How Big can 10 get? Other Questions from NCAA football Realignment
Written by: Daryl E. Robinson
Look in the Top 25. It’s no divisions…it’s cross-country flights…it’s super-conferences! Following last week’s announcement that Los Angeles-based USC and UCLA would be joining the Big Ten (B1G from here on out), the college football world has been spinning with speculation as to what this means for the Pac-12, is the B1G done, will the SEC respond, and what about the Big XII? First things first, however, let us take a look at how we got here.
This round of league shuffling began a year ago, with the announcement that Texas and Oklahoma would be leaving the Big XII for the SEC in 2025. This began a domino effect of moves, which impacted nearly every conference in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). The BIG XII looked to replenish its ranks by adding UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston from the American Athletic Conference, as well as BYU of an independent status, all set to join in 2023. This of course led to the American needing to replace those members, so they raided Conference USA for UAB, FAU, Charlotte, North Texas, Rice, and UTSA for 2023 membership. Conference USA found themselves further depleted as the Sun Belt added Southern Miss, Marshall, and Old Dominion, who officially joined their new home last week on July 1, along with James Madison, who made the move from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS). These moves left Conference USA at 6 members, and thus they needed to expand their ranks to be able to survive as a conference! To this end, C-USA added FBS independents Liberty and New Mexico State, along with FCS members Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State, in order to get to 10 teams; they will all join in 2023. You got all that, you with me so far?
The biggest response, not involving membership musical chairs, came when the B1G, Pac 12, and ACC announced: “The Alliance” of the 3 conferences. The Alliance was designed to curb the potential of members being poached from other leagues, mainly the SEC, and create scheduling match-up opportunities in football, men’s, and women’s basketball. The biggest impact created by The Alliance was the collapse of the College Football Playoff (CFP) from 4 to 12 teams, as voted upon in January, with the measure being voted for in favor 8-3. However, it needed to be unanimous, and I will give you 1 guess as to who cast the three votes of dissension! Fast forward to last week, and I have a feeling that leadership in Greensboro and San Francisco might be rethinking their vote.
Why do you ask? Because The Alliance was cannibalized from within on June 30, with the announcement that Pac 12 stalwarts USC and UCLA would be departing for the B1G in 2024. That’s right, less than 1 year after coming together to stop team poaching, one Alliance member conference poached from another, and more than likely set off a chain of events even bigger than a year ago! So now, let’s take a look at the potential fallout and moves to come (for this exercise I will only cover conferences that I see being impacted), and let us begin with the conference currently in dire straits, the Pac 12.
Pac 12 Conference:
Current Members: (12)-Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington, and Washington State.
Departing Members: (2)-UCLA and USC
The Pac 12 will almost certainly be the ultimate loser in this round of conference swapping. Not only has it lost the second-largest media market in the country in Los Angeles, to the B1G, but two of “the Conference of Champions” more highly decorated members. The best chance of survival will most certainly involve adding lesser tier replacements, most likely from the Mountain West; or a merger with the Big XII, which honestly would be better off adding the members it wants and keeping itself as a major conference. Talks have already begun between the Big XII and the remainder of the Pac 12 South, in the two Arizona schools, along with Colorado and Utah. Add in that Oregon and Washington, who will almost assuredly come as a package deal, have been rumored for the Big XII also, as well as potentially following along their LA-based brethren, along with Stanford and Cal, to the B1G; and it looks like extinction, rather than expansion/merging, is the future of the Pac 12.
Big Ten Conference (B1G):
Current Members: (14)-Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Wisconsin
Future Members: (2)-UCLA and USC
The Big Ten cannot help but coinage off a little slimy in this whole ordeal, after all, they seemed to be the face of The Alliance, and now they just sniped their own allies. However, in the arm’s race that is college football, they definitely loaded up! Not only did they add the Los Angeles market to a conference that sweeps from just outside New York City to the corn-fed heartland, but they also added tradition and strength to a plethora of sports beyond the gridiron! Reports are out that negotiations began with USC and Notre Dame, and when unable to convince the Fighting Irish, the B1G snapped up the next best rival for the Trojans, the cross-town Bruins. UCLA’s membership in the University of California system has them attached to Cal in many ways, further leading to the speculation that at least Cal and Stanford will follow in short order. To close the geographic gap, do not be surprised if the B1G looks at the Big XII as a way to fill the space from Lincoln to LA, but I see the Big XII as buyers more than sellers, and if they lose members, it will be to another conference.
Predicted Membership: (20-Predicted, unofficial additions in Bold)-Cal, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Oregon, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington, Wisconsin
Big XII Conference:
Current Members: (10)-Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Departing Members: (2)-Oklahoma, Texas
Future Members: (4)-BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, UCF
The Big XII saw the most change in last year’s round of conference realignment and is already in talks to add to its footprint. Whether it is through a merger with the Pac 12 (doubtful), or adding members from the Pac 12, the Big XII should be expanding westward. I fully expect the talks with Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah to wrap up in short order and those schools to announce Big XII membership upcoming. However, I do not see this being a round of total addition. West Virginia and Cincinnati are the 2 most obvious geographic outliers in the footprint, and I believe those 2, along with Oklahoma State and Kansas will eventually find their way to new homes, most likely to fill gaps from other conference swaps.
Predicted Membership: (12)-Arizona, Arizona State, Baylor, BYU, Colorado, Houston, Iowa State, Kansas State, TCU, Texas Tech, UCF, Utah
Southeastern Conference (SEC):
Current Members: (14)-Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Future Members: (2)-Oklahoma, Texas
The SEC started all of this madness with the additions of Oklahoma and Texas to the fold, and at the time it had them set apart with 16 members. Now that the B1G has followed suit, and does not appear done, all eyes fall on the big dog on the block. The SEC will not simply add to add, and may be better served standing still, however they would be advised to at least kick the tires on a few potential members. The most obvious get that lines within their footprint would be Clemson. While the potential addition of Clemson, FSU, Miami, Louisville, and Georgia Tech has been discussed in the past, it has always come with the current member schools in those states being outspoken against them to retain the image and recruiting advantage garnered by being the lone SEC school in their respective states. However, with the addition of Texas over the desire of Texas A&M, I no longer see those concerns being met. If the SEC wants to keep even with the B1G, I expect potential recruitment of Clemson, Notre Dame, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Kansas, and West Virginia. Of those listed, I see Clemson, UNC, Ok St, and Kansas heading to the SEC.
Predicted Membership: (20)-Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC):
Current Members (14)-Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Virginia, Virginia Tech
In the last wave of realignment, the ACC found themselves unscathed and in a promising position within The Alliance. However, as documented above, that pact is no more, and now the ACC finds themselves on an island. The first point of attack would be to negotiate Notre Dame into the fold. The Irish played in the ACC during the Covid-19 shortened 2020 season and is an ACC member in sports other than football already. Allow Notre Dame to continue having their home games with NBC, simply by having all their road games your negotiating rights are much stronger as a conference. Unfortunately, while this will make the ACC stronger, it will not prevent the defection of Clemson and North Carolina to the SEC. To replenish these spots, and remain in the current footprint, I see the addition of Cincinnati and West Virginia from the Big XII. To get to an even number, I encourage the addition of UConn. While not a major get in football, it does add to their Northeast presence, and bolster men’s and women’s basketball.
Predicted Membership: (16)-Boston College, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, Notre Dame, NC State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Wake Forest, West Virginia, Virginia, Virginia Tech
For those keeping track, that leaves 2 Power 5 schools without a home, Oregon State and Washington State. Ultimately, I believe they may end up in the Mountain West, or as part of a package with some MW schools to fill out the Big XII. If the other 3 major conferences are sitting at between 16 and 20 members, the Big XII will want to follow suit, however, there is no one program that jumps out, possibly Boise State with the 2 remaining Northwest Pac 12 refugees, and throw in Utah State, San Diego State, and Fresno State to get us to 18. Then I could see the remaining 7 MW schools for football heading to the American. This gets us 4 major conferences in history, but realistically 2 super-conferences (B1G and SEC) and 2 conferences waiting to be poached again (Big XII and ACC).
Before this is all said and done, I believe we will end up with the B1G and SEC having 32 members, their own playoffs, and the final conference champion of each meeting for the National Championship. Sounds crazy, right? A week ago, so did USC and UCLA in the Big Ten!
Daryl E. Robinson is an Atlanta-bred, self-proclaimed “Sports Geek”, guest writer for SportsTimeHQ, and co-host of the Recliner Kings Sports podcast, who now resides in Rapid City, SD with his wife and son. Daryl can be followed on Twitter @derobinson1980 and @reclinerkings. In his off time, he obsesses over Braves, Falcons, Dawgs, and Hawks, plus pop-culture nostalgia, especially Jurassic Park and 80s animation.