Having covered the motivations of the conferences that are considering expansion and the potential expansion candidates, it is now time to begin looking at some of the plausible results of conference realignment, plausible being the key word here.
First of all, we can throw out any realignment plans that involves the following measures:
- Any structure of 4 super-conferences that defect from the NCAA.
- Any conference making a move that will reduce the payouts to individual teams within the conference.
- Any expansion moves driven solely by the wish to be better than another conference, unless such a move makes long-term financial success.
- Any move that brings a lower tier academic institution into the Big Ten.
- Any move that dissolves or splits the Big Ten or SEC.
- All schools will act out of self-interest first and foremost and will not willingly make any sacrifices.
These principles automatically exclude approximately 96% of the expansion scenarios that can be found via the Internet, including most of those proposed by ESPN and Sports Illustrated columnists. However, there are still quite a number of expansion possibilities, most of which are incredibly unlikely. To limit these, we can impose some logical rules for specific teams and conferences:
- Texas will not go to the SEC for academic reasons.
- The SEC will not take northern teams like Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.
- The Pac 10 will not take any team east of the Mississippi and will strongly favor teams in the Pacific and Mountain West time zones for scheduling purposes.
- All Big East teams will jump ship at the first possible opportunity.
- Eastern Conferences will not unite with western conferences.
Now, using these rules, combined with the motivations of the various conferences and teams outlined in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we can begin to forecast different scenarios regarding conference realignment. We can begin by assuming that the Big Ten, Pac 10, and SEC would take Texas and Notre Dame if they want to come. Furthermore, if Texas makes it a condition that Texas A&M come with them, the other conferences would invite Texas A&M too. However, Texas and Notre Dame have shown no inclination to join any other conference, so they will not move unless they are sufficiently pressured.
It follows that the Big Ten would be looking at Big 12 North teams, such as Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri. We also know that the Pac 10 has been looking at taking Colorado. It is further likely that the SEC will at least think about looking at some Big 12 South teams, such as Oklahoma. This serves to pressure the Texas schools into finding a new home, particularly if the Big Ten chooses to take a couple Big 12 North teams.
Meanwhile, the Big East is also in a somewhat interesting situation with regard to Notre Dame. As things stand, it also seems somewhat probable that the Big Ten will also expand eastward. This means taking teams from the Big East. Should the Big Ten take more than one team or a highly important team like Pitt, the Big East will collapse. As such, the Big East may consider forcing out Notre Dame, in an attempt to force Notre Dame to join the Big Ten and thus reduce the chance that the Big East will be eviscerated. Even so, it is not necessarily likely that Notre Dame would choose to join the Big Ten, because they still would have options for their non-football sports, although these options would not be as good as the Big East.
Now, with this setup we can speculate on scenarios. To begin with, we will let the Big Ten take two Big 12 North teams. If this were to happen, I personally would bet that Nebraska and Missouri would be taken. Such a move would also require the addition of a 14th team, which could be any Big East target, Notre Dame (if they would come), or even Texas. The most likely Big East addition would probably be Rutgers, who would bring in the biggest population base, although Syracuse and Pitt are also definite possibilities (Pitt would benefit the BTN’s ad revenue and be a boon to the CIC).
Now things begin to get interesting. When faced with the loss of two highly important schools, the Big 12 would be in very bad shape. They could conceivably invite BYU and another team to try to fill the void, but BYU would be the best option on the market, and they would bring a weaker program than Nebraska and a smaller base of viewers than Missouri. This new weakness would put a lot of pressure on every school to ensure its security. At that point, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Colorado could all probably bolt for another conference without much difficulty (although the SEC may not want to take Oklahoma as they are currently locked into the ESPN deal and would have to give Oklahoma a piece of it for years before reaping any benefit). It’s a fair bet that one or more of these schools would take action and leave. For instance, Texas could decide to bolt to the Pac 10 or Big Ten, taking Texas A&M if they want or leaving them to the SEC if they choose not to. Or Colorado or Oklahoma could make a pre-emptive move in order to assure themselves a home. From these circumstances, a number of different things could happen:
Texas and Texas A&M could join the Big Ten or Pac 10. If they joined the Big Ten, the Pac 10 could take Colorado and either BYU or another Pac 10 team like Kansas, while the Big Ten would make a push to fill out their 16th slot with Notre Dame or, barring that, some other Big East school. If they join the Pac 10, the Big Ten would still attempt to grab Notre Dame and barring that, one or more Big East teams.
Colorado could defect to the Pac 10, which would probably destroy the Big 12 and send the rest of the conference looking for a new home. In this case, Texas may wind up in either the Big Ten or Pac 10 with or without Texas A&M. If they brought Texas A&M with them, both conferences would probably need to add one more team. If not, then the conference that got Texas would stop expanding while the other tried to work out an arrangement with one or more schools. Texas A&M, meanwhile, would probably go to the SEC along with Oklahoma or some other school.
Texas and Texas A&M could both make moves but go to separate conferences, with Texas A&M likely headed to the SEC. In this case, we would likely see Oklahoma or FSU or somebody go to the SEC with Texas A&M. Meanwhile, Texas could go to the Big Ten, in which case the Big Ten would cease expanding and the Pac 10 probably wouldn’t expand (expansion for the Pac 10 makes much less sense without a big name school). If Texas went to the Pac 10, Colorado would probably join them and the Big Ten would fill out with their pick of the remaining teams available.
Oklahoma may preemptively join the SEC (not likely, but possible), leading to another situation in which the remaining Big 12 teams scatter.
In all of these cases, it’s an open guess as to what would happen to the rest of the Big 12. My guess is the most powerful schools remaining would attempt to form a conference with the best MWC schools (and possibly Boise State), leaving the lower tiers of the FBS to sort themselves out. One possible conference would consist of BYU, TCU, Utah, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, San Diego State, Air Force, UNLV, New Mexico, and Boise State. Such a conference would be decent in both football and basketball, while being able to put on a championship game and get a BCS bid. Of course, there are endless variations of such a conference, but the general idea seems somewhat logical.
Now, the potential expansion cases do not even begin to cover all of the plausible scenarios for conference re-alignment. For instance, it’s quite possible that the Big Ten will ignore the Big 12 and concentrate on getting Notre Dame and some Big East schools to capture New York in a 14-team expansion. Or the SEC could choose to aggressively move on the ACC, taking teams like FSU or Virginia Tech and forcing the ACC to move on the Big East, prompting an arms war between the ACC and Big Ten. Or nothing could happen whatsoever. At any rate, it must be said that the possibility certainly gives us something to talk about during the offseason other than spring recruiting events and old opinions on who will start at QB.