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One Conference To Rule Them All

First, in honor/horror of Oklahoma and Texas breaking ties with the Big 12, we talk about what’s to become of college football. The short answer is that more changes are probably on the horizon, as the money is too good to ignore for the sake of tradition or nostalgia (although Oklahoma State and Texas A&M can certainly be mad about those things). Conferences are likely to continue to grow, merge and leave some teams out in the cold. The Big 12 may shatter without its marquee names, and the college game may start to look a lot more like the pros. Geography would cease to matter in a Pac-12 that absorbs TCU or a Big Ten that spans Rutgers to Kansas. The SEC is very much in the driver’s seat in the absence of leadership from the NCAA, and long term, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched that we would end up with only a couple of super-conferences. We’ll see if SEC commissioner Greg Sankey handles that version of a Super League better than Florentino Pérez.

Next, we’re joined by FiveThirtyEight video producer Michael Tabb to talk about his series on the mental components of competition, in honor of the Olympics. He details the science behind why athletes find value in visualization exercises that help train both their bodies and their brains to perform in big moments, or even come back from injuries faster. We also spend some time talking about what we’ve enjoyed from the Olympics so far: It hasn’t been the marquee events but a lot of the newer sports that have charmed the Hot Takedown team. The skateboarding teens were amazing to watch, the handball has been mesmerizing, and 3-on-3 basketball might be Sara’s favorite version of the sport now. 

Finally, in the Rabbit Hole, in honor of the new Cleveland Guardians, Sara checks back in on something we investigated last year: how many team names still use indigenous mascots, terms or iconography. In October 2020, we counted 411 high schools that used “Indians” as their nickname, but that number is now down to 385 high schools. We certainly can’t chalk that entire drop up to Cleveland’s example (some are the result of school mergers), but professional teams addressing this issue have seemed to push the needle a little bit. It’s unclear where the next great leap for the pro teams using indigenous names will come from, but if it could involve getting rid of the “Tomahawk Chop,” that would be great, thanks.  

What we’re looking at this week: 

Sarah Shachat is Hot Takedown’s producer.

Sara Ziegler is the former sports editor at FiveThirtyEight.

Geoff Foster is the former sports editor of FiveThirtyEight.

Michael Tabb is a former video and motion graphics producer at FiveThirtyEight.