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ODB Roundtable: Conference Realignment

The ODB staff discusses the latest round of conference realignment following USC and UCLA’s move to the Big Ten

Last Thursday, Jon Wilner tweeted that USC and UCLA were going to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten. Within hours, the Big Ten voted to accept the two California schools, confirming Wilner’s report, and causing a seismic shift in the college football landscape. Flash forward through the holiday weekend, and rumors abound that the Big 12 is meeting today with Utah, Arizona, Arizona State, and Colorado about potential expansion. A report from Dennis Dodd claims that the Big 12 may add up to 6 new schools.

Members of the ODB staff were asked for their thoughts on the news. Add your own thoughts in the comment section below!

BNT (@BearNTex)

Get used to the fact that collegiate football as we know it is ending. The new format will be Super Conferences that are media/money driven. We can debate what that will look like and who will be “in” until the cows come home, but my interest is in the impact on Baylor. Here’s how I see it playing out:

Short Term: Big 12 will pick up at least 4 PAC 12 teams as early as this week. They will probably be Utah, Colorado, and the 2 Arizona’s. This will drive the stake through the PAC 12’s heart and the conference will go up in dust. Oregon and Washington covet Big 10 realignment, but none has been offered. Once the invitations go out to the 4 programs mentioned, Oregon and Washington will be scrambling to realign and find a home and the most logical will be the Big 12. This may or may not happen, but it certainly puts us in the cat bird seat.

Long Term: With the addition of the PAC 12 teams to the Big 12, ACC schools could be in play but it’s a bit more tricky and takes a patient approach as their GOR ends in 2036. SEC will probably make a go at Clemson, FSU, and UNC. That would leave some interesting opportunities for the Big 12 to further entrench itself in the East Coast by adding the likes of Pitt, Louisville, possibly Miami, and a few others.

What does the future hold for Baylor? We will be ok no matter what. If we absorb PAC 12 teams (and eventually ACC leftovers) we will be at the top of the Big 12 hierarchy. With the addition of other aforementioned teams, Big 12 will continue to be a Power conference with a shot at the natty every year. If the SEC decides to further expand to eventually 20-24 teams, I think Baylor and it’s brand would be the first, or one of, they come after. Bottom line as we navigate through the new college football landscape, Baylor should be just fine.

FieldinOfDreams (@FieldinOfDreams)

As an alumni of Baylor, a proponent of the Big 12, and a lifelong fan of college athletics, there is a lot to be concerned about with the rapidly changing face of college athletics. The move by USC and UCLA is one of the most drastic to date, but it will almost certainly not mark the end of this wave of realignment. While there is a plenty to bemoan about tradition and the like, I think Baylor and the Big 12 are in an okay position if they play their cards right.

Strategically, the Big 12 and its member institutions (and future members) need to have two clear goals in mind while navigating realignment:

1. The Big 12 needs to accept that in football they will be a tier below the Big 10 and the SEC after this is all said and done, but that they can make moves to lock themselves in as the third best college football conference.

Assuming the current playoff structure remains, being the third best conference would likely look like getting a team in as the four seed every other year (or with expansion, regularly getting one team in and sometimes getting two). While not ideal, that is again okay given the cards dealt.

Some are also speculating that the Big 10 and SEC might breakaway from the NCAA. However, others are pointing out that just two leagues would be an incredibly stale format and that three or four would be more preferable. Setting up as the third best conference gives the Big 12 options in such a scenario. The Big 12 has some significant advantages in making this play for “best of the rest.” For one, they were the first conference to have to deal with and survive (so far) this realignment wave. The remaining member institutions seem to have some level of commitment to sticking together and have brought in some already strong additions.

As things stand I think the Big 12 is already in a better position than the Pac-12, but assuming the rumors of Oregon and Washington being potential additions to the Big 10 if Notre Dame also joins are true, and that comes to fruition, the Pac-12 is then in a significantly worse position than the Big 12. I don’t know the TV numbers but from a perceived strength viewpoint, adding Arizona (more on them in point 2), Arizona State, Utah, and Colorado (welcome back!) to the Big 12 seems like a no brainer.

I think that move would already make the Big 12, top to bottom, better than the other remaining competition: the ACC. And we’re all deluding ourselves if we think there’s any chance Clemson, Florida State, and maybe Miami aren’t going to bolt to the SEC. If that happens, the ACC is also dead in the water and there are a couple more poaches the Big 12 could make. At that point, I think those potential decisions should consider my second strategy point...

2. While the Big 12 might have to battle for and ultimately accept its position as the “best of the rest” in football, it absolutely can and should solidify the position it already owns as the best college basketball conference in the country.

I think even as things stand right now, the new Big 12 is already the premier basketball conference in the nation. If the Big 12 makes the move for the Arizonas, Utah, and Colorado, they are adding another significant basketball blue blood in Arizona. If the ACC collapses a few years down the line, North Carolina and Duke are likely up for grabs. And even if those two get grabbed by the Big 10 or SEC, the likes of Syracuse, Louisville, and Pitt would still be really solid additions.

There are plenty of options that make good sense for football and absurd sense for basketball. And while we’ve all heard over and over that football is the real moneymaker and basketball is second class when it comes to TV negotiations, having such an overwhelmingly strong basketball conference helps in that networks like ESPN and FOX have no choice but to negotiate strongly with the Big 12 if they want to continue to have compelling college athletics programing for a third of the year. In that case, the Big 12 could use its world class basketball to leverage stronger football deals in package agreements. I think that’s possible right now, but even more likely if the Big 12 expands in a way that specifically aims for being fun/good in football and world class in basketball.

There is plenty to worry about with realignment, but for Baylor and the Big 12 there may be a cracked window of optimism if they successfully maneuver the shifting tides of college athletics and make the best of a disappointing situation.

Cody Orr (@cody_orr)

I am a firm believer that college sports are at their best when they feature regional and historic rivalries. West Virginia has been in the Big 12 for a decade, and I still don’t care when we play them. TCU, with their 100+ year history with Baylor, was easy to instantly hate, despite joining the Big 12 at the same time as the Mountaineers.

Driven by greed, “non-profit” universities are undoubtedly making college sports worse off by sacrificing these historic matchups. Unfortunately, Baylor, and the rest of the schools in the Big 12, do not have the blue-blood status required to shape their own future. Instead of being proactive, we necessarily have to be reactive.

Texas and Oklahoma departing for the SEC forced the remaining Big 12 members to expand or limp along as a pseudo-Group-of-Five conference. They chose the best available schools, BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and Central Florida, geographic proximity or historic rivalries be damned, because they had no choice.

USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12 puts the remaining ten members in a worse position than Baylor and the Big 12. Already the weakest of the Power Five conferences, there’s no way the remaining ten can compete financially without the LA schools. They can try to add Boise St, Air Force, Colorado State, and UNLV, but there’s a reason those schools were passed over when the Big 12 had to expand.

Once again, the Big 12 has an opportunity to react. Can they do so in a way that preserves the unique appeal of college sports? A sixteen team conference with Utah, Colorado, Arizona State, and Arizona might do just that.

Imagine a conference with four pods: Big-16 West (Arizona, Arizona State, BYU, and Utah), Big-16 South (Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech, and Houston), Big-12 Central (Colorado, Kansas State, Kansas, and Oklahoma State), Big-12 East (Cincinnati, West Virginia, UCF, and Iowa State).

Most of the traditional rivalries are preserved, and older rivalries (e.g., Arizona and Texas Tech, Colorado and Kansas) are renewed. Oregon and Washington may be the biggest draws in terms of eyeballs, but they seem like the strangest fits in terms of culture, geography, and history.

It’s not ideal (is it too late to boot West Virginia?), but it can make for some compelling sport. And if the Big 12 doesn’t make moves now, they might be forced into an even worse position when the Big 10 and SEC inevitably blob their way into something bigger.

Peter Pope (@pbpope)

I really struggle to put down coherent thoughts on this topic. I hate this direction for college football... the consolidation of the biggest brands into a couple of superconferences that will likely split off to form the “mini-NFL” or whatever. There’s a bunch about that idea that doesn’t make sense to me. For starters, some of the biggest “brands” haven’t enjoyed football success since current players were toddlers or younger... yet those are the brands that people assume get in. I’m not convinced that isn’t a misunderstanding of what drives college football viewership. I also struggle with the next step, even for the “haves” in this scenario. If it’s to break away from the NCAA to create its own, insular league, does it take the existing teams? Are people really excited for a 9am Super League matchup featuring USC at Rutgers? Do people care about Mississippi State at Kentucky when there’s nothing on the line? What makes those teams deserving of spots in this Super League? Do they trim the fat?

Some of those questions are moot because the process is already in motion, some are way above my pay grade and likely for another day. I don’t know what it means for Baylor or the Big 12. It seems like suddenly the Big 12 is in a position of relative strength to establish itself as “the best of the rest”, with the Pac 12 having lost its flagship university and a tagalong and the ACC likely being next. The Big 12 could move in and scoop up leftovers, like the Arizona Schools, Utah, and (gulp) Colorado. A faster move here could put pressure on Oregon and Washington, who may be holding out hope for a B1G invite that may or may not come. But that assumes that those four schools are willing to go ahead and jump ship and aren’t themselves hoping for an invite into the “Big Two.” And honestly, until the Big Two endgame is realized, I think that’s a reality we have to brace for - none of these moves are permanent, as an invitation to the SEC/B1G for any school (heck, including Baylor) will result in a quick exit.

As for what happens next, I think the SEC looks to add ACC schools (Clemson, FSU, Miami, ??), but the ACC Grant of Rights remains a hurdle. Rumors are that the B1G’s next target is Notre Dame, but will they move? And the Big 12 is supposedly having discussions already with the four schools I mentioned. If the Arizonas/Utah/Colorado were to make a quick move, I think it would accelerate the destruction of the Pac-12 and put pressure on Oregon and Washington. If that happens, buckle up. Things get very interesting, very quickly.

Whatever happens may end up resulting in a very different college football landscape than the one that we know and love now, but I don’t believe I’ve ever been more confident in the leadership that Baylor has at the helm to help us navigate these waters.

Mark C. Moore (@ourdailybears)

To say that the landscape of college athletics has shifted seems like an understatement—it has transformed. No matter how much we may dislike it, the future of conference-based athletics seems clear. When the dust settles on all of this movement, there will be two super-conferences, the B1G and the SEC, and everyone else. It seems likely both will end up with around twenty schools each—with OU/UT in the SEC and USC/UCLA in the B1G, both are at 16 now and would need four more. The easiest additions for each look like Oregon/Washington/Stanford/ND for the B1G and Clemson/FSU/UNC/Miami for the SEC.

The key right now is figuring out how to be the best of the “everyone else.” Thankfully, the Big 12 is well positioned to do that despite all the bad press we’ve gotten over the last 12+ months (or much longer, if you like). I like BNT’s format breakdown, so I’m going to copy it.

Short Term: The way forward for the Big 12 in the immediate future is clear: take the AZ schools, Utah, and Colorado to get to 16. Do not wait on a pipedream of Oregon, Washington, or, most improbable of all, Notre Dame. They cannot impact your strategic thinking right now. The reason everyone I’ve seen so far says we should take what I’ll call the “Pac 12 Four” is that they are the obvious fits. Don’t overcomplicate things.

For the first time since realignment began a decade ago, the Big 12 is in a relatively strong position. I say “relatively” for reasons that will become more clear below, and it’s relative to our direct competitors—the Pac12 and the ACC. The Big 12 needs to be aggressive to secure its immediate future by expanding to 16 with the Pac 12 Four. You will clearly be the best basketball conference in the land, you will add or solidify major upcoming markets in Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and Denver, and you will likely destroy the Pac 12 as a competitor going forward. With TV negotiations ongoing, this is the obvious play. Don’t make it harder than it has to be.

Long Term: I have a lot of questions about how stable anyone that isn’t in the B1G/SEC cabal is going to be when those two are clearly the dominant powers in the sport. If the gulf between the superconferences and everyone else is so large, the impulse of anyone not in that league will be to try to get there. That means if you have someone like, say, an Oregon that is left on the outside right now, as they improve their profile, it will be to join one of those two leagues. You have to assume they (or anyone else) will jump if given the chance, so any benefit you (as a non-superconference) get from their improvement is only temporary. You are a farm league now. This impacts how long schools will be willing to sign GORs, what kind of stability you have with existing schools, and what other conferences that aren’t the top two will do to try to undermine you. Everyone that isn’t a superconference is a crab in a pot with the added issue of retaining their up-and-coming schools. It’s not great.

Bottom Line: What does all this mean for Baylor? We are undoubtedly in a better position than we were a year ago, and enough cannot be said for what saving the Big 12 at that time has meant. Right now we should be the champions of aggressive expansion to take the Pac 12 Four, further solidify (at least in the short term) our position as the third-best conference in college athletics, continue to build new facilities and invest in our programs, and FIGURE OUT WHAT WE ARE GOING TO DO ON NIL!

Deonte Epps (@DEppsRightStepS)

If you’re the Big Ten at this point you’re in an arms race with the SEC after the announcement of OU and Texas heading there last summer. To me this announcement is not a shocker, but I think the fact that it was leaked, then formally announced in the same thing is what made me do my best Brian Windhorst impression.

But as you’ve heard many times before, we are in a new era of college football. NIL deals, transfer portal movement, and conference realignment have become mainstays and just something everyone is going to have to get used to. The media deal battles between ESPN and FOX have become the driving force of moves by the SEC and Big Ten.

It is funny what happens in a year, right? The Big 12; after the shocking departure from the conference headliners in Texas and Oklahoma announcing its move to the SEC, seemed like it was hanging on by a thread. Fast forward to present-day; the additions of Cincinnati, UCF, BYU, and Houston and a new commissioner, the conference looks solid. Now, the Pac-12 seems to be in a similar position and is in a dire situation.

But, with all this talk of “super conferences” on the horizon, now is the time for the Big 12 to be aggressive. Go get Colorado (welcome back), Utah, and the Arizona schools. Whatever it takes. Newly appointed Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark has his work cut out for him, and for the sake of the Baylor Bears and the rest of the conference, I hope he delivers.

Joe Goodman (@the_joe_goodman)

Here we go again! Realignment has been fascinating to me for over a decade now and really for the last 30 years or more it feels like college athletics just goes through busy and quiet periods. After Nebraska, Colorado, Mizzou, and A&M left my assumption was that at some point we would reach 4 regional conferences with 16 teams each. I’d even create my own conferences and see what I could make work. I think I was pretty close with what we will eventually see, though I was clearly wrong in some areas. I never expected the Networks to be the driving factor, which is what we are seeing. And I’m not so sure we will see a Power 4 structure, it appears everything is driving towards a Power 2 with maybe a 3rd, mid-tier conference with the “other guys”, and then a lesser grouping underneath that.

I don’t think this is the “death” of college football, there will still be so many people who love the schools involved in the future Power 2 and if we are being honest I think most casual fans tune in to watch the major players anyway. BUT, it will be a wholly different product that will be, in my opinion, much worse.

When I was growing up, Alabama wasn’t a power, the Big East had some serious behemoths, and the SEC overall was just another group. Anyone else remember undefeated Auburn being left out for a 1-loss team in the BCS title game? The biggest downside I see is it removes the beautiful fluctuations we see in this sport. Kansas State historically was one of, if not the worst program in the nation. One coach changed that, and we saw them spend the better part of 2 decades legitimately competing for the chance to win it all. The outa nowhere year where Kansas made an Orange Bowl. Colorado beating Texas to win the Big 12 title. All of the “this program doesn’t belong here, but here they are” stories will be gone. The members of the Power 2 won’t be allowed to be happy with 8-4. If you are in the power group, it’s win at all costs. To me, that’s sad. Schools like Michigan, Texas, Tennessee, have spent years being down because all they’ve cared about was chasing that almighty natty. But a little secret, Bo Schembechler never won a natty for Michigan, and he’s still revered (ignoring some outside of football things) as one of the greatest coaches of all time, especially by that fanbase. Those days are gone. Winning your conference every few years, taking home a nice bowl trophy, and creating some awesome memories will be replaced by crystal ball counting, much like we see in the NFL. If you don’t win the final game of the year, nothing matters.

How does this affect us? In the short term, I don’t think it’ll have a HUGE impact. I think we have a sweet spot in recruiting that we can still own. I think we have a coaching staff that likes where they are, and a head coach who seems to enjoy working somewhere that doesn’t require him to only care about winning the playoff. I also think the Big 12 is primed to become the 3rd conference with a shot at producing playoff contenders. We will expand and add in the Pac schools everyone above has mentioned, and hey maybe we try to do even more than that. For our next few years, it’ll be the same, if not better than what we have today.

In the long-term though, I think it’s a bit more gloomy. We are barreling toward a scenario where the mid-tier conference I mentioned won’t be able to survive like we know it today. I think we will eventually see the B1G and SEC cut dead weight (sorry Vandy and Northwestern) and continue to poach the schools that add the most value. We will land at a 2 conference layout, with roughly 40 total teams, probably competing outside the bounds of the NCAA. Baylor will still play football, and I will still watch and love every second of it, but it will likely look more like the FCS rather than the top tier of football. I think by the time my 1 year old son is ready to go to college, we won’t see the majority of the current FBS have the ability to say “We want Bama”. But hey, it’s #BGOD no matter what, so I’m taking this ride wherever it goes and when we finally land on some solid ground, you’ll still hear me scream Sic’Em.

MattisBear (@mattisbear)

After the bombshell last week, I’m having a hard time feeling confident in any predictions. I would assume the Big12 takes somewhere between 4-8 teams, likely all from the Pac12. What I do know is that I just want to be watching when Baylor wins that version of the conference as well.