The Big Ten now has 14 teams. The Big 12 has ten. In a land where conference names don’t quite make sense, the escalating number of dollar signs is quickly changing the landscape of college sports. The Big 10 just added Maryland and Rutgers, and now there’s talk of adding two more teams to become the nation’s first Super Conference. As a Northwestern alum and Nebraska native, a part of me hates to see the Big Ten grow. I like the history and tradition among common opponents. Familiarity breeds comfort, but now there’s an uncertainty surrounding these two new schools. Who are they? What are their traditions? What will they bring to the Big Ten and how will it change rivalries? It’s hard to keep up with all the changes.
Last year Syracuse and Pittsburgh decided to leave the Big East for the ACC. Notre Dame recently decided to join the ACC for all sports but football. Now Maryland is leaving the ACC and some ACC teams fear their conference will someday be usurped, eaten up by the others. Many columnists have lamented the future landscape of college sports, with four major super conferences ruling the land. Two years ago, it appeared the Big 12 would be one of the casualties. Nebraska left for the Big 10, Colorado went to the Pac-14, and then Texas A&M and Missouri went to the the SEC. But once Dan Beebe resigned as Big 12 commissioner and Chuck Neinas took over, he shrewdly lured TCU and West Virginia to join, bringing the Big 12 to 10 teams. The Big 12 lives to see another day.
So what does the future hold for these conferences?
Let me begin by saying I have absolutely no inside knowledge at all. This is a blog, so it’s strictly my personal opinion, but it’s also an educated, well-researched opinion. I might be wrong. In fact, I probably will be wrong. But it’s still fun to imagine. So here are my predictions on the future of college conference alignments.
Big 10 – Commissioner Jim Delany will not stop at 14. That much is certain. Many believe he wants to be the first one to form a 16-team super conference. So who would the Big Ten choose? Many point to Kansas and Georgia Tech. Both are members of the prestigious American Association of Universities, which rewards schools with high academic standards and superb research programs. The promise of untold riches from any new television contract Delany could negotiate with the television networks would entice any school to move to the Big Ten. Georgia Tech would add the Atlanta market, and while that’s a pretty long flight from Michigan, it’s no further then, say, Nebraska to New Jersey.
Would KU go? I think so. Texas and Oklahoma can still bail for the Pac-14 if they want. Kansas is considered one of the lesser schools in the Big 12 (for everything but men’s basketball) The Big Ten has a great tradition of treating every school equally, which KU would like. It would also get the Big Ten in the Kansas City market. Add the fact that KU basketball has a national brand and I could see KU accepting an invitation. If not, I could see the Big Ten going for a Virginia or Virginia Tech.
Big 12 – New commissioner Bill Bowlsby cannot sit still. He needs to add at least two more teams to create a conference championship game and better leverage future television contracts. Who to add? Why not poach the ACC? Florida State. Notre Dame. Get those two and all of a sudden the Big 12 would secure its future. There’s also talk of Clemson being interested in moving to the Big 12. That would spread their footprint through the deep south. I have always thought the Big 12 should target Houston. It’s one of the largest cities in the nation and while the football program hasn’t been great in the last two decades, there is potential there. I also think the Big 12 should go after Louisville. Maybe not premier programs but respectable.
Pac-14 – I think the Pac-14 will eventually make another play at Texas and Oklahoma. If the Big 12 stays at 10 teams with no potential for growth, I could see these two schools leaving. It’s all about the money, and a 16-team super conference can get a lot more money from television networks than a 10-team conference. The other Mountain West teams like Boise State, Colorado State, Air Force and Wyoming will most likely never get an invitation extended to them. They just don’t add enough to the conference.
SEC – If the ACC falls apart, you can expect the SEC to jump in to try to grab a couple of teams looking for a conference. Duke and North Carolina would enhance the SEC’s basketball profile and raise their academic rating. Miami and Virginia would also be attractive.
The fact is if we go to four super conferences, some schools will be left out. That is why schools are jumping at the invitation to join a power conference. It secures their future. No matter what happens, it should be interesting – and sad. College sports as we knew it is changing and for better or worse, we’ll have to adapt to this changing landscape and accept the new rivalries being created today.
You can reach Matt Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org