RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Penn State football once had a reputation as a program that was clean and upstanding. It's a rare reputation, especially because college football - supposedly a game of scholar-athletes - in reality is big business. Many colleges are looking for extra TV profits. And commentator Frank Deford says that's why so many so many look South.
FRANK DEFORD: Okay, here's the idea. Greece leaves the EU and jumps to the SEC. Bingo. With all the television and bowl money it would get, Greece would be solvent again, and the Southeastern Conference would get that big Athens TV market.
You see, everybody talks about how colleges are all switching conferences. But essentially, they all just want to jump to the SEC, or whatever best emulates the SEC. It's the solid South in college football. Once the South used to control Congress. Now y'all, the gridiron.
Especially northern Big East schools are seeking Southern comfort. They all can't get into the SEC, so they'll settle for the Dixie next door, the Atlantic Coast Conference. Boston College left first, now Pittsburgh and Syracuse. West Virginia is the only one that didn't get the memo. The Mountaineers want to leave the Big East for the Big 12. Hello, West Virginia: you're like ditching Michele Bachmann's campaign to get on the Newt Gingrich Bandwagon.
But the poor Big East. When it was first created in 1979, it was a stupendous basketball conference, loaded with all those Northeastern Roman Catholic inner-city colleges - like St. John's and Providence and Seton Hall - that didn't field big-time pigskin combines. But then college basketball went into decline because all the good players drop by for one year, attend a class or two and hop to the NBA. Nobody knows who anybody is in college basketball anymore. It's like drone warfare. Anonymous slam dunks.
College basketball, which starts this week, now consists entirely of, number one: the Blue Devils and the Tarheels down together in Carolina; number two: wherever it is that John Calipari has taken his portfolio, with his this year's bunch of transient freshmen; and number three: UConn, if it can keep anybody eligible - plus, of course, Dick Vitale screaming at the top of his lungs.
The Big East is more like a commune now than a conference. Everybody does their own thing. Some teams, like pretty soon, one that's all the way to the Far East in Idaho, only play football in the Big East. Others, though, play in lots of the conference's sports.
Notre Dame plays most everything, except it won't deign to play Big East football. Notre Dame still thinks it's too good to be in anybody's football conference. Notre Dame is still under the illusion that it's China, when everybody else knows that, really now, it's just Taiwan.
You see, the SEC is what Notre Dame used to be. The Irish ought to wise up, lower their academic standards and go plead to get into the SEC before Greece does.
Over all this, the NCAA pretends to preside. The NCAA is to college football in 2011 what the League of Nations was to Europe in 1935.
MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News, with Steve Inskeep. I'm Renee Montagne.