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Stevens: Landscape of college athletics getting a major re-design

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on June 18, 2010 1:46 PM

On their 1987 album Document, rock band R.E.M. sang, "It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine."

The landscape of college athletics as we know it appears to have begun a strange and dangerous turn in a direction it's never been before. Money-driven conference expansion has dominated headlines in recent weeks.

No longer do traditional rivalries, geography or conference loyalty serve as overriding factors for athletic directors and university presidents when determining what's best for the respective institutions.

In hopes of improving its on-field product, the Big Ten Conference lured Nebraska away from the Big 12. The Big Ten now has the necessary 12 teams needed to hold a conference championship game.

The Big Ten has struggled to maintain relevance in the college football world with its regular season typically ending in late November. Without a conference title game, the gap between the end of the Big Ten regular season and the beginning of the bowl schedule has left plenty of time for the Big Ten to be forgotten.

Nebraska's decision to bolt for the perceived greener pastures of the Big Ten was also largely based on the money the school can make from the Big Ten Network. While the Cornhuskers won't officially join the Big Ten until 2011, each Big Ten school is scheduled to make around $7.5 million from the network in 2010-11.

While the Big Ten got the 12th team it was looking for, the Pac-10 reeled in Colorado from the Big 12 in hopes of expanding into the Denver television market. The Pac-10 also lured Utah away from the Mountain West Conference, giving it the 12 teams it needs to hold a conference title game.

The Pac-10 hopes to launch its own television network in 2012, the same year its current TV deal ends with Fox Sports. Denver has long been a pro sports town and nothing says "west coast" like the Rocky Mountains or Salt Lake.

Although Texas, Oklahoma and the their fellow Big 12 leftovers ultimately opted to stay put it wasn't because of a love affair with their current conference. It was the almighty dollar and promises -- not guarantees -- from conference commissioner Dan Beebe of increased revenue from TV deals that kept the Big 12 together.

The possible creation of a Big 12 network and Texas' own network also went a long way toward keeping the Longhorns in their current conference.

Further damaging the current image of college athletics are the never-ending suspensions and dismissals of athletes from universities for arrests and the violation of team policies.

Former University of Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli's recent dismissal for being cited for possession of marijuana and for theft at a fraternity house is just the latest example.

College basketball hasn't been left untouched by the downward spiral of college athletics. Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, a man that exudes everything right with the game, just ended his week-long flirtation with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Gone are the days when star players choose education over riches and stay in school for four years. Kentucky's John Wall has become the latest one-and-done freshman phenom to choose the NBA over the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is a four-year college career.

This certainly appears to be the end of college athletics as we know it,

And no, I don't feel fine.