In professional sports, the main water cooler topics driving conversation -- in normal times, at least -- are free agency, the draft, and trades. In college athletics, we have no draft, no trades, and no free agency (at least not officially), and so we have the coaching carousel and conference realignment.
Nothing, and I truly mean nothing, makes your Average Joe Fan feel like the love child of Jim Delany and Greg Sankey quite like announcing to the world that he, and only he, has read the tea leaves, studied the chess board, and seen the future -- and that future is four, 16-team super-conferences. "Lemme tell ya, Pawwwwl."
But this? Now this, I'm interested in.
As first reported by Sports Illustrated's Ross Dellenger, Conference USA commissioner Judy McLeod penned a letter to Mike Aresco, her counterpart in the American, proposing the two conferences combine assets into two geographically-sensible leagues.
"We are writing to request an opportunity to bring the leadership of our two conferences together to discuss ways we might be able to work together," McLeod writes on behalf of the conference, "including on matters related to conference realignment/reorganization. We believe that it would be beneficial to have a conversation about the future landscape of college sports in this time of great uncertainty."
A merger/asset swap certainly makes sense on paper. The American stretches from Philadelphia to Dallas; C-USA from Norfolk, Va., to El Paso, Texas. Even the two leagues' names hint at the same idea: "We're a conference of universities across this country that may or may not have anything in common aside that we play sports and we all live in America."
On paper, it makes more sense for Tulane to play Rice, a fellow academically-minded urban private school half a day's drive down the interstate, than East Carolina. Just as it makes more sense for East Carolina to play Old Dominion than Rice.
McLeod's letter did not provide a mock realignment, but I'll happily draw one up for us all right here. Combining the 14-team C-USA and the remaining eight American schools gets you two numerically even, geographically balanced 11-team conferences. No longer does FIU fly to Louisiana when South Florida is right there.
Of course, one can't help but notice the Sun Belt wasn't included in this conversation. If anything, that league would make even more sense for a partnership with C-USA given those two share even more geographic overlap than the C-USA and American.... and that's precisely the reason the Sun Belt wasn't included. Virtually the entire Conference USA roster once resided in the Sun Belt, and the Sun Belt now holds a grudge with a smile given that it is now a better football conference than C-USA.
Self-preservation and self-interest rule the day in conference realignment. Always has, always will. In fact, that's the reason McLeod and C-USA sent this letter in the first place. It's no secret UAB is a top target for the American once its attempted annexation of the Mountain West's best assets failed. Charlotte may be along for the ride as well.
A merger may provide some benefit for the American, but Conference USA proposed this merger because it's the best path forward for Conference USA. Altruism does not exist in this game of thrones.