March Madness Proves That Football Is King
By Matt Phifer
With March Madness upon us and both sports and non-sports fans obsessively checking their brackets, it's hard to imagine that this isn't the biggest event in college sports. But it's not.
For the first time ever, March looks really different and all of that is because of the real king of college sports: football.
Football's affect on basketball became painfully obvious during this year's conference tournaments. And nowhere was the influence of college football more obvious than at the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden. For the first time since the league's inception, Syracuse and UConn did not grace the Garden's floor. Syracuse instead found itself on Tobacco Road with fellow former Big East members Pittsburgh and Notre Dame facing teams from a league they used to argue with over who was the best in college basketball. UConn, along with Louisville, were relegated to Memphis, Tenn., playing an odd conglomeration of teams that resembles the old Conference USA.
The reason for these moves is obvious. Football money is just too large to stay in a league whose main focus is basketball. Just as a comparison, the average profit of the Top 10 college basketball schools in 2012 was $15.2 million, while the Top 10 college football schools made an average of $76.6 million in the same year. The reality is that the United States is a football country and no matter how storied a college's basketball program is, it will never live up to the hype and marketability of a successful football team at that same school.
Being a successful football program means being on TV, a lot, so the best recruits come to you knowing fans around the nation and more importantly, NFL scouts will see them. It also means being able to buy the best coaches around and building or upgrading one's facilities. For schools like Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville and West Virginia, the Big East just didn't offer the TV money to make those things possible.
The Orange already are cashing in on that additional ACC TV money, building a brand new indoor football practice facility that is scheduled to open in August. It will be a major improvement over the current indoor facility, which is housed in the old basketball arena, Manley Field House, and features a circular field less than 100 yards in length. Syracuse also added ribbon scoreboards and new jumbotrons in the Carrier Dome. Plans have even been drawn for a new retractable roof stadium just off the SU campus that would host both football and basketball.
So far, Louisville's frequent conference moves have paid off with the Cardinals winning two BCS games in the Big East after leaving Conference USA. Despite a second-place finish in the AAC, they got plenty of airtime and should expect more of the same in the ACC, especially with Bobby Petrino back as the head coach.
Although all of these moves for football are understandable in the current college sports climate, it's hard not to be disappointed when noticing that old rivalries are dying away on the hardwood in addition to the gridiron all in the name of the almighty dollar. Syracuse and Georgetown never again will battle in the Garden as conference foes. Similarly, Pitt, Notre Dame, West Virginia and UConn (Louisville was only in the Big East five years and it's hard to say any of these matchups were rivalries for them) won't play some their old Northeastern rivals like Villanova, St. John's, Seton Hall and Providence.
And the moves still aren't done. Next year, Maryland will head to the Big Ten for bigger bucks and more football exposure with Rutgers, taking its basketball program away from the teams they've played for more than 50 years. Undoubtedly, playing in Indianapolis against teams like Michigan State and Ohio State will be a big difference from playing the likes of North Carolina and Duke in Greensboro.
In 10 or 15 years these changes won't be noticed except for by a few. The ACC has been the great beneficiary of this shift, adding much to its basketball profile in addition to football. Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville football are all going in the right direction, partially because of these moves. It just proves that the promise of gridiron glory outweighs a school's already-established basketball dominance.
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