-figure pickup?

This is to say nothing of decades of oil executives knowing full well that their actions accelerated climate change and biodiversity loss and determining that they and theirs could achieve maximum high scores in their lifetimes by paying money to fund “counter-science” to convince people those twin existential threats weren’t real. That’s just an example of the phenomenon exemplified by the Federal Reserve pulling out all the stops to save the stock market over the last 16 months, printing 30% of all dollars currently in circulation in that time frame and destabilizing the price of consumer goods for those of us who just use our paychecks to pay our bills and buy groceries. Put more simply, of course your beloved local family-owned restaurant got put out of business by an Applebee’s. Of course half the storefronts of your rural farm town main drag are half-vacant because of the nearby Wal-Mart. Apple has a market cap worth 11% of the entire U.S. economy. Corporate consolidation had been accelerating before COVID, but now it’s much worse. You can’t have nice things that last forever because nobody would be foolish enough to produce them anymore.

In that sense, we in the Big Ten have been relatively fortunate. Climate change has accelerated flooding in the western part of our footprint just as the Little Brown Jug game has been put on a long rotation, but compared to other parts of the world, we’ve been insulated from the very worst of it.

Believe it or not, Texas fans are excited about moving to a conference that contains some historic rivals. We like to think everyone’s conference history is like ours, but the Big XII emerged in 1996 after money destabilized the Southwest Conference. Texas lost its historic and heated rivalry with Arkansas in that debacle, and SMU, Houston and TCU were consigned to the outer reaches of FBS football when they were excluded (so was Rice, but I don’t know if they actually cared). Baylor was included in the Big XII as a favor to the governor of the state of Texas at the time while Houston, TCU and SMU’s bloated corpse were left to languish. TCU joining a prominent conference with Texas is one of the only win-win propositions in recent realignment history.

In a similar vein, Big East basketball being torn apart by football broadcast rights revenue created a lot of orphaned fans.

ESPN came for the Big East and many of us did not speak up because we were not in the Big East.

You know how the rest goes.

I first predicted in March 2019 that Texas and Oklahoma would leave the Big XII and eventually accelerate things into a College Football Championship League that would leave most of our teams behind.

Chris Vannini of The Athletic made a similar remark. Why would things be stable for any length of time? Nothing’s stable anymore.

The fact of the matter is that to Disney, ESPN and the Greg Sankeys of the world, your beloved college football institution is merely a vehicle for the sales of television and streaming ad space. Currently, such vehicles are not in the optimum configuration for revenue generation and some members of the lineup contribute less than others. Whereas ten years ago it was about accessing new cable markets and increasing the footprint, the changing TV landscape has shifted the priority to where the most important thing is how much your conference can demand for a football TV rights broadcast deal as determined by the sum of each school’s football brand value and demand.

As you may know, I’m an Illinois football fan. I’m going to lose, as are tens of millions of other fans. But this is how our economy makes progress. This is how we make the “K-Shaped Recovery” depicted in the header image: we leave increasingly more people behind. Sucks to be me!

We should cherish what we have left before it’s consigned to the scrap heap of history and then work to help whatever else we value. Lansing United FC was an NPSL club that formed a great community support base and generated a lot of interest in soccer in Lansing. One of Detroit City’s iconic moments was an epic comeback against Lansing that is still memorialized to this day. In 2018, the owner folded the club after being granted a USL franchise. Lansing Ignite lasted for one season and the fans were left with nothing.

My hope is that those teams that get left behind from the inevitable CFB superconference choose to create something smaller that’s actually sustainable, but I also hope the Amazon rainforest outlives me, so that should tell you how valuable my hope is.

This is why I didn’t feel like doing that much speculation or discussion on what this might mean for the future of realignment. I really just want to talk about football. I don’t want to talk about all this other shit, but alas here we are. Apple buys a company every few weeks, COVID was the financial opportunity of a lifetime for the wealthiest Americans, hedge funds are putting housing beyond the means of even more middle class people by buying up entire neighborhoods, and college football is taking a big step towards eliminating all of its market inefficiencies and redundancies.

Or, as we simple folks call those things, its “culture”