Most of you are probably familiar with the "card game" (to use the term loosely) called 52 Card Pick Up. where a deck of cards is scattered on the floor and one proceeds to pick up the 52 cards.
College (University, actually) sports is going through a phase right now that I like to call "52 College Pick Up," though it is more commonly referred to as "Conference Re-alignment."
Basically, what's it's all about is that several of the "power" conferences are talking about re-aligning their conferences. With the University of Nebraska headed from the Big 12 to the Big Ten and Colorado leaving the Big 12 for the Pac-10, the general consensus is that Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A & M and Texas Tech will soon be leaving the Big 12 to join Colorado and the two Arizona schools in one division of the new "Pac-16" superconference. The "forgotten children" in most of the scenarios that I've seen are the universities of Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State and, of course, Iowa State.
As seems the case with most stories about big time college athletics these days, the bottom line seems to be money. The Big Ten Conference had the foresight to start their own television network a few years ago, and each of the eleven members, regardless of their size or won-loss record, gets a healthy amount of money as a result. Other conferences have lesser t.v. deals , but they seem to think that if their conference can raid some of the other conferences of their members, they too, can reap the monetary rewards. In the Big Ten's case, they feel adding certain schools, like Nebraska or possibly Notre Dame, will only increase their already lucrative t.v. deals.
None of these conferences have much interest in ISU, Baylor, Kansas or K- State because: a) the institutions are not located in major metropolitan areas; and b) they are not considered to be powers in football, the sport which generates the most money for universities and television networks.
Never mind the fact that KU is - and always has been - one of the pre-eminent college basketball powers, from the days of Phog Allen to Wilt Chamberlain to Danny Manning to Kirk Hinrich, et al. It's not a "football school," you see.
And Iowa State, former home of Maury John, Johnny Orr and Jeff Hornacek and former (and current) home of Jeff Grayer and Fred Hoiberg?
Sorry, Cyclones - wrong sport.
This conference re-alignment is certainly not a new development, of course. Back in older, simpler times, one of the major athletic conferences, particularly in football, was the Southwest Conference, which consisted of the University of Arkansas and several Texas universities, including Texas, Texas A & M, Southern Methodist, Rice, Texas Christian (TCU), Houston, Texas Tech and, yes, Baylor. When Arkansas left the SWC to join the Southeastern Conference in 1990, that signaled the beginning of the end for the SWC, and in 1996 the conference dissolved, with its members scattering to other conference affiliations.
The Big 12, of course, was the Big 8 for many years (and prior to that, the Big 7), and the SWC break-up created the Big 12 in 1996, when four SWC teams (Texas, Baylor, Texas Tech and A & M) joined the Big 8.
The Big Ten, of course, has not been the Big 10 for several years, other than in name. When this conference of Midwestern universities, originally called the Western Athletic Conference, took in Penn State as its eleventh member several years ago. Of course, the Big 10 was too proud to call itself the "Big 11" - maybe because of the connection between the number 11 and football, maybe because it just "didn't sound good," who knows? At any rate, Penn State has spent several years as the "adopted stepchild" of the Big 10.
Then there's the Big East - a relatively new conference, not founded until 1979. Truly an East Coast conference and originally focused on basketball. Penn State applied for membership in 1982, but was rejected - hence the move of the eastern school to the Big 11. When the Big East decided they'd get serious about football (sorry, Penn State), they added schools such as the University of Miami, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Rutgers to the conference. The Big East is - how shall I put it - a little different. WVU, Rutgers and Virginia Tech were initially conference members only in football. Notre Dame, on the other hand, is a Big East member in all sports OTHER than football, where it remains an Independent (with a lucrative TV contract). In 2003, dissension between the "football schools" and the "basketball schools" led to VTU, Miami and Boston College moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference, while five teams moved to the Big East from Conference USA - Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, Marquette and DePaul.
Speaking of Conference USA, just what is that, anyway?
I tell you, it's getting to the point where, as the old saying goes, "you can't tell the players without a scorecard."
The Pac (Pacific) -10 used to be the Pac-8, too, as I recall, until they moved off of the Pacific coast and added the two Arizona schools (Arizona and Arizona State). Now with the addition of Colorado and possibly the other Big 12 teams, they continue their expansion away from the Pacific.
At any rate, conference re-alignment is not new.
Personally, I think conferences should be a thing of the past, but then I feel the same way about political parties. Neither institution, however, is likely to disappear anytime soon because of -you got it - the money involved.
With that in mind, might I suggest the following to Iowa State University (and any of the other Big 12 "leftovers" who are interested):
Though I initially suggested to some of my ISU alumni friends that the Cyclones join the Great Plains Athletic Conference, or perhaps the Iowa Conference, that was really said in jest. On a serious note, though, I think that there is only one logical solution for Iowa State, if they want to be affiliated with an athletic conference, and that is to join the Missouri Valley Conference.
The MVC is the second oldest conference in the United States, and the oldest conference west of the Mississippi River. It has never been a particularly strong football conference, but the conference has had its share of basketball glory. Current members of the Missouri Valley Conference include Bradley, Creighton, Drake, Evansville, Illinois State, Indiana State, Missouri State, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois and Wichita State. All Midwestern schools, many of them - like ISU - state universities. Two MVC members, UNI and Drake, would even provide natural in-state rivalries for ISU. The MVC can't be too bad - I mean, ISU's last basketball coach, Greg McDermott, chose to go there (Creighton) when he left Iowa State.
I think that bright young ISU coaches like Paul Rhoads and Fred Hoiberg would be a big hit and make an immediate impact in the Missouri Valley Conference - and the football Cyclones might even win (quite) a few games.
For those of you who think going to the Missori Valley would be a "step down" for ISU, you're right, in one sense. However, Iowa State, athletically speaking, can't compete with "the big boys." Moving "down" might actually be a good thing. Just look at how Morningside College athletics have thrived since they "stepped down" from their days as the doormat of the old North Central Conference?
Just an idea.