With everything happening in the conference expansion world, what moves would be totally shocking? Here are three ideas so crazy they might just work.
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Sorry if this take sucks, it’s not my fault …
On the job, expansion begins here. We have proudly worked 26 days on this site without a lost school to another conference.
And don’t get me started about how Wheel of Fortune is TOTALLY rigged – it’s statistically impossible to have that many spins land on Bankrupt, and …
Does anyone want to discuss college football at college football media days?
Sort of, but the only topic brought up with all the leagues is expansion – okay, NIL, too – because that’s far more interesting than the normal “talk about how you’ve improved this season” question and “work hard” answer sessions.
Expansion, expansion, expansion – it’s all any radio hit I’ve done over the last few weeks has been about. I’ve been asked the same interesting question several times phrased a few different ways …
“At this point, what’s the college conference expansion move that would totally shock you?”
Texas and Oklahoma leaving for the SEC was a stunner, but it wasn’t as unthinkable as USC and UCLA leaving for the Big Ten. Not even the wackiest of expansion discussions saw that coming.
It’s boring, but if I’m being honest, the Sun Belt loading up with a few Conference USA programs – and getting Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss for this season – was about as shocking as anything else.
Before we get started, no, I don’t think any of the below will happen, and this is all based on nothing more than caffeine-fueled speculation, but that’s not the point.
If some dope like me is thinking of these things, the smart people with real jobs and lives and pants are certainly exploring every possibility.
If you had said two months ago that USC and UCLA would form the LA branch of the Big Ten …
So I’ll answer the question. Considering all the huge moves so far, and with nothing really off the table, what are three crazy expansion scenarios that would be really shocking?
Oregon and Washington to the SEC
If you’re Greg Sankey and the higher-ups in the SEC offices, and your total world domination balloon just got popped by the Big Ten, what do you do? What’s your next move?
Of course landing Texas and Oklahoma was massive, but when it comes to everything that expansion can do for a conference, acquiring USC, UCLA, and the Los Angeles market was a far bigger statement.
The problem when it comes to college conference expansion is a geographic failure of imagination. Good luck finding anyone who can wrap their head around the time zone differences and length of travel from the Big Ten schools to LA, but that’s the deal now.
If you’re the SEC, you have to expand the brand and footprint outside of the southeast part of the United States – if a conference called the Big Ten can have 16 teams, a league called the Southeastern Conference can mean more in other areas.
Conventional wisdom when it comes to Oregon and Washington is that 1) they’re the next logical expansion move for the Big Ten or 2) they stay put as the new stars and anchors of a refurbished Pac-12. However, Phil Knight and Oregon have been pinging around seeing what’s possible, and Washington all but certainly would be involved as a sort of package deal – or the other way around.
Get the Seattle market, get all the marketing opportunities in an NIL world that Oregon has to offer, make the brand national, and expand, expand, expand.
And the SEC would beat the Big Ten to the punch.
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Notre Dame to the Pac-12
I need to get out more.
I’ve somehow talked myself into thinking this is the only move that makes sense for Notre Dame, even though there’s absolutely NO chatter about it anywhere from my Pac-12 types, or anyone else.
Seriously, what are you going to do if you’re that school?
Finally locking it in with the ACC in all ways would be the easiest move, but there’s a catch. If ESPN can work and change the ACC’s media deal, or if the Big Ten or SEC decide they’ll pay whatever it takes, some of the biggest brand schools are all but gone.
Officially making Notre Dame a full-time member might keep that from happening, but the ACC hasn’t had to try landing that plane because the deal in place still works.
But if Notre Dame really is snooping around …
The Big 12? No chance.
The SEC? Adding Texas sort of changes the dynamic, but if Notre Dame doesn’t want to join the Big Ten and be just another football program, the SEC makes even less sense.
The Big Ten? It’s SO sticky. The Big Ten is in the position of power here – it’s not going to give up any special concessions to Notre Dame, and the school doesn’t want to be thrown on the pile. This might be closer than we all think considering the USC and UCLA move, or Notre Dame can …
Remain independent with the current ACC arrangement. Yeah, a revamped TV deal would bring in a ton of cash, but that’s not where the cake is in the new college sports world. The opportunities with the big conferences might be too great. Or …
The Pac-12 is totally desperate to figure out something big to replace UCLA and USC, but it’s not in any position to go poach a giant school – and there isn’t a gettable one out there that can move the needle.
Notre Dame doesn’t have travel issues, it has ties to that part of the world with the USC rivalry and regular dates with Stanford, and best of all, it can pretty much ask for any deal it wants and get it.
And there’s the ego aspect. Join the Big Ten, and Ohio State and Michigan are still the stars. Join the SEC, and get buried under a mound of power-programs. Join the Pac-12, and that’s Notre Dame’s conference.
Notre Dame is tied into the NBC deal for another four years, but that can certainly be reworked. And then there’s the other issue – it contractually has to join the ACC if it tries to leave for another league before 2036, otherwise it has to pay the lost revenue.
Let’s just say that when it comes to Notre Dame – more than it is for the other ACC schools – this is doable, especially for a Pac-12 that might have to pay whatever it takes to get the one free agent that could change the game.
And then there’s the craziest idea that would throw everyone for a loop …
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Texas doesn’t go to the SEC
From the start of the Texas and Oklahoma deal with the SEC, all the Texas inside info types I know were … reserved.
Yeah, they were excited, and yeah it makes financial sense in a lot of ways, but Texas is already the richest athletic department going, and there seemed to be a realistic approach when it came to the football side.
There’s excitement over the recruiting opportunities, being a part of a bigger league, upping the profile in the southeast that much more, hype over the big matchups, but …
Life in the SEC is hard. That’s not to say – in general – that Texas isn’t happy, but it hasn’t been unabashed joy.
I usually have my finger on the pulse of the various fan bases when it comes to the big things, and I assumed Oklahoma people thought roughly the same way, but …
Nope. Very, very nope.
I’m not exactly sure what Oklahoma fans think is about to happen when their football-mad school joins a conference with Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU, and on and on and on, but the money is great, the profile is bigger, and any hint that this might not be the move they all think it is sets off a firestorm of anger.
And in the end, they might be dead-on right.
The Alabama run has to slow down at some point, and in the up-the-competition, up-the-game sort of way, it’s certainly possible that a historical powerhouse program like OU jumps in and becomes even stronger.
So with ALL of that said, I can’t get there – even in a wacky won’t-happen scenario piece like this – to think Oklahoma is anything but all in on the SEC.
Texas, though …
Don’t get me wrong; Texas is fired up about being in the SEC. However, Texas and Oklahoma are coming from two very different positions here.
The University of Texas still remains a far better fit in just about all ways with the Big Ten.
Do I think it would happen that the Big Ten finds a way to pivot UT away from the SEC to be a part of a bigger, stronger league with USC and UCLA?
It figured out how to get USC and UCLA. And I’ll throw in one other selling point for the Big Ten …
Remember, University of Texas … Texas A&M isn’t in the Big Ten.
But that’s a heavy lift. Too many moving parts, too much money, too many political aspects involved. However, try this scenario.
The Big 12 picks off at least two Pac-12 schools, maybe four. It lands Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah – meaning they have the Phoenix, Denver, and Salt Lake City markets – to go along with the massive-school gets in BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF and they’re great markets.
All of a sudden, if you’re Texas, you have to ask what the media rights deal would be – and what the cut could be – to sneak out and jump back into the Big 12 to be the giant whale, as opposed to just another big fish.
Okay, enough insane tin-foil hat scenarios.
Do I really think Oregon and Washington will go to the SEC? No. I 65% believe they’re staying in the Pac-12, 33% believe they’re going to the Big Ten, 2% think there’s something else – like even the Big 12 – they might do.
Do I really think Notre Dame will go to the Pac-12? I’ve talked myself into thinking it’s possible, but it’s dead even between Big Ten life or staying as an ACC/Independent.
Do I really think Texas isn’t going to the SEC? Ehhhhhhhh, I actually don’t think this is that insane, but it’s going to join Oklahoma and be off to the SEC in 2024 …