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The Problem With Conference Realignments

With looming conference realignments beginning to take effect, major Division 1 athletic institutions are facing backlash from coaches, athletes, and media alike on the ethics and reasoning behind their decision-making.

Amongst many changes, one of the most notable shake-ups has been the near extinction of the Pac-12, which is currently slated to include a mere four institutions for the fall seasons of 2024. Four of the Pac-12’s original members –including the University of Washington, the University of Oregon, the University of Southern California (USC), and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) –are joining the Big 10.

The Big 10 is a conference primarily made up of midwest and east coast schools. The addition of four west coast institutions will cause major changes for student-athletes, coaches, and fans.

In an interview for University of Missouri athletics, football coach Eli Drinkwitz discussed how he felt conference realignment decisions were made primarily for the institutions’ football teams, and how it could negatively impact other sports and athletes. Drinkwitz noted that a conference spanning the entire country would mean that student-athletes have to travel great distances to compete, which could disproportionately impact athletes in sports like softball and baseball who have to fly commercially. He also mentioned that the shift may cause lack of sleep, which can generate mental health issues for student-athletes and impact academic performance. He stated:

“I don’t worry at all about the game. The game is going to be strong. Football is going to be fine… But did we consider the people that we are entrusted with? Did we consider the student-athlete?”

Typical football seasons consist of roughly 12 games, whereas baseball and softball play roughly 56 games.

Consider Rutgers University. The trip from Rutgers University, in Piscataway, New Jersey, to any of the newly added Big 10 teams is over 2,500 miles, or roughly a 40+ hour drive. The extensive travel to and from those games will keep athletes out of class, give them less recovery between trips, and make traveling harder for families and school supporters. It will also impact coaches, as they will have to spend more time away from their own families for travel.

While institutions have increasingly placed emphasis on “the importance of the ‘student’ before the ‘athlete’”,recent conference realignments have suggested that money is taking priority over student-athlete well-being in decision making processes.

Ultimately, these decisions come down to the discretion of each institution, as is the same with many things in the NCAA. With limited national regulation, there’s no telling how future realignments will impact student-athlete health and performance, the livelihood of coaches, or college sports as a whole.

How far will things be pushed before the people in charge start listening to student-athlete voices? Again we ask, at what cost?

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