Let’s stop referring to anything that’s currently happening in college sports as “conference realignment” and instead show some intellectual honesty.
This is kill or be killed. Survive or die. Every man and woman for themselves. Old school college ball is Brian Dennehy as the Sheriff, and the future is John J. Rambo destroying him and his men around every corner in the woods.
Long gone are the days of tradition mattering. Say goodbye to rivalries that have lasted a century or more and hello to USC vs. Maryland! The sport that I love more than any other has been bastardized because a few conference commissioners and school presidents got an itchy trigger finger and decided “if I don’t, they will, so I might as well shoot.”
None of this is best for the sport. It’s all about what’s best financially for a few and not the whole. It means more alright. And I get it. There are no government bailouts in major college football. The rich get richer because there is no such thing as “rich enough” for the super-wealthy.
Here is where I should write something about capitalism or free markets or blah blah blah but I realize Jeff Bezos probably isn’t reading this piece, so I’ll spare you the financial explanation that typically serves to make greedy people feel better about their greed. If you are reading this column, you are probably a lot like me: Someone who has an interest in the whole of college football.
So let’s begin by admitting what’s taking place is very, very bad for all but maybe 50-60 programs. And 60 is being generous. But SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren have shown us they don’t care about your athletic budget or your feelings unless you can offer them a path to more money and security. Sorry, Iowa State. You should have had the foresight to build your campus in a better future TV market when you constructed it in 1858. And Washington State can now go play the equivalent of FCS football considering the Palouse isn’t an area where advertisers are elbowing each other to reach.
So sorry. Ta-Ta. Money wins. Again.
Now that we are operating from a place of honesty and are fully immersed in our current and future reality, it’s time to lay out what should and will happen in the coming months: The Big Ten and SEC are both ballooning to 24 teams each and creating a de-facto NFC and AFC in College Football.
Because if money is King, then the NFL is Elvis. So why not model yourself in their image from a revenue perspective? The amount of money each conference can get from networks and streaming services when their contracts come to market will be exponentially higher given each conference’s heavy hand with 24 programs. And the biggest college sports brands in America are all represented in these two conferences.
College Football is driving the boat on all of these moves but basketball and other sports matter (especially Men’s Basketball), so I will consider hoops as an additive to the case being made for each program’s inclusion with the big boys. But hoops can only get you so far if your football program is a national punchline (sorry, Kansas.) And while the cat is out of the bag in the Big Ten when it comes to geography, I’m still taking it into account with the SEC considering their conference (mostly) makes sense. I’m also not advocating for current SEC and Big Ten teams getting booted out of the conference (even if it makes sense given the current climate) because I think it’s a bridge too far.
So with that wind-up out of the way, here is where both conferences should end up. This would create a 48-team, two-conference, super league and give the Big Ten and SEC a total stranglehold on all of College Football.
Current Members (16)
There are some powerful brands represented in this group and it further leans into the Big Ten moving into a national conference that has nothing to do with regionality. The conference also land the biggest fish remaining in Notre Dame. I’m not placing every team into divisions in this exercise but it’s definitely not a bad thing to have rivalries like USC-UCLA, Washington-Oregon, Utah-BYU (Holy War), and Arizona-Arizona St. doing battle out west. I’ll let the suits figure out the cost analysis of sending the Washington volleyball team to Virginia for a match. But again, this is all driven by football, which is a once-a-week sport so I’m keeping the focus on gridiron implications.
Current Members (16)
The SEC keeps its geographic restraints to states that border each other while completely dominating the states of Florida and Texas. Which, last I checked, are fairly important states in the football world. There’s a lot of fun, future SEC match-ups in this group. Is this perfect? No. Will College Football ever be the sport we remember growing up? No. But if the future is inevitable and no amount of money will ever be enough, then we might as well milk some fun out of it. And I see a lot of fun match-ups in these two conferences. But nothing will be pleasant for those schools left without a seat when DJs Warren and Sankey stop the music.
Chad Withrow is a co-host of “OutKick 360” seen daily from 3-6pm ET on OutKick Network. You can follow him on Twitter @TheChadWithrow