Derek Redd: Power 5 should be careful what they wish for
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- New Southern Mississippi football Coach Todd Monken probably earned himself some friends among his Conference USA coaching brethren for some tough words at media day.
He had heard the talk of a so-called "Division 4" for NCAA football -- where the teams in the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 would split off from the rest of what was the Football Bowl Subdivision -- that gained steam last week. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby fired the loudest shot across the bow when he said the power conferences could consider breaking their teams away from the pack.
Monken, who just spent two seasons as Oklahoma State's offensive coordinator before coming to Hattiesburg, said the big boys could go off on their own if they wanted. Just don't come running back to C-USA, the Sun Belt or any of the smaller conferences to schedule games.
"Go ahead and do your deal -- you guys split all the pie -- but don't go playing anyone else," Monken said in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "You just play each other every week. Just have a nice NFL crossover where you play each other. Then when you fire up a nice 7-5, and you're at a pretty good place and they fire you, they won't be real excited about it, because you won't have those games that they've been able to win. Plain and simple."
"Some of those teams that get bowl eligible when they go 2-6 in their league and they go 6-6. Well, you'll be 2-10, or 3-9, and it won't feel so damn salty."
Monken has a pretty good point with that last statement. Nine teams from major conferences made bowl games last season at 6-6 (or, in ACC title game loser Georgia Tech's case, 6-7). Only the Yellow Jackets in that group played those bowl games with a winning conference record, and they even survived a loss to the Sun Belt's Middle Tennessee State. Seven of the nine had losing conference records, including Minnesota's sterling 2-6 Big Ten run.
So the Golden Gophers' postseason hopes hinged on wins versus UNLV and Western Michigan. The same goes with Michigan State and its wins over Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan. And Ole Miss and its wins over UTEP and Tulane. Without feasting on the smaller fish of college football, several big timers would have stayed home for the holidays.
Now some pundits wonder why the major programs haven't broken off already. They claim, just as Bowlsby did, that "Northern Iowa and Texas aren't much alike," and say the NCAA should do more for the power football conferences. And maybe that means leaving the smaller teams in the dust.
You know, like Boise State.
It's a single example, but that Idaho outpost has, since 2006, beaten Oklahoma, Oregon (twice), Oregon State (twice), Georgia and Virginia Tech. There are some "Power Five" teams who would kill to have a List of the Vanquished like that. Now the Broncos of the Mountain West are in the annual conversation of teams maybe not in the national title conversation, but in perennial top 25 talk.
After all, how do the smaller programs advance without the opportunity to punch above their weight? Marshall earned wins at South Carolina and Clemson early in the Thundering Herd's life in the FBS. If progress in Marshall's athletic department didn't come to a screeching halt in the mid-2000s, who's to say the Herd wouldn't have become Boise State? Last season, C-USA champ Tulsa avenged its season-opening loss to Iowa State by beating the Cyclones in the Liberty Bowl.
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday doesn't like the idea of a complete split.
"I think it's bad for college athletics," he said Monday. "I think the days when the Butlers of the world in basketball and those guys can't slip in and maybe have the opportunity to play for the championship, or the Boise States of the world or the Marshalls when we get to where we want to be, to not be able to have the chance to play for the ultimate prize, I don't think that's what college is all about."
Entire conferences like C-USA and the Mountain West might not have the power to go toe-to-toe with the SECs and Big 12s, but why shut out a team like Boise State that might be worthy?
"Some little guy sneaks up and shocks the world, what's wrong with that?" Holliday asked. "To eliminate everybody but the so-called elite schools from that, I think you're eliminating the purpose."
Either way, it will be captivating to watch the future unfold in what has been a symbiotic relationship between the major-conference teams and small-conference teams. The smaller schools bolster their athletic programs' coffers with the money made playing the bigger schools. And those bigger schools pad their bowl resumes with the wins against the smaller ones.
Teams in conferences like the Sun Belt might not be the only ones that should protest. The also-rans in the major conferences probably should object, too. After all, when the big conferences pull away from the little ones, who's left to be the punching bags?
There always will be a ceiling and a floor in college football. Take the little guys out of the equation, and it's not like the bottom feeders of the ACC will continue to hover in the middle. They'll find themselves on the new ground floor. Minnesota becomes the new Eastern Michigan. Kansas becomes the new Tulane.
Then they'll find out how the other half lives.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.