Sonny Dykes lauds C-USA's regional model

May, 31, 2012
5/31/12
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There is one coach in the country who truly knows what it is like to be a part of a disjointed conference.

Just consult Google.

For Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes to get from Ruston, La., to a WAC game in Hawaii, he needs 15 days, and a sturdy kayak to get him 2,756 miles across the Pacific.

Quick pause while you consult Google Maps.

Airline travel obviously alleviates the need for a kayak, but you get the point. Louisiana Tech has experienced what teams such as West Virginia, Boise State, San Diego State and Missouri are about to go through as they enter new conferences with tumbleweeds as neighbors.

During the recently completed football season, New Mexico State was the closest WAC road game for the Bulldogs, at 935 miles. The average distance between Louisiana Tech and its seven conference rivals in 2011? That would be 1,812 miles.

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PresswireSonny Dykes isn't a fan of what the conference realignment craze has meant for student-athletes and traditional rivalries.
So you understand why the recent college football expansion moves of the past year make little sense to a man who knows a thing or two about getting in from an away football game in the wee hours of Sunday morning.

"You think of all the changes that have happened here recently. It’s all money related," he said in a phone interview. "In some ways, it’s not great for our business. I don’t know how much sense it makes for Boise or San Diego State to be playing in the Big East. To me, I view it as a negative because of the lost rivalries. You look at Texas-Texas A&M, the traditional rivalries that aren’t going to occur as a result. Some of the kids get compromised for money because now you’re dealing with extra travel, other sports are going to have to miss classes. You have a lot of headaches for your student-athletes.

"We’ve had to deal with it. The travel is really tough on players and tough on your coaches. When you’re getting back in the middle of the night and early morning on Sunday, it has an impact on your team. To me, college football is as popular as any sport in our country. I just think it’s sad we’re screwing with it as much as we are because I don’t think we have to. It’s a great product. It’s stood the test of time, and it’s stood the test of time because it’s been slow to change. Here we are having this drastic change. In the long run, I don’t think this is the best thing for college football."

While some of the aforementioned teams are putting more strain on themselves, travel-wise, at least Louisiana Tech is making things easier. The Bulldogs are headed to Conference USA in 2013, one of 24 teams to switch conferences since last August.

The newly reconfigured C-USA will feature teams in essentially the same region, with the furthest member being UTEP in Texas.

"Conference USA and commissioner Britton Banowsky -- I think his model is probably the one that makes sense in college football," Dykes said. "We want regional rivalries, we want regional games. With these conferences going all over the country to play each other for TV money ... this is a model that has worked forever. We’re fortunate to get into the league."

But will Louisiana Tech be fortunate whenever we see the endgame to all this expansion? That is a huge question, because many believe the richer programs will eventually splinter away to form their own division.

"The big conferences, the rich want to get richer, and it’s going to be hard for the people in the middle of the pack to keep up," Dykes said. "With the television money and the reluctance of those conferences to share revenue with other conferences, to me I’m not so sure dollars and cents should be driving college football and it is. So I think the end is going to be, some type of cutoff. The proposal to give student-athletes a stipend … people know some schools won’t pay that, choking out schools that won’t be able to pay it, to keep money away from schools that need money to continue their athletic programs. I’m a coach who loves the game. I just hate to see the differences are so big between schools like us and the University of Texas or whomever. They get bigger and bigger and it becomes more difficult for people like us to try and compete."

Does he ever envision a time when college football administrators come to their senses and go back to more regionalized conferences, the way C-USA is attempting to do?

"I don’t know that anybody can see the future that way," Dykes said. "It will be fun to sit back and watch. I think at the end of the day, everybody will look back and say this doesn’t make sense. Let’s blow this thing up and start over. They’ll say greed has cost us, let’s try to be a little bit more prudent in the decisions we make and keep the student-athletes in mind."

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