As you may have noticed, I’m not alone in my passion for this sport. Football, specifically college football, is not just a pastime or a business. It is a culture unto itself.
The sport (or, more accurately, being competitive in the sport) requires millions of dollars in investment in order to create billions of dollars in profit, vanishingly little of which goes to the athletes who play football and endure its damages. College football coaches are the highest paid state employees in many states, and the machinations of university athletic departments can alter the political tides both within their home states and nationally.
A little tale from this summer illustrates these points.
Back in August, Roger Marshall, a Republican senator from Kansas asked the Department of Justice to investigate the country’s largest sports television network to determine its involvement in the decision by two major universities to change athletic conferences.
In a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the senator argued that ESPN may have played a part in getting Texas and Oklahoma to change conferences, asking “that the D.O.J. investigate ESPN’s role in the potential destruction of the Big XII Conference and if any anti-competitive or illegal behavior occurred relating to manipulating the conference change or ESPN’s contractual television rights.”
Since 1996, the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma have been the flagship members of the Big 12 conference, which also includes schools like Texas Tech and, yes, the University of Kansas. Earlier in the summer, Texas and Oklahoma announced that they would like to leave the Big 12 conference and join the Southeastern Conference (S.E.C.), which includes athletic powerhouses like Alabama and Florida.
At the end of July, members of the S.E.C. voted unanimously to extend invitations to both Texas and Oklahoma, and both schools will join the S.E.C. in 2025. The result will be a 16-team “super-conference.”
Conference realignment in college sports is nothing new. Big schools bolting conferences to make more money is a time-honored football tradition, like overestimating Notre Dame. In the grand scheme of things, this move may seem unimportant, and perhaps should not be a priority for a U.S. senator.