By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It started at a bar, as it usually does, a pair of wayward sports scribes playing Tuesday night trivia and talking about sports, the TV above me and Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail scrolling the news wire on ESPN.
Like most days, when it came to college football, the talk wasn’t of the Heisman or rivalry games, but instead of realignment and we knew, instinctively, that was bad. We began talking about Maryland being sued for $50 million for leaving the ACC, of Houston and SMU and East Carolina and Tulane in the Big East, making that conference so scrambled that the commissioner probably can’t name all the teams off the top of his head.
Then we sort of cackled when it noted that Grand Canyon University, a school jumping from Division II to Division I, completely skipping I-A, would be joining the WAC, a once-proud conference that gave the NCAA a football champion in Brigham Young one year.
At this point we wondered if maybe this conference realignment stuff hadn’t gone a bit too far, if the major schools ought to break away and reshape themselves, form four super conferences of 16 all-sports teams each and begin from scratch.
But how would they be able to put themselves into four such conferences? That was easy for Cassazza and me. They would hold a draft, just like the NFL and the NBA ... and that was what we did right there while N.C. State and Michigan were playing above us.
The rules were simple; alternate draft picks for these four unnamed conferences and select any team you wished, ignoring such matters as geography. After all, hadn’t Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said about realignment upon landing his new job, “It is more about electronic footprints than geographical”?
This is necessary because college football is losing its flavor. For example, for the first time in 70 years there is no “Backyard Brawl,” and that left just a huge void in what is West Virginia University’s first Big 12 season.
The essence of college football is these rivalry games, and with this helter-skelter approach they are dying.
The point was driven home this week watching Florida and Florida State play as well as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State compete in “Bedlam.” This is what the game is supposed to be about.
WVU running back coach Robert Gillespie was a running back for the Gators in his collegiate days and recalls the matchups with Florida State.
“Those games are always fun. Those are the games you circle at the beginning of the year. It gets the fans into it. It kind of gives you something to shoot for at the end of the year,” he said.
The problem here is that while West Virginia may be circling its game with Oklahoma, it isn’t the other way around for Oklahoma. The Sooners have Oklahoma State and Texas, and WVU will never replace either of them as an emotional rival.
“College football is going to lose over the next few years because everyone is breaking up and going to conferences,” Gillespie continued. “Eventually, the new rivalries will grow, but right now the Money Monster has taken control over the rivalries that have been there a long time.”
It was the same with defensive coordinator Joe DeForest, who coached in “Bedlam” at Oklahoma State for 11 years.
“I think that will develop over the time we are in this league,” he said of the rivalries. “There’s no natural rival, so we are going to have to develop one with somebody. It could be TCU, the two odd balls who just came into the league, who knows?
“Having a traditional rival ... I mean, I hated to see Texas and Texas A&M not playing on Thanksgiving,” DeForest said. “If you took away Michigan and Ohio State, there would be something missing.”
And there is. Rivalries are becoming a thing of the past, and they were the glamor and pageantry of college football.
Texas-Texas A&M, West Virginia-Pitt, Nebraska-Oklahoma, Missouri-Kansas ... gone.
No offense to anyone in either state, but as a Missouri graduate, I can assure you that West Virginia-Kansas cannot match in flavor or intensity the border war between Missouri and Kansas.
“I think it’s a travesty. That’s a tradition long before us and it would have been a tradition long after us, and you wish there was some way to keep it,” DeForest said. “But when you go to these 12-, 14-, 16-team conferences, you can’t afford to play these big rivalries and play your conference schedule.”
But what if you could reshape the game into four big-time conferences of 16 teams each, as we tried to do with our draft, then sat down and negotiated ways to keep as many rivalries as possible and do what you could to make them fit geographically?
We make no claims that our list is perfect, in part, because we did this without a list of teams in front of us, thus there were a few oversights, Purdue, Vanderbilt, UConn and Boston College undrafted.
Here, then, are the leagues as picked in order (for example, Notre Dame was the first pick, Texas the second, Michigan the third and Ohio State fourth, etc.):
A: Notre Dame, USC, Florida State, North Carolina, Tennessee, Miami, Stanford, Arizona, Kentucky, Louisville, Duke, BYU, Arizona State, Boise State, Oregon State, Utah.
B: Texas, Oklahoma, LSU, Georgia, Oregon, UCLA, Auburn, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma State, N.C. State, TCU, Washington, Baylor, Texas Tech.
C: Michigan, Alabama, Texas A&M, Nebraska, Michigan State, Missouri, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Indiana, Ole Miss, Maryland, Kansas State, Mississippi State, Iowa State, Kent State, California.
D: Ohio State, Florida, Penn State, Wisconsin, South Carolina, WVU, Pitt, Syracuse, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Cincinnati, Memphis, Northwestern, Rutgers, Wake Forest.
By the way, no one picked Grand Canyon University.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.