Conference Realignment – What to Expect & How to Navigate the Upcoming Changes
With big changes coming to the SEC and Big Ten, what can we expect for the future of college football to look like? No one truly knows, but we do see the priority of universities. Money!
The Big 12 are welcoming BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF in July. USC and UCLA are joining the Big Ten in 2024. Texas and Oklahoma will be becoming SEC members in 2024 as well. From what we see, this is just the beginning of more universities changing conferences as rumors have been circulating across the country of future realignments.
When the news hit that Texas and Oklahoma were going to join the SEC, no one truly knew the ramifications it would have on the sport. The Big Ten seized the opportunity to gain 2 more Blue Blood programs to their conference and the Big 12 did what they had to do to keep the rest of the band together. Questions loom for the other 2 Power 5 conferences in the Pac 12, who are losing their 2 biggest and most important universities, and the ACC, who knows what is going on here other than rumors.
Some of the rumors that have been floating around I will list below:
- Clemson and Florida State leaving the ACC for the SEC
- SMU leaving the AAC for the Pac 12
- San Diego State joining the Pac 12 from the Mountain West
- Oregon and Washington accompanying USC and UCLA to join the Big Ten
- Other schools with rumors changing conferences: Boise State, Arizona State, Arizona, Utah, and many more.
Knowing the changing landscape and more conference shuffling will be on the way, there are a few things we can piece together based on the reactionary measures being taken by conference leadership.
- Conferences are looking to become more national and less regional
- Universities are prioritizing money over everything else
- Conferences are sizing up to obtain the largest media rights deals as possible
With these three points in mind, college is turning towards the NFL model of traveling nationally across the country for big time matchups every week. History has proven fans will watch and engage more with games like Ohio State-USC instead of Clemson-The Citadel. This is a future that in the short term fans may disagree with, but in the long term makes sense for the benefit of the game. While there still will be out of conference games such as Alabama versus Utah State, these games with Power 5 teams going against significantly lower competition will happen less and less.
The question that needs to be answered during the chaos of realignment is what happens to conferences and universities who do not get chosen to join these mega conferences. As of right now it seems schools left after the poaching of the Pac 12 and Big 12 such as Oregon, Washington, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State are left to pick up the remaining pieces as they plan their next move. At the end of the day, each university needs to prioritize themselves over the whole which will mean further drastic changes are ahead.
What we can predict is there will no longer be a Power 5 and Group of 5 dynamic as there has been for the last decade or so. I can see one of the current Power 5 conferences merging with another to create a major 4 conference layout. This may result in 16-20 team conferences with a few Group of 5 promotions. After that, the remaining Group of 5 universities will be left to figure it out for themselves, which is not ideal and sad to think about. A bunch of these schools rely on the money they receive from non-conference competition, so this may result in football teams being closed around the country due to lack of funding. Hopefully it will not get to this point, but this is where the future is heading at this current point in time.All this movement from universities will result in major changes for the fans who are used to driving to regional away games to now having to fly.
For high school athletes and recruits, the effects of these changes will remain to be seen. The major universities will still fight it out for the top recruits every year, but now will have more money to throw around. Money will always be a factor and it seems there will be a wider gap in earnings from the SEC and Big Ten than everyone else. This is something to keep in mind when choosing what school you would like to play for, but should not be a deciding factor. As always, I recommend choosing the best school that gives you the greatest opportunities. These opportunities include a good education and likelihood of earning a degree, playing time, devising a plan to play at the next level, preparedness for life after football, and overall resources to tutors and gain internships. Not every player who plays college football will play professionally, so choose a school that will help you grow as a person on and off the field.
My advice to recruits is to keep life changing money in mind, but ultimately make your decision based on the people you will be around everyday from teammates and peers to the entire staff in the athletics department. You want to surround yourself with people you trust and have your best interests in their minds. The transfer portal may seem like a good backup plan, but hundreds of student athletes are left in what I call “sports purgatory” leaving their former school and having nowhere else to go. They lose their scholarships and now have no other chances to get their education fully paid for.
Choosing the right school to attend is incredibly hard in the first place, but it seems nearly impossible for student athletes 17 and 18 years old. When making your decision, trust the people around you to help guide you, but in the end choose the school that you feel is right. You want to try and limit the chance for you to regret your decision. To do this, at the end of the day, it needs to be your decision.
Overall, further conference realignment remains unpredictable as nobody knows what will happen. The one thing we can expect is the landscape to be ever changing until a solid foundation is in place. Over the next 18-24 months we will have a clearer picture of what the future of college football will be, but in the meantime continue to cheer for your school and enjoy the process as I believe the future remains bright and the opportunities are endless.
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