Yesterday, as my roommates and I commiserated about the big conference realignment news, my buddy Paul -- who was furious at the idea of losing the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden -- came up with an anti-realignment idea: Why doesn't the NCAA stop them?
"They need to step in," Paul said. "Someone has to do something about this."
The answer, I quickly pointed out, was that the NCAA had no power to do so. But it actually bears repeating, because I'm not sure how many casual college sports fans realize this fact: You can criticize the NCAA for plenty of things. Widespread conference realignment is not one of them.
Turns out, NCAA president Mark Emmert actually answered this question to Andy Katz yesterday, and his explanation serves as a helpful of the forces at work here:
"I've been talking to commissioners and presidents and helping to try to keep people focused on the picture and reminding people at the end of the day we're talking about student-athletes and I think the institutions are being as thoughtful as they can on this," Emmert said by phone from the NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. "We don't have a formal role in any conference configurations. The presidents have always had that and always will. As a former university president (at Washington) I know that."
"All of the authority in the NCAA comes from the membership," Emmert said. "The members have never given the NCAA the authority over conference configuration and they're unlikely to ever do that. That is an individual institutional decision and they guard that zealously."
In other words, if you're upset about conference realignment, don't blame the NCAA. There is not a big red button Emmert can push. He can't make an angry phone call to set things right. He can't stop a move that would kill a conference or leave a handful of teams flailing in the storm. He really can't do much of anything.
Like the rest of us, Emmert is sitting and watching and hoping everything works out for the best. Sure, he's "talking" with commissioners and presidents, but he's only just talking. The NCAA membership is never going to give the NCAA president control over its individuals' abilities to change leagues. It's just never going to happen.
Like it or not, realignment is a runaway train, and there's no single conductor able to punch the brakes. This is the reality. We might as well get used to it.