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All That and a Bag of Mail

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It’s Friday and I hope all of you have had fantastic weeks so far.

I’m out in Los Angeles for the final day of Fox Bet Live season three.

It has been a wild week in college football with realignment talk suddenly exploding in the middle of conference media days. After a decade of relative quiet, suddenly the possibility of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC looms large and everyone is obsessed with what might be next in conference musical chairs.

So let’s dive into your questions.

Coach writes:

“What are the best case scenario plans for the other 4 power 5 conferences moving forward if Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC?”

First, no other conference has to do anything. I don’t see the SEC going to 16 teams as a fundamentally transformative event that everyone else has to copy. The SEC with Texas and Oklahoma and four divisions of four teams each will unquestionably be the largest and most powerful conference in the country, but you can’t chase this move just to chase it.

If the Big Ten, ACC, or Pac-12 expand, they need to expand in ways that significantly strengthen their overall brand, not in a way that just gets them to 16 teams.

Remember that creating your own conference television network and adding new markets through expansion was the guiding tenet a decade ago. Now the number of cable and satellite subscribers is plummeting and streaming is the new focus. So new markets for conference networks makes less sense. Because what works in streaming? Quality over quantity. So the Big Ten’s decision, for instance, to add Rutgers for the TV market doesn’t really make sense in a streaming era. Because there aren’t that many people who care enough about the brand of Rutgers athletics to pay for streaming.

The SEC’s additions of Texas and Oklahoma are less about new markets for the SEC Network and more about the overall brand strength of Texas and Oklahoma no matter what the distribution plans are.

Having said all of this, if Texas and Oklahoma leave, then the conference with the most at stake once this happens is the Big 12, because its very existence is in jeopardy here.

As I wrote on Wednesday, which I’d encourage you to read, I believe ESPN will have to pay the remaining Big 12 members similar money to what they pay now in order to keep the conference from falling apart. Why would ESPN have to do that? Because ESPN will be funding much of the money for Texas and Oklahoma to leave for the SEC. That puts ESPN in the legal crosshairs, potentially, since the network would have a fiduciary obligation of good faith as a contracting party with the Big 12. Would that duty be violated by paying Texas and Oklahoma to leave the Big 12? I think it arguably would.

So while many Big 12 schools might be panicking, I think you can think back to what happened the last time the Big 12 lost schools — the conference managed to retain its TV deal despite losing Texas A&M, Missouri and Colorado, three of the most valuable members of the conference at the time. And the Big 12 was able to keep its TV payments roughly the same, even grow them, because they only had ten members instead of twelve. I think something similar could happen again.

If I’m right about this, then there are a couple of big questions at play: First, when would Texas and Oklahoma start play in the SEC? The easy answer is 2025, when the existing Big 12 TV contracts and the grant of rights expire. But I wonder if ESPN could, for instance, extend the Big 12’s deal for a decade and allow the Big 12 to add members in the meantime while allowing Texas and Oklahoma to leave earlier, potentially in time for ESPN to take over the SEC game of the week. The second question, and this one is even more substantial, is how many other schools will try and flee the Big 12 for another Power Five conference? And how many schools would have the option to do so?

The most desirable school left in the Big 12 would be Kansas. I could see Kansas being in play for the ACC, the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, potentially. Oklahoma State, West Virginia, Iowa State, TCU, Texas Tech, Baylor and Kansas State would all explore their options too.

But where would they go?

Right now the Pac-12, the Big Ten, and the ACC have presidents who are focused on how elite their academic institutions are. So leaving athletic concerns aside, would these conferences be able to persuade their school presidents to expand and add schools that don’t fit the academic profile of the conferences now? It’s a great question.

My best guess would be the Pac-12, facing substantial challenges in athletic competition and with its own TV deal coming up soon, would be the most likely to reach across the country and try and sweep up some of the Texas schools, Oklahoma State and Kansas. A Pac-16 with four additional Big 12 schools would theoretically be a more attractive TV property. But do Oklahoma State, Kansas, Texas Tech and TCU or Baylor fit the Pac-12’s brand? And do those schools really want to be traveling halfway across the country to play on the west coast all the time? It’s a good question.

Which is why, if I’m correct about ESPN staying committed to the existing Big 12 schools, then the Big 12 could decide to expand and stay at ten schools even if it lost Texas and Oklahoma. Who would their expansion candidates be? BYU, Boise State, Memphis, Cincinnati, Central Florida, Colorado State and Houston immediately come to mind. The conference could even attempt to add four of those schools to get back to 12 teams.

Another big question that impacts conference musical chairs is whether or not Notre Dame stays independent. Presuming the Irish don’t join a conference, then the ACC and the Big Ten could be interested in expanding to 16 teams too.

But who are their expansion candidates?

If the ACC were to decide to go to 16 teams and, again, that Notre Dame wasn’t in play, then I’d think West Virginia and Kansas might make the most sense for the conference.

And if the Big Ten decided to expand, I’d think Kansas, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia might be in the mix for them too.

But are these conferences interested in expanding and taking “lesser” academic institutions?

So the biggest remaining question, in the event Texas and Oklahoma leave, is how stable are the eight teams left behind in the Big 12? And that stability is really a function of how much interest there is in them elsewhere. And that’s what we don’t know right now.

In the meantime, we’ll also see how political this fight to keep Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 becomes and how many lawsuits end up getting filed.

Mark writes:

“What’s the possibility we ever see relegation (think European soccer) in College Football? With talk of mergers and Super Conferences, can the Kansas’ and Vanderbilt‘s survive in the brave new world? Shouldn’t the Central Florida’s and Cincinnati’s get a shot in the big leagues?”

The idea of college football relegation is wildly entertaining, but I think there’s a zero percent chance of that happening. The contracts all these schools sign guarantee them television revenue. And the schools all have multi-year budgets that are reliant on the revenues they receive as conference members.

So while it’s a fun idea, the chances of it happening are zero.

Bear writes:

“With Maria Taylor’s departure now, leaving only the betrayed employee behind (Rachel Nichols), how bad did ESPN royally botch that whole process?”

ESPN’s toughest break here was Maria Taylor’s team deciding to go scorched earth on their way out the door. ESPN gambled the story would stay quiet and Taylor would leave without creating a scene. That didn’t happen. Taylor’s team sat on this story for a year and then dropped it right as they left for NBC. And they did it at just the right time so the story was over when Taylor arrived at NBC but crushed ESPN in her final couple of weeks with the network.

It was really just a monumental FU to Rachel Nichols from Maria Taylor.

I still don’t know what ESPN does here to replace Taylor on her shows — these decisions will receive a great deal of attention — and I don’t know how they use Nichols going forward. And I still wonder whether Nichols will end up filing a massive lawsuit against ESPN too. I mean, think about the Nichols situation. She has her entire career in jeopardy because someone at ESPN illegally recorded her in her hotel room without her knowledge and distributed it to the media. The recording itself may well be illegal under existing Florida law, the distribution almost certainly is. And even without worrying about the illegality, there’s clear civil liability for ESPN here.

Going forward, can ESPN keep Rachel Nichols covering the NBA? I don’t know. I doubt they do. They’re probably waiting to see what things look like in the fall. And if they can’t, who else hires her? Or does she have to spin off on her own because too many companies are afraid of the attention she brings? I think ESPN is going to have to pay Nichols a massive amount of money to keep her from filing a lawsuit, which could potentially uncover even more dirt inside the network.

ESPN gambled the story was going away, and they lost big time when it didn’t.

OTN writes:

“Has the marketability of any team plummeted as quickly as the USWNT? They went from nationally beloved to at best ignored, or at worst, despised by half the country.”

It really is wild to think about, isn’t it?

When the US Women won the World Cup in 2015, I was there with my family watching the championship game against Japan.

These women were absolutely beloved rock stars.

And then Donald Trump got elected, and the wheels came off for them. They went intensely political, filed lawsuits alleging soccer was sexist, and essentially branded half the country — the half of the country, ironically, which was most likely to love them because they over-index for patriotism — as awful human beings.

As I’ve said for years, the worst thing about the U.S. women’s decision to get political is they could have used their platform to argue for American exceptionalism. The reason our women dominate much of the rest of the world is because our women have freedoms that most women in the world don’t.

You can pick the winner of most women’s soccer matches just by analyzing the relative freedom the women in those countries have.

Some people ask why our men don’t dominate like our women. The answer is because most countries around the world give their male athletes the freedom to compete at a high level. They don’t do the same for the women. That means our women had the opportunity on the world stage to promote American values and argue that all women around the world should have the same freedoms that they have.

Instead, they decided to attack America’s political institutions, becoming propaganda for our enemies and undercutting their national appeal.

Tar Heel writes:

“The Cleveland GUARDIANS?????”

Next up on the mascot name chopping block, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Braves!

As I’ve said for years, it never ends. There’s always another mascot target.

At some point, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will be the target. Just wait for it.

Will writes:

“As the foremost expert after your riveting guest starring role, you’re the perfect person to ask. Now that college football players can make a lot of money out in the open, which school turns into Blue Mountain State first?”

The insane story potential out of having multi-million dollar athletes on college campuses is truly out of control. We’re going to have tell-all books that are incredible in the years ahead. I don’t think most people have even realized this yet.

Just think about how much fun an average starting quarterback in the SEC can have already with virtually no money and then give him a million dollars on top of that. It’s not just him having a wild time. Suddenly everyone around him — his offensive line, his teammates — are able to participate in insane parties too.

There’s a great line I believe in: money doesn’t change you, it makes you more of what you already were. Money is the steroids, it removes the guardrails that most of us without obscene amounts of wealth have in our lives. Well, many of these top players at top schools will have wealth they’ve never had before and they’ll have it overnight. That combination of sudden fame and sudden wealth can be wildly messy.

I mean, hell, just think about the kind of place you could live in a college town if you had that kind of money. What could you rent for $20k a month in Oxford or Tuscaloosa? We’re talking about absolute party palace mansions that would rival the biggest and best fraternity houses in the country.

Think about the strippers and the hookers and the drugs that are going to be rolling through these parties. It’s going be a total Caligula-like setting at some places.

I mean, think about what Stephen Garcia’s college experience would have been like if he’d had a million dollars at South Carolina. Think about Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M with a million dollars. It would be truly insane.

And we haven’t even thought about some of the business opportunities out there from throwing and promoting parties. How much money could the starting quarterback at your school have made if he’d partnered with a popular college musician and put on his own football Woodstock on a farm just off campus? The potential here for a really smart kid with his head on his shoulders from a business perspective are extraordinary.

I imagine there will be some guys who make millions and millions of dollars as college quarterbacks and set themselves up for life, regardless of what professional career they have. And I also imagine there will be a bunch of guys who spend millions of dollars and finish their college careers with no money left and also kill their pro potential in the process.

It actually makes me wonder whether a ton of schools are going to start instituting early morning practice sessions just to try and keep players from partying too much. After all, if you have 5 AM conditioning, it’s hard to stay up that late the night before. And for anyone who has ever worked out super hung over, it’s one of the worst feelings imaginable. I think that’s one of the ways coaches will try and keep things from spiraling completely out of control in the programs.

But it’s going to be a major challenge, no doubt.

And, by the way, my money is on Ole Miss being the wildest school in the country for football players.

Okay, I’m headed in to do the radio show.

Hope all of you have fantastic weekends.

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.

11 Comments

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  1. Why wouldn’t the conferences essentially consolidate to this:
    North (Big Ten and stragglers)
    West (Pac 12 and Big 12)
    South (SEC and they grab some like Clemson and Georgia Tech and a Florida team or two)

    Seems like the inevitable direction.

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