By Mark Nagi

I’m not good with change. Never have been. Never will be.

I was sad when Rita’s Bakery closed its doors. I went to the Tazewell Pike store a few times a year for over a decade, picking up fancy sugar cookies for my daughter’s birthdays. It was a special little family tradition that we will have no more. (Side note, hit me up on Twitter if you have a good sugar cookie alternative in Knoxville.)

I didn’t like it when I left Geneseo, NY. It was my little college town, the place I felt safe and loved and, man, it was fun. Graduation is part of life… but that didn’t mean I liked it.

And I certainly don’t like the current state of collegiate athletics.

Last week, USC and UCLA left the Pac-12 for the Big 10. It wasn’t a move that many saw coming, but in 2024 the Trojans and Bruins will be playing schools on the opposite side of the country.

This is just the latest move that is shaking the foundation of collegiate athletics. The Big 12 lost their two biggest draws (Texas and Oklahoma) to the SEC. The Longhorns and Sooners could join their new conference as early as 2023. The Big 12 then pulled Houston, Cincinnati, Central Florida, and BYU because yes, we all have been clamoring for that Iowa State/Central Florida rivalry to become a regular thing.

The closest Big 10 school to Los Angeles? Nebraska. Over 1500 miles away. USC and UCLA will now play conference games against Rutgers. Google tells me that driving the necessary 2753 miles would take 41 hours. Or 250 hours if you traveled on a bicycle. Or 903 hours if you walked. What I’m trying to say is that it is far away.

How exactly does the “student-athlete” benefit to have to travel that distance for a game?

Every few years conferences look for ways to make more money. Not that they are standing in a soup line. These conferences and their member universities make a fortune through TV dollars alone.

But it’s not enough.

Have we not learned that money is the root of all evil? How it makes us do things that we don’t necessarily want to do?

The old Big East conference was an absolute delight. The 1980s in college basketball were a golden era for those schools. But then they expanded to allow the development of football and all the riches that sport brings the member universities. Eventually, the conference destroyed itself. Today it exists again, with the same name, and as a basketball-only conference again.

Last summer, the top soccer clubs in Europe tried to start what was called the “Super League.” That would have destroyed the fabric of the sport and destroyed its unique structure. But fans stood up and the team owners caved. It was their “Schiano Sunday.”

Unfortunately, nothing can stop this train. Conferences have been poaching other conferences for years and that’s not going to stop.

I’m 49 years old. Maybe now I’m the old man yelling at the cloud. Maybe you are 69 years old and remember having these same feelings when the SEC expanded to allow South Carolina and Arkansas to join them. Maybe you are 44 and will have these same feelings in a few years when the SEC grabs Clemson and Florida State, Miami, and Virginia Tech while the Big 10 picks up Utah and Oregon.

The Super League failed in Europe, but the age of the Super Conference in collegiate athletics is almost here. Will there eventually be only two major conferences? We are heading in that direction.

And it’ll be a shame that Tennessee/Florida will be replaced with something not nearly as fun or intense. What level of good old-fashioned sports hate will there be when Tennessee plays North Carolina State in SEC play? That’ll take time to develop.

I know I’ll still be watching the games, and I’ll still enjoy those moments.

It’ll just be… different.

I’m not good with change. Never have been. Never will be.