Realignment is here to stay:For all that ESPN has lent to the growth of major-college athletics — through on-air exposure and with rights-fees payouts that schools have fed into stadium improvements, luxurious locker rooms and huge contracts for top coaches — there's an undercurrent of concern about the influence of the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports.It's not just that its tentacles are everywhere: They're everywhere at once.As a TV rights holder, ESPN is a business partner to a wide array of conferences and schools (its total college outlay will average more than $700 million annually by next year).And as a leading broadcast, print and online news outlet, ESPN also reports the news it's often a party to making."We've created … I was going to say a blurry line, but I don't think there is any line anymore as to who's in charge," says Andy Geiger, a former athletics director at Ohio State University."We're doing business with an entertainment company whose only way of surviving involves the number of eyeballs watching the screen," he says. "That is the driving force in what I see as all the decisions being made."
A social science experiment, one might add, heavily focused on economics.
Others see it differently. UConn President Susan Herbst, on the landscape a few weeks ago: "One of the things I think we're all resigned to is that regionalism is pretty much over. In terms of stability and finding the best institutions that fit, that you want to play, you have to go pretty far beyond where you ever thought. And that's OK. I think most of us are settled with it. Football, it's a little easier because you only go to a far away place every other year and they come to you every other year. … The world is flat. I think we've all come to see that college athletics is like telecommunications or political organizing or any of the kind of dynamic institutions that used to be very regional. It's a national activity."NCAA President Mark Emmert said last month of the variety of plans being discussed, "These are all living social science experiments."