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When will realignment benefit students?

Realignment, schmee-alignment.

When the Southeastern Conference chancellors and presidents met Sunday and released a statement saying they were happy with their current 12-team setup, I shrugged.

On Monday, when the Texas A&M Board of Regents gave President R. Bowen Loftin permission to move the Aggies out of the Big 12, I smirked.

The sense is that once A&M clears a few legal hurdles, it's only a matter of time before the Aggies become the only SEC team in the state of Texas. The potential move generated a lot of analyzing, theorizing and pontificating about the trickle-down effect on competition and schedules. Will college football eventually become just a collection of super conferences? If A&M successfully defects, how can the Aggies compete in arguably the toughest conference in the nation when as a member of the Big 12 they've won just one conference championship?

But amid all the chatter, one question has been largely ignored: How will realignment impact the athletes?

Not surprisingly, the athletes' interests have been overlooked, because that's just the way things work in big-time college sports.

As college athletics has gotten bigger, the commitment to academics has been pushed further into the background. A quick glance at the scandalous headlines of the past year suggests the dollars invested, the pressure to win and more impatient fan bases and ADs make coaches and schools more likely to admit risky players and to look the other way when something wrong is brewing.

But in the warped, greedy world of college athletics, it's perfectly acceptable for schools to operate like corporations and seek juicier, more financially lucrative landing spots in other conferences, all while peddling this comical fairy tale that big-time college sports is an amateur operation.

There is nothing amateur about the creation of super conferences. They make member schools richer and more visible. They concentrate football power. And they tease fans who think realignment will get college football closer to a playoff.

But do these moves help college athletes?

If schools and universities want us to buy into the concept that they take educating college athletes seriously, they need to address this disconnect. How does realignment, which will cause some players to travel thousands of extra miles, help grade point averages?

Assuming, of course, that's still a priority, right?

TCU joining the Big East was a great football move that made no geographic sense. How can the school's commitment to educating athletes not be viewed skeptically when, starting next season, players will regularly travel from Fort Worth, Texas, to the Northeast? The Horned Frogs may be used to long trips in the west, but even with direct flights they'll be tacking on hours off campus traveling every season -- it's almost 1,500 miles to East Hartford for a game against Connecticut (not to mention the travel additions for conference opponents playing in Texas).

The same thing goes for the Aggies, who would be parading their athletes all throughout the southeast. And their move could cause a domino effect.

It's possible the SEC could become a 14- or 16-team league. Certainly other conferences, including the expanded Big Ten and Pac-12, would feel pressure to add more teams to stay relevant.

College sports already are cutthroat, but the formation of super conferences would be an enormous shift in the landscape, creating a wider chasm between the haves and the have-nots. Select schools will chase -- and get -- the regional networks included in the Pac-12 TV plan or a deal similar to the one Texas received from ESPN, which will pay the school $300 million over 20 years.

The push to make college football an even bigger monetary mammoth doesn't quite jibe with some of the issues discussed at a two-day powwow among presidents and other officials last week in Indianapolis, where a great deal of time was supposedly spent discussing how to protect college athletes and expand their scholarship benefits.

The NCAA decided to strengthen academic guidelines, which may be why NCAA president Mark Emmert is making a belated push to calm the roiled waters. Prior to the Texas A&M story breaking, college officials had decided to raise the Academic Progress Rate, the established educational standards that schools must meet in order to be eligible for the postseason. In the future, teams must have a graduation rate of at least 50 percent, otherwise they will risk a postseason ban.

As admirable as that may be, this overwhelming rush to generate revenue compromises schools' core principles. Judging by their actions, most of them think it's worth it.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com.

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