Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Magnolia League

A secret fantasy of a segment of the Tulane population, particularly strong in the 1960s and 1970s, is the formation of a Magnolia League.
The effort to create a Southern athletic conference originated during the 1950s. Harvie Branscomb, then-chancellor at Vanderbilt University…. called a meeting with the presidents of other Southern private universities in the late 1950s — Southern Methodist University (SMU), Rice University, Duke University, and Tulane University — where Branscomb suggested they try to establish a new sports conference where small, academically inclined private schools could compete.

In the early 1960s, the idea for the "Magnolia Conference" gained popularity. In 1963, Tulane was frustrated by its enabling competition notwithstanding within the Southeastern Conference schools since many of the schools had lower academic expectations for football and they considered withdrawing from the SEC to compete with schools with similar aims. According to the “Rice Thresher”, the era was a time when "the academic disparity between show-me-the-money schools and the schools less inclined to compromise academics was just beginning to become more evident." The "Magnolia Conference" had the vision to "maintain high-end Division I budgets and schedules, while avoiding some of the crasser extremes of the big business of college sports".
I’ve always been sort of tickled by this idea- and I’m not sure it is completely far fetched. For one thing, the next step after the consolidation of the BCS Leagues is the expulsion of the weaker members. The real threat of four regional based super Leagues isn’t to Tulane exactly; the Green Wave is resource poor and will remain so no matter what the Pac-10 or Big Twelve does. The threat is to Duke and Vanderbilt- second class football citizens that cannot generate the revenues and wins of large state universities. Trust me, Vandy will find there is a price where their peers will drop them.

That being said, it is a pipe dream for football for now. There will be still one more shake out in BCS football to come- and I don’t know if there will be enough losers to populate an eight team southern non-crass football conference. But there are enough teams now to support an ancillary experiment in basketball.

In Philadelphia, there is the Big Five- a committed round-robin between Villanova, Temple, LaSalle, St. Joseph’s and Pennsylvania.

It works, because like any good conference affiliation, the schools have enough in common to generate some heat (in the case of the Big Five, geography). I’d like to see some sort of informal Big Five-style Magnolia League. The juice would be both geography and similar non-crass athletic program generated.

Create two four team divisions- and have each Magnolia League member commit to three games in December within its grouping. I mean, I’ve seen enough of Lamar and Nichols State- so we’re looking at almost immediate upgrade with fun programs and instant rivalries. Then, top it off with a holiday championship tournament in Atlanta, New Orleans or Washington.

There are a ton of programs to invite to participate- capped at two from any given League (assigned to the separate divisions): Richmond. Wofford. William and Mary. Navy. Rice. St. Louis.

The League might even get lucky, promise two of the three League games at home each year, and get a Vanderbilt or Georgia Tech to join up. They probably don’t mind a pair of guaranteed home games and a single regional road trip.

The branding of such a League almost does itself. How fast would a national HBC brand like Grambling or religious-oriented Liberty sign up? The reason they would kill to get in is that there would be juice here- the Magnolia League.

And think of the wonderful angst generated in programs not invited? There is real potential here.

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