Conference expansion could open doors

Published 10:15 pm Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Figuring out the possible conference shake up in college football is like trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube blindfolded. Which schools will join? Will any schools leave? How will they be aligned? It’s like having a green square smack dab in the middle of your yellow ones. It is, however, fun to try.

An expansion to the country’s strongest football conferences (SEC, Pac-12, Big 10, ACC) would create the first ‘super-conference’ and greatly change the landscape of the NCAA’s most popular sport.

With the smaller conferences like the MAC, Conference USA, and Sun Belt struggling to gain any sort of national recognition, the idea of ‘super-conferences’ is real possibly. This would help, in my opinion, close the gap and open the door for the Boise State’s and TCU’s to participate in a playoff type postseason if the powers that be allow it.

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Last summer, it seemed inevitable that the Pac-10 would become the Pac-16 and the Big 12 would dissolve but oh have we come a long way since then.

The University of Texas is trying to launch a Longhorn television network that would air many athletic events including conference football games as well as featured high school football games. In a state that produces a wealth of gridiron talent that the Longhorns already dominate from a recruiting perspective, it seems that the rich would only get richer. This puts schools like Texas A&M and Oklahoma in a predicament. It gives them really only two options.

Nebraska and Colorado jumped ship last season for the Big Ten and Pac-12 leaving the Big 12 with only 10 schools. With the vastly different athletic budgets of the remaining institutions, Texas’ TV network will separate them even more from the likes of Baylor and Kansas State. So what of the schools with deep pockets but no plans to secede from the college football union like Texas appears to be doing?

With their current trajectory, Texas is more likely to be an independent in the near future. As is sits, it only makes sense for the SEC to accept Texas A&M and Oklahoma. Texas A&M and Arkansas have been rivals for decades and Oklahoma and Alabama have a history against each other as rich as any two non-conference schools could have, not to mention both have deep pockets and could create additional bowl revenue for the SEC.

For conversation’s sake, let’s say they do jump to the SEC. The question now is alignment. With 14 teams, there is a bit of a dilemma. Geographically, to have seven teams in each division the conference would have to split Alabama in half. Alabama would be in the West and Auburn in the East. Can you imagine Alabama and Auburn in a grudge match in the SEC Championship game one week removed from the Iron Bowl? Realistically, however, that will never happen. Sure you could technically stick Vanderbilt in the West and keep the Tide and Tigers together but what is more likely to happen is two additional teams will be added from the East Coast. Talks of Florida State have been circulating for years especially last year when FSU Athletic Director Randy Spetman confirmed that talks had taken place on a possible move to the SEC. Georgia Tech might be a viable option but the Yellow Jackets’ re-admission would be greatly opposed by Georgia and South Carolina. If Florida State jumped from the ACC, the Miami Hurricans would be left hundreds of miles from its nearest conference opponent, Clemson. The one down side to adding a program as rich in football tradition as Miami is their fan base. The Hurricanes have been known to only draw half capacity at home games.

One other option for the SEC to become the first ‘super-conference’ is to add Texas. Even with all the baggage that UT has recently stacked beside its front door, they bring a lot to the table. Winning tradition aside, expanding the conference is all about money. That’s the main reason for the Longhorn Network. The SEC would pick up something greater than an expanded conference full of the nation’s best teams, it would largely expand its market size by adding areas like Houston and Dallas.

I believe that the expansion or merging of conferences is inevitable. The Western Athletic Conference will falter and the Pac-12 will benefit from it along with the addition of the remaining Big 12 schools.

So what happens to conferences like Conference USA and the Sun Belt? I have no idea. But I think the interest in football at those institutions would rise if the conferences simply merged. Schools like Central Florida, East Carolina, Marshall, and UTEP would be targets for conferences like the Big East, ACC, and possibly a drowning WAC.

Schools like Troy would benefit from annual games against UAB, Southern Miss, and up-and-coming South Alabama. It would be a good core of mid-level football playing schools, let alone the addition bowl tie-ins a ‘super-conference’ would have.

It would also present this option. With the number of conferences reduced, the ability for the NCAA to institute a playoff would be simplified. With the shuffling of teams, football would go from having 11 Division I conferences to as few as six. Six conference champions plus two at-large bids equals eight team playoff. Sounds simple enough (the playoff issue is another article all to itself). But for whatever reason that will most likely not happen. I don’t know all the inner workings of the NCAA but as a fan, I would sure be excited to tune into the nation’s eight best teams battling in a bracket than sit around for a month then watching meaningless bowls.

Some people may argue that basketball would play a large part in any realignment but that’s false. Football is running this show and has been for a while. Other than March Madness, NCAA basketball carries zero financial weight.

All of this is just speculation, of course. There are a lot of things that have to happen before schools just decide to change conferences but the thought of the great match-ups it could produce is one thing that makes the months leading up to the season bearable.