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With New Season, Football Colleges Turn On Each Other

A football on a football field near the 50 yard line.
David Sanborn via Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Football at Sierra College. Photo by David Sanborn via Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

We begin today, with an allusion to the tale of the scorpion and the frog. Believe it or not, the allegory holds great significance to the world of big-time college athletics these days.

In case you’re not familiar with the story, it seems that a frog and a scorpion come to a river. The scorpion asks the frog to carry him across.

The frog, not initially trusting of the scorpion, agrees to do so with the promise that the scorpion won’t sting him during the swim, as it will doom them.

Sure enough, halfway across the river, the scorpion ignores his pledge, and stings the frog, mortally wounding him.

As they sink, the frog asks why the scorpion went back on his word, knowing what would happen. The scorpion responds that it’s in his nature.

Well, as college football teams welcome back spectators to stadiums after last year’s COVID-related cancellations and games with limited attendance, there’s some serious frog and scorpion action going on, though it’s hard to know which is which.

The first sting, as it were, was delivered last month when word seeped out that the universities of Texas and Oklahoma would seek to leave the Big 12 Conference to join the Southeastern Conference in 2025.

The move had quietly been in the works for months and will strengthen the SEC, adding two collegiate juggernauts to what is already the most powerful college conference in the land.

Meanwhile, the Big 12, a rag-tag collection of schools from Morgantown, West Virginia to Waco, Texas, took a hefty blow to its standing with the pending departure of Oklahoma and Texas.

As a response to what is happening in the Big 12, three other big conferences, the Pac-12, the Atlantic Coast and Big Ten conferences announced last week that they will form an alliance.

The stated goal of this new union is to ensure that the three leagues, who largely share similar demographic and educational profiles, carry those similarities into scheduling.

However, the real reason is the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten wanted to sting the SEC before they themselves could be stung.

The three leagues will schedule non-conference contests primarily against each other, thus keeping the SEC from picking up games with those 40 teams.

That, theoretically, would weaken the profile of SEC schools when it comes time to play in a college football playoff, the holy grail of money makers.

And when you get right down to it, that is what college athletics is about these days. The schools have, for all intents and purposes, dropped any pretense about high-minded academic interests and ideals.

It’s all about the naked, unvarnished pursuit of cash. Oklahoma and Texas aren’t doing anything that Syracuse, Miami, Pittsburgh, Nebraska, Colorado, Rutgers and Maryland haven’t done over the past 10 years, breaking long time alliances and commitments to chase the almighty dollar.

With billions of dollars at stake, there will be many rivers, many scorpions and many frogs in college athletics. The only question will be who stings who.

And that’s how I see it for this week.

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Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Milton Kent hosted the weekly commentary Sports at Large from its creation in 2002 to its finale in July 2013. He has written about sports locally and nationally since 1988, covering the Baltimore Orioles, University of Maryland men's basketball, women's basketball and football, the Washington Wizards, the NBA, men's and women's college basketball and sports media for the Baltimore Sun and AOL Fanhouse. He has covered the World Series, the American and National League Championship Series, the NFL playoffs, the NBA Finals and 17 NCAA men's and women's Final Fours. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University.