Conference switches lucrative for college teams

Curtis Johnson, head football coach, Ed Conroy, head basketball coach, Rick Dickson, athletic director, Scott Cowen, university president and Rick Jones, head baseball coach, hold the Big East banner after accepting an invitation to join Big East Conference during a press conference at Tulane University on November 27, 2012 in New Orleans, La.

Big time college sports is looking like a game of musical chairs these days. When the music stops, who knows where your favorite team will end up: the Pac-12, the Big East, the ACC, the Big 10?

Today, Louisville, approximately 600 miles from the eastern seaboard, announced it's moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference, leaving the Big East and replacing Maryland which is joining the Big 10. And that news comes a day after Tulane and East Carolina announced a move from Conference USA to the Big East. Still following this?

Really, it's not that complicated. To illustrate just how simple it is, consider starting this game of college football musical chairs with a Wu-Tang chorus that says it all: "Cash rules everything around me, cream, get the money, dollar, dollar bills ya'll!" 

Skip Sauer, an economics professor at Clemson and founder of the blog The Sports Economist, says some colleges justify switching conferences because it will improve recruiting opportunities. "It's money, money, money," he says, "that's the beginning and the end of it." Money, from lucrative TV contracts.

Michael Smith, who writes about college football for Sports Business Journal, agrees with Sauer. He says that's why the University of Maryland is leaving the ACC, after six decades, for the Big 10.

"In the first five or six years that Maryland is in the Big 10, the school will make roughly $95 million more in TV revenue than it did in the ACC," says Smith. He adds that Louisville is set to make $10 million more a year with the ACC after it leaves the Big East; East Carolina will make a couple million more when it joins the Big East. As Method Man from Wu-Tang eloquently rapped, "Cream get the money, dollar, dollar bills ya'll!"

Professor Sauer says that while college athletics programs are stacking cash, fans -- like him -- are mourning the loss of old rivalries.

"The traditions are changing and I think the pace of change means that we're losing a lot," says Sauer, adding that all this conference-hopping is "not over."

So cue another hip-hop chorus, from a Notorious B.I.G's 1998 hit: "Looks like the more money, they come across the more problems they see."

Maybe when "dollar dollar bills" lead to more problems for these college teams, the music will stop, for good.

About the author

Shereen Marisol Meraji is a reporter for Marketplace’s Wealth & Poverty Desk.

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