BOBBY HARRISON: Non-regional conferences throw off the athletic compass

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Despite what Shakespeare said about a rose being as sweet and enticing regardless of its name, there are times when a name does matter.
Could there have been a better name for Harper Lee’s insightful novel “To Kill a Mockingbird?” By another name, the novel still would have been as moving and as compelling, but the name sort of set the stage. Would the Super Bowl be the mega event it has evolved into if it was simply known as the National Football League championship game?
Would I have been until this day amazed that Barack Obama won the presidency if his name had simply been George Flaggs? Probably so, but you catch my drift.
College football is changing. Apparently, there is no institution to prevent schools from abandoning traditional conference alignments for new leagues. And to be perfectly honest that is not always a bad thing.
The fact that the University of Arkansas left the old Southwest Conference in the early 1990s to join the Southeastern Conference made sense on many levels. Plus, for years, it has given me a built-in conversation topic with my Arkansas in-laws.
But the more recent rash of conference re-alignments or possible re-alignments begs at least the taste test.
Currently, there is speculation that perhaps the University of Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State might join either the Pac-12 Conference or the Atlantic Coast Conference on the other side of the nation.
If Texas joins the Pac-12, it seems that the league would be legally obligated to change its name. What does the University of Texas have to do with the Pacific Ocean – or with the Atlantic Ocean?
It seems to be false advertising at the least.
Heck, Texas Christian University in Fort Worth is poised to join the Big East Conference. It has to be a big east conference to encompass a school in the middle of Texas. For the record, the Big East already is stretched mighty far and wide, including such universities as DePaul in Chicago and Marquette in Wisconsin.
But, in truth, the Big East is a relatively new conference, created as a matter of convenience for schools that were not part of the more traditional conferences.
The traditional conferences served a purpose, pitting regions of the country against each other in what was supposed to be friendly, collegiate competition. The regional battles created interest, and a source of pride, If the Atlantic Cast Conference is no longer an East Coast league, that throws everything out of kilter.
Can people in Maryland really take any genuine pride if Texas, as a new member of the ACC, defeats Ohio State of the Big 10, which now includes 12 teams, in a bowl game?
Texas A&M is on the verge of joining the SEC. That does not stretch credibility too much. Texas is definitely in the South and within a reasonable proximity of some other SEC schools. But it would stretch credibility for Missouri or Kansas to join the SEC.
Now granted a lot of this is subjective. There are no hard and fast rules on what school fits better in what conference. It’s kind of like what former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography – knowing it when you see it.
To a large extent what has made college athletics compelling and interesting are the regional competitions. The traditional conferences helped to define that regionalism.
Now it looks like the conferences might be blurring that regionalism.
It’s like Harper Lee writing to “Kill a Squirrel” or to “Kill a Blue Jay.”
It’s just not the same.
Bobby Harrison is the Daily Journal’s Capitol Bureau Chief. Contact him at or call (601) 353-3119.

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