It is a strange world, this sports, when you find yourself arguing fidelity with Louisville coach Rick Pitino, and he is on the side of standing by your man and until death do us part.
Pitino’s most recent achievement of note is an extortion conviction against a woman he “front hugged” with at a local bar, which started a chain reaction of tacky. That woman was not Mrs. Pitino, by the way. And yet there he was Wednesday, solemnly preaching the Gospel of Thou Shall Not in his rant against Pittsburgh and Syracuse for bolting the Big East for the ACC.
Personal infidelity? OK, if you insist.
Institutional infidelity? Slow down.
“My problem is not them leaving,” Pitino said at Big East media days Wednesday in New York. “My problem is you did it in 48 hours. Don’t run away with a girl after one date when you’ve been dating someone else for three or four years. You’ve been dating this woman for 30 years, show a little respect.”
I actually feel for Pitino and not simply for his extremely poorly chosen analogy, which I guarantee he slightly regretted somewhere around “girl” and really regretted as he pulled into his driveway. Conference realignment makes coveters of us all and cheaters of all who can. It has us condemning such straying in one instance and riding dirty moments later.
Bolting for one conference while in a relationship with another, even a dysfunctional one, is wrong. Vows said before FOX and ESPN should mean something. Tradition, geographical sensibilities, student athletes matter right up until they do not.
I believe all of this with all my heart. I hated every second of this conference realignment silliness right until the prettiest boy in all of conferences, the SEC, seemed interested in my little institution — Mizzou. Now I cannot help myself. The place where my love and money goes has a chance to date Brad Pitt. Bradley Cooper is flirting with us. Jesse Williams has called and I say break the vow. Screw tradition. Thou shalt trade up.
This is why realignment will not end — almost everybody in America is looking to trade up. Apple stores are packed with people with perfectly good overpriced phones looking to get newer overpriced phones that, if we are being really honest, do not perform their primary function of making calls all that well. Divorce courts too. Spouses, cars, houses, clothes, friends, football conferences — we want a shinier, newer, better, younger model of everything.
What did Beyonce say? “Let me upgrade, upgrade.”
So as I tell friends who keep asking me if I think Mizzou should go to the SEC, not just yes, hell yes. The SEC is the conference you stare at from afar with a little envy and a lot of lust. Who does not want to spend a Saturday night with crazy Uncle Les and his even crazier family in Death Valley? Or receive an invite to party between the hedges? The SEC has the best venues, the best tailgating, the most money and the best football. Nobody is leaving that conference. There is no TideTV. Every year they do not almost break up. The Big 12 has been on the verge of collapse for the better part of two years now. Blame for this is wide and deep — The Longhorn Network and recently ousted commissioner Dan Beebe and teams like Mizzou always looking for an upgrade.
Mizzou is now on the verge of a breakup. In the iconic Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s character is in the midst of being dumped when he uttered what has become a classic rule of breakups.
“A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark,” Allen surmises.
What we have in The Big 12 is a dead shark, at least for Mizzou. And I say this knowing it will not end well for my little alma mater. They do not spend like an SEC team nor do they win like one. Improvements have been made but probably in line with say an Arkansas, not an LSU. Of course, nobody can forsee relationship issues in the thrall of infatuation. The problem with outkicking your coverage — in relationships and conferences — is the headaches that follow.
You guys know this. Dating the really, really hot chick is crazy fun and also fraught with drama. It is the Seinfeld rule of “hand,” the knowledge that you know and she knows that you are out of her league. Literally.
And yet we cannot help ourselves. All we can see is the assets, or in the case of conference realignment, the big pile of assets that accompany infidelity.
So sorry Rick, institutional fidelity is dead.
It turns out breaking up is really only difficult when you are not moving on to somebody better.