Conference realignment is a fun topic and we are sure to see some changes in the way the sport is formatted at some point, since college football and American sports as a whole is an ever-shifting landscape. The realignments mentioned are purely speculation, but I do think they’d make sense and make for more equality, some pretty good matchups and some new rivalries.
As we mentioned on last weeks’ podcast – Where we discussed the impact of the transfer portal – College football could look very different in a few short years; players are going to have more freedom of movement, hopefully they will be able to receive at least some financial compensation for playing (and making their schools a lot of money) and with the growing popularity and power of streaming services, the way we watch college football may also be very different.
Another aspect of college football that may look different could be the conferences in which teams play.
I don’t think there will be huge upheaval in this sense for a while, geographically there aren’t too many outliers, the powerful conferences in the East of the United States will likely largely remain as is but there are some factors that may mean some changes could be on the horizon.
Firstly, there are the various TV deals for Power-5 conferences that expire between the 2023 and 2025 seasons (The Big Ten’s current media rights expire in 2023; the Pac-12’s contracts with Fox and ESPN are up in 2024; and the Big XII’s deals conclude in 2025) and these are a natural point for teams to be attracted to a new conference so that the conference can sell itself to the networks to make more money.
There are also factors such as the Pac-12 now having a new commissioner and the college football playoff being expanded from 4 to 12 teams but as always in college football it’ll boil down to money and who is getting a slice of the pie and how big that slice is.
I feel like larger conferences would be a real positive, I think that would bring in new markets to a lot of the conferences, it’ll allow some small teams to get better and in my personal realignment, I actually want to elevate the American conference to Power-5 status.
This means there are more P5 schools and when the new 12 team playoff format is taken into account, this means there could be a spot of maybe even 2 given to lesser conference champions or independants – And if we go back a couple of podcasts, this could mean more meaningful games for small school players, more upsets or just more days in the sun for players who can tell their grandkids that they once played in the college football playoffs against some guys who went to the NFL.
So, let’s get into how I am actually doing this then…
Disband the Big XII
Yes, so let’s start with the big one.
Bigger conferences and elevating the American Athletic Conference in status mean that we have to redistribute teams in some way. I don’t want to have a Power-6 and the geography of the Big XII’s current teams means that they can easily be divided up and I really believe that this would make the Pac-12, SEC and Big Ten conferences stronger and deeper. This would mean elevating the Pac-12’s standing overall and giving it new markets, something that new commissioner George Kliavkoff will absolutely want to achieve. It would also mean that there are more competitive conference games for SEC teams and also for Ohio State.
So now we have 10 teams without a conference, how am I dishing them out?
The SEC gets both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, both joining the West division. This means that the SEC gets a foothold in the Oklahoma market and given how close Fayetteville, home of Arkansas University is to the Oklahoma/Arkansas border, this gives a fresh, local rivalries between the Sooners, Cowboys and Razorbacks. Alongside this, the two Oklahoma teams get a rivalry game with the SEC’s Texas representative, Texas A&M.
This would create an imbalance within the SEC’s divisions and I’d move LSU over to the East division. Geographically speaking, I’ll admit this isn’t the prettiest of solutions but with two teams in Alabama, two in Mississippi, and the aforementioned proximity between Arkansas and Oklahoma, LSU is the odd one out in the West, but divisional games with Florida and Georgia are good compensation.
Now for the rest of the fall out from the Big XII’s disbanding…
Texas Becomes Independent
As much as the SEC would probably want to recruit Texas to their portfolio, I just cannot see the Longhorns being OK with being in the same conference as Texas A&M.
Texas thinks they’re better than A&M, but A&M currently plays in the SEC, which is the better conference.
Oklahoma moving to the SEC too, may be a factor in Texas wanting to join too, but the fact that there have been talks multiple times about getting the Texas/Texas A&M rivalry games going again and it hasn’t happened just makes me think it won’t.
Texas has The Longhorn Network, which has its own app and established regular programming, meaning that Texas has the means by which to broadcast games and being an independent, this means they’d be entirely in control of its own football schedule too –
The Red River Rivalry could be scheduled really easily into that each year.
Finally, an added bonus of this could be the potential rivalry with Notre Dame! There could be a playoff place on the line for top independent schools and Texas and Notre Dame would be the prime candidates.
The Pac-12 becomes the Pac-16
A major winner from the Big XII disbanding could be the Pac-12. As mentioned above, George Kliavkoff will want to increase the conference’s standing in the overall landscape of college football and one way to do this would be to extend their reach into Texas.
Texas Tech, TCU, Baylor would need a home, and whilst this isn’t prime Big XII and Texas real estate but the move into Texas coupled with a move into North Dakota would extend the Pac-16’s reach to almost half of the contiguous US.
Yes that’s right… North Dakota. North Dakota State makes the step up from FCS to FBS and becomes the 16th team in the conference. This gives NDSU the status that they have long deserved and some great matchups every single year, so whilst they wouldn’t be winning the FCS National Championship most years, they could realistically have a better recruiting power with elevated status and I don’t think they’d be too far off of a challenge for the Pac-16 Championship.
Because of this expansion, the in-conference divisions would have to switch from North/South to East/West. The Eastern division would be the newest four teams plus Utah, Colorado and the two Arizona teams, with the Western division being the rest of the current Pac-12 teams.
The Pac-12 could potentially extend the NDSU invite to Texas, which has been done before but I don’t know if Texas would weigh up the constant western travel and see it as a positive when compared to the freedom that being an independent would bring them.
Either way, if George Kliavkoff and the Pac-12 can pull this off, they will realise what Larry Scott couldn’t and ensure the conference as a major player for years to come.
Two Additions to the Big Ten
The Big Ten would also want a slice of the Big XII pie and it would also become a 16 team conference just as the SEC and newly named Pac-16, although only one of its new teams would come from the Big XII and that would be Iowa State. Iowa is already in state so it makes sense for them to bring the Cy-Hawk Trophy in-conference and continue that traditional rivalry.
The second incoming Big Ten team would come in the form of Cincinnati coming over from the American Athletic Conference – Something we’ve mentioned on the podcast a fair bit in recent months. The Bearcats are ready to step up to a higher level of competition and they are situated right in the middle of Big Ten country, although the ACC could lay claim to them too, however in this situation the ACC is staying just how it is.
So overall the Big Ten gains two teams, Iowa state that joins the Western division and Cincinnati for the Eastern Division.
There would just be one problem to resolve now… And that’s the conference’s name.
The Big Ten doesn’t make sense now and it would make even less sense with this version of the conference. There would be 16 teams spread across 11 states so let’s call this The Big North Conference.
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The Newest Power-5 Conference
Lastly, we have the American Athletic Conference – widely recognised as the best of the rest outside of the Power-5 as things stand.
In modern day, the conference has some really strong teams like UCF, Memphis, SMU, and Cincinnati and it covers a huge area of the US, from as South as Tampa, Florida to Philadelphia, with Temple as it’s northernmost member, and from the East coast as far inland as Tulsa Oklahoma, currently covering 9 states (or 10 if you still class the University of Connecticut, since it last played football as a member of the AAC before going independent but subsequently opting out of the 2020 season).
The AAC losing Cincinnati would be a blow, no doubt, but as compensation, the ACC is being given Power-5 status to replace the now defunct Big XII and it will also absorb the three former Big XII members; West Virginia, Kansas and Kansas State.
This would extend the AAC’s reach to two further states and also increase the standing as three programmes would also bring their basketball programmes to the AAC from the Big XII too, and Kansas is a historic powerhouse of college hoops.
This brings the count up to 13 football members for the AAC, which means there would be one more invite left to send. I feel like there are two options for this and that would be to either; ask UCONN if they would like to return to the AAC – which it may consider since Kansas would be a major rival coup when it comes to basketball which would appeal, as UCONN is a major basketball school too.
The second option would be to ask James Madison if they would like to step up from FSC, to mirror the Pac-16’s invitation of North Dakota state to also step up to FBS level.
This would be a huge step up for James Madison, as facilities wise, they aren’t on NDSU’s level, however, they have pushed the Bison on the field over the past 10 years.
Would it be worthwhile to take some short term pain of swimming in a bigger pond for the long term benefits?
JMU’s location in the state of Virginia places them nicely in the AAC’s territory and could even start a new rivalry with fellow AAC newcomers, West Virginia.
The last bit of housekeeping in the conference would be to split the now 14 team conference into two divisions. As usual this would be based on geography and would be as follows;
West Division – Tulsa, SMU, Houston, Tulane, Kansas, Kansas State, Memphis
East Division – UCF, Navy, East Carolina, Temple, South Florida, West Virginia, UCONN/James Madison
The Rest and the Playoffs
The ACC would remain in its current format, as a 14 team conference, which would match the American conference in size, with the SEC, Pac-16 and Big North conference would now have 16 teams apiece.
These 5 conferences would be the new Power-5, with the remaining Group of 5 conferences remaining unchanged, although I guess it would be the Group of 4 now.
Perhaps this would be a little top heavy? This could be balanced out by giving an automatic bid to the best G4 conference champion in the new 12 team playoff format.
Speaking of the playoffs, the P5 conference champions could get an automatic bid, which aligns with the new proposal, the best G4 conference champion, with the remaining 6 teams coming from the highest ranked teams, giving the independent teams a good chance to qualify, as well as any other G4 teams who were having a great year.
The Final Word
Is this perfect?
There are barriers such as college basketball, the fact that I am deleting a whole conference and big teams (especially in the SEC) not really wanting the kinds of parity that I am talking about.
But I do feel like these changes make sense for the reasons I’ve stated and I do feel like they would improve college football, which is what we would all want, right?
Let me know what you think of these changes by tweeting @Full10YardsCFB
Follow Lee on twitter @Wakefield90