College football conference realignment draft: Part 1

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<p> College football conference realignment draft</p>

Welcome to the 2012 NCAA (National Conglomerate of Athlon Authorities) conference realignment draft.

Our esteemed conference commissioners -- Mitch Light, Braden Gall, Steven Lassan and David Fox -- will put an end to the conference realignment madness, which stretched into yet another summer this year, with the first (and hopefully, only) conference alignment draft.

Today, we wipe the slate clean and see where the chips fall if our commissioners could start from scratch. Rather than settle alignments through third parties, backroom deals and non-denial denials, we’ll start with a 16-round draft for our four conferences.

Here are the ground rules: Each commissioner drafts the entire package -- the program’s history, current performance and personnel and long-term potential. Each commissioner will take on an entire athletic program, from football to men’s basketball to lacrosse and gymnastics, the program’s academic reputation, and any NCAA baggage.

It’s up to our commissioners to decide the values and format of the conference.  Our commissioners will decide if regions and rivalries are important, if the league should be well-rounded among all sports and academics or if the league will be a football powerhouse moneymaker.

We’ve allotted 16 spots to draft, but if a commissioner wants to draft eight basketball powerhouses and call it a day, that’s fine. That commissioner, however, might have a league full of angry chancellors and athletic directors who aren’t rolling in the money of the other three football-centric leagues. Draft order was determined by a blind draw.

At the end of the draft, the commissioners will determine their league format, divisions, playoffs or conference championship games.

Starting now, we're on the clock:

ROUND 1

1. Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch): Texas
I considered Florida, but Texas was just too powerful to pass up with the No. 1 overall pick. The UT athletic department has the largest budget in the nation — and the highest revenues. The football team has struggled the past two seasons, but the Horns won at least 10 games from 2001-09. This is a program that will compete for national titles.

2. Braden Gall (@BradenGall): Alabama
Florida and Ohio State were both in the mix for me here with the No. 2 overall pick. I choose Alabama, however, due to the current state of its football program. The Crimson Tide is the best football program in the nation and Nick Saban is the best coach in the nation. Since it is also the most dedicated fanbase in the nation, Bama football won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. Even if the top coach in the nation decides to, gasp, retire. A quality basketball coach, solid baseball program and softball national champions didn’t hurt Alabama’s case either.

3. Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): Florida
It was really a no-brainer to start my conference with Florida. This is a key state for recruiting, and the Gators have won two football national titles since 2006. Florida also brings a solid basketball program and is a member of the AAU (Association of American Universities).

4. David Fox (@DavidFox615): Ohio State
With back-to-back picks on the turn, I’m able to secure two power programs to start my league. USC and Notre Dame are available, but I opted for Ohio State. I’m not too worried about the Buckeyes’ recent NCAA issues. Bringing in Urban Meyer ensures the football program won’t suffer for long. Ohio State brings my league an athletic department that’s normally in the top-10 of the Director’s Cup standings and is financially solvent enough to pay for itself and more.

ROUND 2

5. Fox: Michigan
I started this draft with the plan to maintain traditional rivalries and to build a league that makes sense geographically. If I were picking simply the best available, I might follow Ohio State with USC or Notre Dame, but I like the Ohio State-Michigan tandem to the be the foundation of my conference. I could have gone with USC-Notre Dame or Michigan-Notre Dame and keep rivals together as well, but the Wolverines needed only one season to pull out of the Rich Rodriguez funk while the Irish are still struggling to find their way. With my first two picks, I have two well-rounded athletic programs with massive alumni bases.
 
6. Lassan: USC
I considered taking USC at No. 2 overall, so I was surprised to see them fall to the No. 6 spot. The Trojans are a huge brand on the West Coast and bring a national power in football. The basketball program has experienced some success, but this is all about the gridiron.

7. Gall: Notre Dame
I wanted to spread my conference into the Midwest, where there are more TV sets than anywhere in the country, so Notre Dame was the obvious pick. The Irish brand is arguably the most powerful national brand in college sports today, and, now that Notre Dame is finally in a conference, it will quickly return to national prominence. The overall athletic department is stellar and is guaranteed to attract huge TV dollars. Plus, the idea of an Alabama-Notre Dame showdown every year was too sexy to pass up.

8. Light: Oklahoma
Maintaining one of the nation’s top rivalry games — OU vs. Texas — was a factor, but OU was simply the best football program on the board with the No. 8 overall pick. The basketball program is showing signs of life under Lon Kruger and the baseball team has been to the College World Series twice in the past three years.

ROUND 3

9. Light: Georgia
It was tough to pass up LSU, but Georgia gets my league into Atlanta and gives me an anchor in the deep South. The football program has been solid over the years, but the Dawgs have won only two outright SEC titles since the 1982. With the right coach in place — and Mark Richt could still be the right coach — Georgia should be in the national title picture on a semi-regular basis.

10. Gall: LSU
Getting the LSU Tigers in the third round felt like a steal. After a 30-year hiatus, LSU has returned to football’s upper echelon on the back of quality coaching, elite fan support, arguably the best facilities in the SEC and a tremendous natural recruiting base. Additionally, the baseball program has led the nation in attendance 16 straight seasons and the hoops program was in the Final Four just a few years ago.

11. Lassan: Florida State
I’m a big fan of rivalries, so it only makes sense to pair Florida with Florida State. The Seminoles may have underachieved recently, but this program can compete for national titles. Florida State basketball is coming off an ACC Tournament Championship, and the baseball team is solid.

12. Fox: Oregon
I want my conference to have at least two geographic divisions. Before Lassan took Florida State, I was going to take the Seminoles and Miami to anchor my Southern division. With FSU off the board, I’m looking West with Oregon. I’d rather have USC, but the Ducks are clearly the No. 2 program on the West Coast. I also like the idea of the Ducks’ flash to counterbalance the more traditional elements Ohio State and Michigan bring to the league.

ROUND 4

13. Fox: Washington
I admit it: This is a major reach. There’s no way a program more than a decade removed from its last Rose Bowl should be the 13th team drafted. But like I said, rivalries and regions will be one of the main features of my conference. Oregon and Washington give me two rivals to anchor the Western portion of my league. I drafted Washington too high, but this isn’t a bad Plan B for a Western Division if I can’t have USC.

14. Lassan: UCLA
This was a tough pick. I debated taking Nebraska, but I thought getting the Bruins to pair with USC made too much sense. UCLA should be better in football, and the basketball program has a rich history. And there’s nothing wrong with having two teams in the Los Angeles market.

15. Gall: Nebraska
I was ecstatic to land one of the most powerful football brands in the history of college football with my fourth pick. The Huskers are one of the most technologically advanced programs in the nation and the fan support is virtually unparallel. Few programs can match the staying power and tradition of the Cornhuskers, and, being located in the Midwest, extends my league’s reach into the most lucrative TV market in the sport.

16. Light: Penn State
The program is going through some turmoil, but Penn State football is a national brand with a tremendous following in the nation’s sixth-most populous state. The school ranked sixth in athletic revenue from 2006-11 according to a USA Today study. The one negative: None of the other major sports will bring much to the table. This is a football-only play.

Coming tomorrow: The next four rounds of our conference draft, which includes picks Nos. 17 through 32. Our four commissioners are starting to eye some national names that have gone dormant in addition to some elite basketball powers.

Skip ahead to: Rounds 5-8 | Rounds 9-12

National Conglomerate of Athlon Authorities Conference Alignment

Rd Mitch Light Braden Gall Steven Lassan David Fox
1 >> Texas Alabama Florida Ohio State
2 << Oklahoma Notre Dame USC Michigan
3 >> Georgia LSU Florida State Oregon
4 << Penn State Nebraska UCLA Washington


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