College football "super conferences" would be a disservice to fans, problematic to govern and risky financial ventures.
That's not the view of an aging keyboard jockey clinging to his vinyl copy of "Exile on Main St." That's the opinion of a former administrator who worked at the highest levels in four of the six major conferences.
The source spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still consults independently for several athletic departments.
As the Big 12 threatens to combust — Texas A&M covets the Southeastern Conference, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State the Pacific 12 — many believe four 16-team leagues, or "super conferences" will emerge.
If so, ACC rivals Virginia and Virginia Tech will be profoundly affected. Both could remain in an expanded ACC that might add Syracuse, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and Texas, to name four schools floated in rampant media speculation.
On the off chance the ACC splintered, Virginia Tech and Florida State might land in the SEC, Maryland in the Big Ten, leaving ACC, Big East and Big 12 holdovers to merge.
Or, the academically inclined Pac-12 presidents — think Stanford, Cal-Berkeley, UCLA — might pass on Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, preventing Armageddon, saving the Big 12 and preserving the six major conferences.
"I think everything's on the table," the source said.
Why? No commissioner or television network is publicly advocating super conferences. The athletic directors my source talks to oppose them.
But commissioners and university presidents seem to be acting like children. The instant Tommy gets Madden NFL 12, Johnny wants it, too. So the moment one conference expands beyond 12, others may panic and blindly follow.
"I think what drives it is basic, old-fashioned greed," the source said. "Having more gold in your coffer than the next guy so you can build a better mousetrap and beat him.
"The fundamental issue is, institutions of higher education, the best in the country, have discovered that their best marketing opportunity is their football program. And those that aspire to be among the best academic institutions in the country know that as well.
"So they seek to brand themselves partially through their football programs, and they invest unbelievable amounts of money, energy, time, facilities to stay on that stage. To somehow think they can be thought of in the same breath (academically) as Michigan and North Carolina and Texas and UCLA."
But, the source warned, super conferences may not produce the windfall many project.
For example, the Pac-12's new television contracts with ABC/ESPN and Fox will net each of its schools approximately $21 million annually. To expand to 16 and maintain that share, the four new members would have to be worth $84 million per year.
Absent Texas, the source sees no combination of schools that would approach that amount. And that's not factoring Texas' new Longhorn Network, which would force conferences such as the Pac-12 and ACC to retool their revenue sharing formulas.
Moreover, the source said, "It's very unwieldy to work in a room with 16 entities being represented. And what you lose in that dynamic is the natural rivalries that fans really like. …
"Let's just say N.C. State goes to the Southeastern Conference. What does N.C. State have in common with LSU? It's just an entity to play. It's almost like everybody's an independent. I think that's a really undesirable outcome of 16-team leagues.
"I really think we're doing our fans and the game an injustice by avoiding the regional rivalries and building leagues that don't honor that and allow that to happen."
Rather than super conferences, the source favors partnerships between leagues.
"It would make a great television alliance right now for the Pac-12 and ACC to be working together," he said. "It would be in three different time zones, you'd span the country and with all of their products, you could create a television entity that had some real value coast-to-coast.
"It would allow the ACC to maintain it geographical footprint but maximize media value."
The source conceded that no one knows what will transpire or whether college athletics will benefit.
"We've driven this financial model so long, so hard that it's starting to break apart traditions and the things that have made college athletics," he said. "And maybe that's the way of the future, and maybe that's going to improve things. But it's certainly disconcerting for the traditionalists like you and me.
"North Carolina leaving the ACC? Is that not a crazy thought. But it was preposterous to me that Texas A&M would leave the Big 12. As important as the rivalry is between Carolina and Duke, or Carolina and N.C. State, the rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M is multiples of that. It's like Auburn-Alabama. So it makes me worry. Never say never."