I get it. I really do.
The only way Fresno State will ever become a college sports heavyweight is for the Bulldogs to join a power conference.
Lacking that prestige and access to those revenues, the Bulldogs are forever destined to remain a middleweight. Forever stuck trying to punch above their weight class.
Only now the gap between the heavyweights and middleweights is widening. The big guys wield the authority to make their own rules. They can add thousands of dollars to each scholarship and guarantee them for four years. They can feed their athletes unlimited meals and snacks. They can provide extra medical expenses to current and former players.
There’s even a fear the Power 5 conferences will break away from the rest of Division I and close the gates behind them. Which would effectively turn Fresno State and the Mountain West Conference into I-AA programs.
So I understand, among the local sports populace, why there’s such a strong desire to see the Bulldogs in a major conference. When I first moved here the aim was the Pac-10, which became the Pac-12 without a sideways glance at the central San Joaquin Valley. Now those desires are pinned on the Big 12.
Yup, the Big 12. That conference with Longhorns, Sooners and Cyclones.
I’m not sure when this Fresno State-to-the-Big 12 talk got started but can see how it did.
For one, the Big 12 only has 10 members — four fewer than the SEC, Big Ten and ACC. It is the only Power 5 conference without a football championship game, which became magnified this week.
There’s a vacuum. Which supporters of schools like Fresno State are happy to fill with hopes, dreams and speculation.
Problem is, it’s not based in reality. And it takes the focus away from where it should be.
When the Big 12 became the first major conference to get left out of the four-team national title playoff, many blamed its lack of a championship game. But if Georgia Tech scored three more points in the ACC’s version, either Baylor or Texas Christian gets in and the Big 12 looks shrewd for not exposing them.
That’s how it works.
As of now, the Big 12 is not allowed to have a championship game because NCAA bylaws require a minimum of six teams in two divisions. But rules can be changed or amended. In this era of deregulation and reforms, there is little reason to think other Power 5s would stand in the way.
The Big 12 has yet to decide whether to pursue a football championship game, Commissioner Bob Bowlsby told national media outlets this week. He also stated the conference would not expand just to get to 12. It would be, he said, a “poor reason.”
Not what the rush-to-action forces want to hear.
Even if the Big 12 decided to grow, envisioning a Central California branch office requires a certain stretch of the imagination.
Look at the conference map: four schools in Texas, two in Oklahoma and two in Kansas, all nearly stacked atop one another. Then one in nearby Iowa and one way, way off by itself in West Virginia.
Surely if the Big 12 expands, it will first look to fill blank spaces within that vast footprint with schools such as Cincinnati, Memphis or Houston. If football strength (and not geography) is the primary consideration, Boise State or Brigham Young would get the nod. Or San Diego State, if the Midwesterners seek market size and California cool.
I’ve just named six schools (most of them certainly, others probably) that rank ahead of Fresno State as of this moment.
So unless the Big 12 plans on becoming the Big 18, Bulldogs fans shouldn’t get their hopes up.
By saying these things, I’ll be accused of being negative toward Fresno State sports. On the contrary. The future has never seemed brighter.
For the first time in my memory, Fresno State has the right leadership in place. It has a president in Joseph Castro who understands not only the value of strong intercollegiate sports but also the commitment required to sustain that. It has a new athletic director in Jim Bartko who was instrumental in Oregon’s rise.
But this is only Castro’s second full year, and Bartko doesn’t officially come aboard till New Year’s Day. These things take time, and the Bulldogs have plenty of catching up to do.
In 2012-13, Fresno State reported $33.7 million in athletic revenues. That ranks eighth in the 12-school Mountain West and well behind the upper tier of UNLV ($64.5 million), New Mexico ($44.3 million) and Boise State ($43.1 million).
It’s a reason the football team doesn’t have a full-time recruiting coordinator like Boise State, Nevada and others do. Or that football players get one training table meal per day (and get costs deducted from their scholarship checks) while their Broncos counterparts eat as often as they want on the school’s tab.
It’s a reason why the men’s basketball team has gone through four academic advisers in the past four years. Which may have been a contributing factor to why a certain point guard is ineligible.
Fresno State did not spend the past several years addressing these matters. It spent them trying to become a national leader in gender-equity compliance.
Now a new course has been set. Can’t say where it leads, but almost assuredly not Lubbock, Texas.