Tuesday, May 11, 2010
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Big Ten to alter? Give me games

Reason No. 467 why baseball is my favorite sport: They play games. Lots of them. Every night, games. Every morning, box scores.

We've become a football-obsessed nation. On weekends in the fall, we have every right to be. I will not argue that baseball games are more exciting than football games, because generally they are not.

But in the spring, there are no football games. So we lose our minds.

We create mock drafts. Then we grade drafts. Sometimes we even say things like Mel Kiper Jr. did in 2007:

"Three years from now you could certainly be looking at a guy who is certainly one of the elite top five quarterbacks in this league. . . . Nobody has an arm like JaMarcus Russell."

And then, three years later, Russell gets released. And then we look silly.

This spring, conference expansion has gripped the college football-loving nation. Never has something so nebulous wielded such a powerful fist, and we're struggling with how to react.

Should we be fearful that the game won't look like it once did?

Outraged at the greed?

Happy that this could wind up becoming a de facto playoff?

(Games! My kingdom for games!)

But in a sense, I suppose we do have a game here. The waiting game. That's all the ACC can do in this spot: Wait until the Big Ten makes its move, then react.

The Big Ten decision-makers have said they want to accelerate the expansion process, finalizing their new league within the next 8 to 14 months. They wield the power, and their next step determines a lot. Maybe they finally rope Notre Dame. Maybe they snag Missouri-Rutgers-Syracuse or Nebraska-Pittsburgh-Missouri or Missouri-Rutgers-Nebraska, branching both eastward and westward.

Maybe they stop at 12 teams. Or 14. Maybe they'll go to 16, creating the first megaconference, changing the landscape of college football forever, forcing the SEC to go after Florida State and Clemson and...

You get the picture. Nobody really knows what the Big Ten will do next. But we do know this: We ought to be worried.

Or excited.

Or something.

Tony Barnhart of the Atlanta Journal Constitution had an interesting blog item Monday morning, arguing that ACC officials -- currently attending spring meetings off the coast of Florida -- need to develop a contingency plan for when the Big Ten expands and the dominoes start to fall in other conferences.

The post generated more than 100 reader comments by early afternoon.

Some worried about what would happen to their favorite team.

Others had predictions on what will happen next.

And others -- my favorites, because most of these guys actually came armed with facts -- stopped by just to make fun of the quality of ACC football.

Hard to argue with Barnhart: The ACC needs a contingency plan. But what should that plan be? Barnhart is perhaps the most knowledgeable, plugged-in college football writer in the country, and not even he could offer one.

What hope, then, do the rest of us have?

None.

I know my hands should be wringing, my goose bumps raised, my underbritches bunched. But for some reason, they aren't.

So please pass me some pretzels and a remote. When the big one hits, you'll know where to find me, perhaps the last place you'd look for the modern sports fan in the spring.

Watching a game.

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Read Aaron McFarling's Daily Sports Briefing on the Press Box blog weekday mornings at http://blogs.roanoke.com/rtblogs/pressbox/

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