Texas and Oklahoma are coming to the SEC. Which means that the next wave of college football realignment is here — and let me tell y’all, it is gonna be messy this time around.
Within a week, the college football landscape has been drastically altered by the two combatants of the Red River Rivalry. Beyond making the SEC college football’s first super conference, this move will change major college football as we know it.
Like we did for the announcement of the new CFP, let’s breakdown this foundation-altering news.
First of all, why do this?
Money, what else? The Big 12 went to ESPN and Fox to renegotiate their TV deals and both companies essentially said, “eh, we’re good waiting until it’s up.” That… that’s not good. So, OU and UT decided to do something about it, rest of the league be damned.
The SEC was more than happy to accept two of the biggest brands in college football history, and the metric fuck-ton of money that comes along with them.
For Texas and Oklahoma, this helps them keep pace with the arms-race that is college football. The Big Ten and the SEC are the two richest conferences, and the Big 12 was falling rapidly behind. But getting that sweet SEC money allows you to make those facility upgrades, and putting that SEC patch on your uniform helps you attract those recruits you may have missed (this one is more for Texas).
You might ask why Oklahoma, winner of like every Big 12 title over the last decade, would leave that cushy seat, especially when the new CFP gives them an auto-berth almost every year, and a damn good shot at a yearly first-round bye?
Money, money, money. There is no other reason, remember that.
How do you feel about it?
Hate it, naturally. I understand it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. I’m not a staunch traditionalist, but I do appreciate some of the finer points of the college game that moves like this erode. As an Alabama fan, I really hate that Texas and Oklahoma jump on our conference schedule. It hurts our recruiting. It means I have to interact with Texas fans.
While I’ve said in the past I want the NCAA to realign their divisions and trim about 30-50 teams from the top level, I fear this move is closer to a smaller, 30-ish team super league of sorts. I like that Nick Saban wants Power 5 teams to play Power 5 only schedules, but I’m not that extreme. Upsets are one of the best things about college sports. App State over Michigan doesn’t happen in a college football premier league. Last season’s Cinderella runs by BYU, Coastal Carolina and Cincinnati don’t happen.
Maybe I’m being extreme, but I just don’t like the signs here.
Who wins here?
The same people who are already winning. The rich get richer. That’s it.
The biggest schools and conferences get even more money. ESPN wins because it televises the most college football. Hell, ESPN may have even had a hand in this.
The fans? Meh. More big brand names in the same conference means the matchups become less appealing over time. What makes those matchups special now is the rarity of them. Alabama has only played Texas 9 times. They’ve only played Oklahoma 6 times. Now that we’ll play them every other season or so, who cares? There’s no tradition there. There’s no longtime relationship between the schools, communities or fanbases.
At least it means we’ll see Texas vs Texas A&M again, I guess.
What happens to the College Football Playoff now?
Good damn question. It seemed like, for once, those that call the shots actually gave the little guys a leg up. Expanding the playoff to 12 teams, with the six highest-ranked conference champs getting an automatic berth, was a great move to build a bridge for smaller schools to play their way into the postseason with an actual shot to play for a national title.
Now? The new CFP hasn’t been implemented yet, and who the hell knows how the ensuing realignment frenzy is going to shake out in the end. There’s a good chance the biggest schools just say fuck it and make their own Super League, much like the major soccer clubs in Europe tried to a few months ago.
You know what pisses off the higher ups at the biggest programs? When the little guys succeed. Like I mentioned above, the bone they threw the little guys may have just been yanked back.
Immediately after this story first broke last week, rumors of Clemson and Florida State joining the SEC popped up. Then stories of the Big Ten and Pac 12 joining forces appeared. Before we know it, we could get a 20-team, European soccer-like top tier division.
The NCAA is powerless to stop it. Major college football has never really answered to the NCAA, anyway. It’s only a matter of time until the absolute biggest schools say “wait, why do we even bother playing these smaller schools and paying them six/seven figures just so we can beat them by 40? Let’s make our own league and keep all of the money.”
What might a super league look like?
I have two thoughts here: the first is that the absolute biggest schools make their own 20-30ish team league, play each other all the time, get the big media contracts, and keep all that money to themselves. I really hate the thought of that because it’s so damaging to the game as a whole.
However, there’s a good case for that not happening: too many old-standing relationships with less successful teams already in power 5 conferences. More times than not, when the biggest boys make a move, they bring their buddies with them. So, while a program like Tennessee may have the name brand, they’ve been shit on the field and wouldn’t crack anyone’s top 20/30 current programs. But, do you really think that Alabama, Georgia and Florida would break away without bringing them along? Nope. (And who would want that anyway? I love beating the Vols every season. The streak stands at 14 in-a-row for the Tide, by the way.)
Which leads us to something my father has wanted to see for awhile now: a 64 team Division 1, broken up into four, 16-team regional conferences; with a 16-team playoff, of sorts, where the top four teams in each conference play each other in a four-team playoff to determine a conference winner, with the four conference winners playing their own four-team playoff to crown a national champion.
You know I love me a good realignment thought experiment, so let’s make that league right now. In reality, the Power 5 schools conferences just break off and start their own thing (there are currently 65 P5 teams), but that’s no fun. The name of today’s game is branding, so I’m going to try to select the 64 biggest brand names in FBS today (sorry, smaller division schools), squeezing in those hot mid-major programs and independents in lieu of bigger schools that would tag along in a more realistic scenario… so, sorry Kansas, basketball ain’t gonna save you here.
Is that appealing? Sure. Is it what we really want? Meh. Are there some teams and rivalries that we’d miss? Absolutely. Which is why I’ve always said the best number lies somewhere around 80, with five or six conferences.
Regardless, something like this is down the line, if it actually happens at all. In the mean time…
Well, what does the Big 12 do now? For that matter, what do the other conferences do now?
This is where the fun really begins. The next few weeks/months/years are going to be bonkers in terms of schools switching conference allegiances. It’s going to be a crazy mix of conferences keeping up with the Joneses and just struggling to survive.
With that said, here’s what I would do if I was the commish of each conference — barring the SEC, of course, they’re good. Personally, I’d like to see Memphis in the league, as they’ve always been an SEC fit in my eyes in terms of culture. Hell, they deserve it more than Vanderbilt. But I digress.
Reminder, this is what I would do as commissioner, not what I think/want the conferences to end up as, so there will be teams mentioned multiple times.
Let’s start with the Big 12, who’s already fighting for their life (reports on Thursday said that the AAC is trying to recruit the eight remaining Big 12 schools to form their own super conference). The first thing I’d do is to remind all of my member schools that the CFP will grant six automatic berths, and the Big 12 could still easily grab one of those on a yearly basis. Then I think regional, and harken back to the origins of conferences and call Houston and SMU to come back home. Then I get sneaky and holler at Arkansas and Missouri, who both left conferences (SWC and Big 12 respectively) for the SEC because they were sick of Texas’ shit. A&M is happy in the SEC, no matter how unhappy they are with Texas joining. But Arky and Mizzou are in trouble from a competitive standpoint with the Sooners and Longhorns joining the SEC ranks. But, come to the Big 12 and you’re immediately one of the best programs in the conference. I’d also have to consider teams like BYU and Boise State, as well as former member Colorado and their PAC 12 rival Utah. Looking at smaller schools, I give a ring to Louisiana, Memphis and Tulsa; all solid mid-major programs on the rise.
It’s not the sexiest lineup, but it keeps you relevant and would be an entertaining on-field product.
Next, let’s go to the Big Ten, college football’s other current super conference. The first thing I’d do? Tell Maryland and Rutgers to piss off. The two schools were brought into the fold in the early part of last decade, during the height of cable television. They were invited for the sole reason of obtaining the D.C. and New York television markets. Well, that shit doesn’t matter anymore, so we don’t need their lackluster football programs.
Naturally, I’d have to call Notre Dame. Now, I don’t know if this next round of realignment is what will finally push the Irish into a conference, but I do know that they have no interest of joining one anytime soon. Plus, their contract with the ACC for their non-football sports includes a provision that if the school wants to join a conference before 2036 (when their current contract with the ACC ends), it has to be the ACC. So that one is tricky. Then again, the Big Ten is actually the richest conference in college football (for now, anyway, the SEC and ESPN are about to change that), so they could easily arrange a buyout.
After that? Maybe I call Missouri, too. They were desperate to get into the Big Ten when they wanted to leave the Big 12, and they’re a natural fit. Maybe I think about raiding what’s left of the Big 12, going after an Iowa State or Oklahoma State.
Either way, I don’t fret too much. Except maybe over the fact that Michigan still hasn’t gotten its shit together, because a winning Wolverines program would be a boon to the appeal of the conference.
On to the ACC, where my one and only priority would be keeping Clemson and Florida State happy. I’d invite UCF and USF, two programs with good resources. The Golden Knights have already taken the step into the top of the mid-major tier, and the Bulls are always so close. Keeping with the smaller but on the rise theme, I call Appalachian State and Coastal Carolina after their recent successes. After that, maybe I call West Virginia and Cincinnati and recreate the Big East in one of my divisions. BC, Louisville, Pitt and Syracuse are already members (along with even older former Big East members Virginia Tech and Miami). I also welcome founding-member Maryland back with their tail tucked between their legs (or their head in their shells?).
Speaking of the Big East, if I’m the AAC commish I try to recreate the old Big East. I call Boston College, Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse and West Virginia… and hey, fuck it, come on Rutgers. Lock up that northeastern region of college football. Then, I look to the other small conferences like Conference USA and the Sun Belt to shore up the southern part of my conference, with rising programs like Charlotte and UAB. I also begrudgingly give Liberty a call, because Hugh Freeze does have the Flames looking good. Lastly, because the word “American” is in my name and I already have Navy in house, I see if Army wants to join.
On the other side of the country, as Mountain West commish I worry about the PAC 12 raiding me, so I have to act aggressively. Call BYU and TCU to come back to their old stomping grounds. Call Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas State (and yeah, even though this a football exercise, you call Kansas because of what they bring on the hardwood) and Iowa State as well. Hell, give Colorado and Utah a holler and see if they want to join a regional conference in which they’d instantly be two of the flagship schools. Again, there isn’t a lot of sex appeal here, but with six auto-bids this lineup has a really good shot at earning one of those spots.
As for the west’s power conference, the PAC 12, I’d have to start with BYU. Then I look at the MWC and schools like Boise State, San Diego State and Hawaii… ok, that one is just an excuse to travel to Hawaii every year as conference commissioner when I move media days from Hollywood to Honolulu. I’d have to consider raiding what’s left of the Big 12, as well, maybe form that mega-conference that was floated about during the last round of realignment. Other than that, I’m not worried, really. I’m already the third best conference in the sport — no, really. We haven’t achieved the heights we have in the past, but we still have brand names and good competitive balance. The SEC and Big Ten are obviously the top two, the Big 12 is falling apart, and the ACC — at the moment — is a one-team league. I don’t need to reinvent my league, just reinforce it.
As for the Sun Belt, well I just prepare for my best schools to get cherry picked. Maybe I give Conference USA a call and try to combine forces as some sort of mid-major super league. The MAC? I just call a meeting and tell my member institutions to bite the bullet and move down to the FCS level and maybe win a championship.
Whatever ends up happening, just know college football is about to look a hell of a lot different before you know it.