The Best Conference That Never Was

What if I told you that the idea of a “super conference” is nothing new?  During the past few years of major conference realignment in college athletics, many pundits have made public their desire for there to be four super conferences composed of 16 teams each.  Each of these conferences would span a geographic region of the United States and produce one true conference champion.  These four champions would then be the perfect match-up for a 4-team play-off to decide the college football champion. 


This system both makes sense and has its flaws.  One of the major problems during the BCS Era was deciding which 2 teams would play for the national championship.  The final poll was made up of a collective system of human polls and computer polls.  Every year it seemed there would be a team with a legitimate gripe that they belonged in the championship even though they didn’t “finish” in the top 2.  This super conference idea would produce 4 teams, that in today’s system of a 4-team play-off, would all have a chance to play for a national championship.  But then that means that a champion could only come from the 64 teams in the four conferences.  So, what do you do with all the other teams that would make up the rest of the football bowl subdivision?  That is a lot of teams to just cast to the side.  What these Power-5 schools don’t realize is just how bad they need these other schools.  While these teams play tough games in conference week in and week out, they usually schedule Group of Five schools or schools from a lower division to fill their schedule.  The system is not perfect and there’s no telling how things may look just 10 years from now. 


The Metro Conference was a small conference founded in 1975 and consisted of schools from major urban cities.  The charter members included the University of Cincinnati, Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Louisville, Memphis State University, Saint Louis University, and Tulane University.  Florida State would go on to join in the next year setting the tone for other schools to join and leave.  Over the years schools such as Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the University of Southern Mississippi, and the University of South Carolina would join.  The conference functioned as a powerhouse college basketball conference, but with each school playing football as an independent. 


In 1990, Raycom Sports came up with the idea of the “super conference.”  Ralph McFillen, commissioner of the Metro Conference at the time, knew that the league had to change to secure its future.  The Metro Conference had too many schools joining and leaving.  Raycom Sports came up with the perfect way to both ensure the conference survived/was competitive with other major conferences of the time and increase the overall value of the league.  The plan was to change the league to a 16-team conference with two divisions of eight teams each.  The second part of the plan was to bring football to the league so that none of the schools competed as an independent and were full-fledged members of the Metro Conference. 


The two divisions would be the North and the South.  The teams in the North would consist of Boston College, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia.  The teams in the South division would include East Carolina, Florida State, Louisville, Memphis State (Now Memphis), Miami, South Carolina, Southern Miss, and Tulane.  The conference would cover a large portion of the Eastern and Southern United States, as well as feature major college programs and rivalries.  A conference like that would be able to secure a television contract with any network it wanted at pretty much whatever price it wanted.  The idea, unfortunately, was ahead of its time and never came to be.  The very next year, 1991, Florida State leaves the Metro to join the ACC and that sets off a mass exodus of teams.  After Florida State, South Carolina leaves to join the SEC.  It became evident that the Metro Conference could no longer survive, and in 1993 talks began between the Metro and the Great Midwest Conference to merge.  This merger between the leftover schools would go on to create Conference-USA. 


Now let’s have a little fun and look at what could have been.  I went back and did the research and looked at what these teams accomplished in basketball, baseball, and football from 1991 to the present.  Starting with basketball, this conference would have 158 total NCAA Tournament appearances with a National Championship in 2003 by Syracuse.  This conference would also be responsible for 39 appearances in the College World Series with two different teams, Miami and South Carolina, winning twice each (1999, 2001, 2010, and 2011).  The Super Metro Conference also would have amassed an astonishing 121 bowl wins in football with four champions including three from Florida State (1994, 1999, and 2013) and one from Miami (2001).  It is simple to see that this conference could have been a juggernaut if the original plan to put these schools together happened. 


One more thing that would look different today is the gap in athletic budgets for some of these teams.  You can look at a team like Southern Miss and see they have one of the smallest athletic budgets in the country around $20 Million annually.  That’s pocket change compared to the budgets of schools in the Power-5, especially when you factor in how much money they receive from their television contracts.  Had Southern Miss been a part of this super conference for the last two decades, and competed at the highest level of college athletics, you can bet that the budget would be much higher.  The same can be said for the other schools in this proposed super conference that find themselves outside a Power-5 conference today like East Carolina, Memphis, and Tulane.


Just imagine how different the landscape of college athletics would look today if this conference did exist.  When the original plan was put forward in 1991, Raycom Sports thought the “super conference” trend would catch on in the next 5 years.  Here we are in 2017, nearly 26 years later, and the idea is still tossed around every few years.  Will it ever happen? I can’t say for sure.  The only thing I do know is that it’s finally football season again, and like the great Cardale Jones once said, “…we came here to play football, we aint come to play school…”

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