Kyle Kallander has a unique perspective on the latest round of mayhem in college athletics.
As the last commissioner of the defunct and great Southwest Conference, he knows nothing is sacred.
Certainly not these days, when everyone is chasing the almighty dollar more than ever.
History and traditions? Those terms carry no weight in what has essentially become a game of risk, with the Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference taking turns rolling the dice to determine how to divide the world of college football.
“Depressing is the first word that comes to mind” said Kallander, who now leads the Big South Conference, an FCS league based in North Carolina.
With Southern Cal and UCLA bolting for the Big Ten — and all signs point to more jarring changes to come — the Pac-12 could very well join the Southwest Conference in the dustbin of history.
For that matter, the Atlantic Coast Conference may soon become unrecognizable to its longtime fans, if it even survives. And the Big 12 seem increasingly irrelevant, scurrying around like a mouse in search of all the crumbs that will keep them alive.
In 1995 and 1996, Kallander took on the thankless duties of watching a walking dead man as the Southwest Conference finished its lame final year.
He knew what he was signing up for, but it was still a little shocking to face the reality of a historic conference – which had been around since 1914, producing some of the greatest teams, rivalries and players in football history. academic – getting out of work.
“This past year has been great in so many ways. We had a great celebration of conference history. We had a lot of athletic success that year,” Kallander recalled in a phone call Friday.
“But then,” he added, “we arrived in march and april. It was like overseeing a funeral, arranging an estate sale, and giving the last rites. It got a little weird at the end.
The Pac-12 was apparently caught off guard when USC and UCLA defected to the Big Ten, much like the Big 12 was a deer in the headlights when its two most important programs, Texas and the ‘Oklahoma surprisingly announced plans last summer to abandon ship for the second.
The Southwest Conference’s downfall played out much the same way, driven in large part by the same issue — college football television revenue — that is driving the current situation.
While the Southwest shot itself in the foot with numerous scandals in the 1980s (including the death penalty for SMU), and was clearly on shaky ground after Arkansas left for the SEC in 1991, Kallander arrived at the conference office in Dallas. a year later to find much hope for survival.
False hope, it turned out.
“We all still thought there was no way the conference was going to go away,” he said. “There was too much history.”
Indeed, for those who may have forgotten, the Southwest Conference has produced five Heisman Trophy winners and four Associated Press National Soccer Champions in its history.
But none of that mattered when the Big Eight, which had been in talks with the Southwest about a media joint venture, instead decided to remove the SWC’s four most lucrative members – Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor – and keep going. like the Big 12.
The four remaining Southwest members have found new homes in lesser conferences.
And that was it.
“We had the grass under our feet with the announcement of the Big 12”, Kallander conceded. “It was shocking to everyone, including some league DAs who didn’t see it coming.”
It’s a lot like today’s Pac-12, which didn’t seem to feel at all that its two Los Angeles behemoths were arguing with the Big Ten.
Now the vultures are hovering above our heads, eager to rummage through the remains.
Oregon and Washington may soon follow USC and UCLA in the Big Ten, which has become a 16-school monstrosity stretching from coast to coast. The Big 12, which has more lives than a cat, would also have eyed Oregon and Washington, as well as other Pac-12 remnants such as Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. Nobody seems to want Oregon State or Washington State, while college powerhouses Stanford and Cal-Berkeley may have to decide whether to downgrade their football programs rather than de facto join professional leagues. , especially in the wild and wild world of name, image and likeness. .
On the opposite coast, the ACC may soon find itself in a situation similar to that of the Pac-12.
ACC powerhouse Clemson has long been reported to be targeting the SEC, and Florida State could be another defector (although the Seminoles football program has fallen on hard times recently).
If the Big Ten wants to expand its national footprint even further, North Carolina (perhaps in tandem with Duke), Virginia and Georgia Tech are potential targets.
The ACC’s best hope for survival would seem to be somehow persuading Notre Dame into football membership, but that’s probably nothing more than a pipe dream. If the Fighting Irish give up their prized gridiron independence, it will almost certainly be to the Big Ten.
The ACC might have enough schools — and potential new members — to continue in a certain format, but the league would be an empty shell of what it is today.
No one knows how this will all turn out, but there are plenty of reasons to be discouraged by the potential outcome.
Kallander had a ringside seat the last time a major conference threw in the towel. He seen how it destroyed so many great traditions.
Now he’s looking at it all again, which is all the more painful since he’s also a Washington graduate.
“I think of all the great history, rivalries and traditions of USC,” Kallander said. “They were a big rival of ours in football when I was back in Washington in the 1980s and early 90s. Seeing that fracture is really unfortunate.
He is not naive, of course. Kallander knows that dollar signs have always been the driving force in college athletics.
A privileged group of schools are going to be much richer when that dust finally settles.
But at what cost ?