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Pourover: Conference Realignment and the Great Consolidation of power

The new Big 10 is concentrating power along with the SEC for college football.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Back in 1994, the Big 8 conference made a big move. The Southwest Conference was teetering when four Texas schools (Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech) agreed to join the 8 schools of the Big 8 and make what was, at the time, a super league.

In 1994, The SEC had expanded to 12 teams after adding Arkansas and South Carolina in 1991. The Big 10 was no longer just 10 teams, having recently added Penn State. The Atlantic Coast Conference was just 9 teams: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, and Wake Forest. Even the Big East was 8 teams.

Once the SEC went to 12 teams, it forced the Big 12 to move to 12. Conference USA formed in 1996. The WAC expanded to 16. Everything steadied (mostly) until 2004 when the ACC went to 11 teams, adding Virginia Tech and Miami. Boston College flipped to the ACC in 2006. Colorado and Utah went to to the Pac-10 in 2011. Nebraska joined the Big 10 the same year. Colorado and Nebraska’s exit from the Big 12 forced Missouri and Texas A&M into the SEC. And that’s when things started to get a little weird.

In a counter move, the Big 10 added Rutgers... and Maryland. The SEC opted to add Oklahoma and Texas. And now the Big 10 has poached UCLA and USC.

All of this revolves around football. It’s the driver economically. And very quickly the Big 10 and the SEC are separating themselves from the other Power Conference Schools.

For years we’ve referred to the major conferences for college football as the “Power Five”. The ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big 10, and Pac-12 were the five most power conferences. But as the teams have shuffled, those dynamics are changing quickly.

With Texas and Oklahoma, the SEC has siphoned off the Big 12’s top two economic powerhouses. With USC and UCLA, the Big 10 has cornered the market in Southern California.

Last year, compiled athletic budgets and it turns out, 20 of the top 25 athletic budgets exist in the (new look) SEC and Big 10 alignment. The looked at the most valuable athletic programs and you have to get to the University of Washington at 19 before you get to a team not in the new alignment of those two leagues. Notre Dame is in the top 10, but they’re rumored to be thinking over the invite to the Big 10.

In order to stick together the Big 12 has resorted to adding schools like BYU and Cincinnati. Reputable programs for sure, but it’s not Texas and Oklahoma. The Big 10 is in a position of power enough that Notre Dame is thinking about it. They’re in such a position of power that they can say no to Oregon and Washington.

By 2024, the consolidation of power will have been mostly completed.

The ACC looks like it will remain mostly intact as it is. But only Clemson has made any real noise in the College Football Playoff in recent years. The SEC poached Jimbo Fisher from Florida State, and the Seminoles have since struggled to find their footing.

In their quest for TV sets, the Big 10 has expanded from Piscataway, New Jersey all the way Beverly Hills (technically Westwood, but the visual works better). The SEC’s footprint has expanded but it’s still connected. Will the league be tempted with the seeming free agency of schools like Arizona & Arizona State, or Oregon or Washington?

What becomes of Kansas? Texas Tech? TCU? Baylor?

The driver here is football. It doesn’t matter that athletic departments will have to scrum up cash to send non-revenue sports across the country in order to fulfill conference requirements. This is why I liked this tweet from Mark Titus:

The NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL all have regionally set up Conferences and Divisions. But they’re run by a central office, as one league. The NCAA is run by the conferences, driven by powerful athletic departments trying to collect larger revenue checks from streaming services and TV contracts.

Having UCLA, USC, or anyone on the West Coach matched up against anyone from the Big 10 within the same conference is stupid. Hell, having Missouri and Florida in the same division makes virtually no sense at all. West Virginia and BYU in the same Big 12 is ridiculous as well. The consolidation of power means fewer regional rivalries taking precedent, more Texas and Alabama matchups because it generates TV revenue. Match Ohio State against USC and put it on Fox at 2:30 against the CBS matchup of Texas vs Bama.

I don’t think realignment is close to being done. I don’t think Missouri is going to end up in the Big 10, but we’re probably heading towards a very different looking landscape than what things looked like in 1994.