Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Sometimes conference realignment is unforgiving. When the motivation is to get paper now, or position oneself better in a changing FBS football landscape, or cash in on a lucrative television deal, switching leagues is the obvious move to make – no matter how much long-standing tradition or geographical or cultural common sense gets bulldozed in the process. This is the brutal calculus schools were forced to assess in the latest round of realignment moves, and the result – for college hoops, at least – wasn’t always a happy ending. When Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC, it ended one of college sports’ best rivalries (with Kansas). Texas A&M’s move to the same conference ended a great annual football game (with Texas), and an underrated and desultorily good hoops match-up. Syracuse’s leap to the ACC closed the curtain on its decades-old Big East feud with Georgetown. Fortunately, it appears the Hoyas and Orange are on the cusp of locking in a home-and-home series to continue one of the sport’s great games outside of its traditional Big East-tethered form. The two schools came together, understood their games were just too bitterly competitive, and too fun, to simply give up just because football and TV money forced them to part ways. Syracuse and Georgetown will benefit, because it adds another quality opponent to one another’s non-conference schedules, and college hoops as a whole will benefit, because the Hoyas and Orange typically play some of the most entertaining, hotly-contested, dramatic games in any given year. Perhaps other schools can take Syracuse and Georgetown’s lead, work through whatever logistical hurdles exist and spark up their rivalry hate in this post-realignment world. Keeping these sorts of rivalry games churning across newly configured leagues is important for the long-term health of the sport.
Kicking aside the Duke-Maryland rivalry is a huge disappointment (AP Photo).
Or you can be like Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who apparently wants nothing to do with future Big Ten member Maryland, who will only play the Blue Devils once in the regular season this year before leaving for its new league. Kryzewski spoke out against Maryland’s motivations for leaving the ACC when the news broke last fall. He expressed many of the same concerns most college sports purists do when lamenting the products of realignment: an attack on tradition, prioritizing monetary gain over cultural and geographical fit, the destruction of rivalries. None of that is particularly novel, but coming from Kryzewski, it felt like one of the stronger harangues we have heard against the recent whirlwind of shifting league allegiances. Maryland was completely frank about its move to the Big Ten – its athletic department, struggling to stay afloat financially, saw an avenue to steady its economic future through a broadcast rights windfall, and predictably jumped at the opportunity. It was the smart financial move for Maryland, and probably the best hope for curing its still-unenviable financial state, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the ACC welcomed the switch with rousing acclaim. Duke, a team Maryland has waged some truly memorable conference games against in recent years, won’t even think about scheduling the Terrapins as an annual non-conference fixture.
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