College Football entered a new era of realignment when Oklahoma and Texas made their move to the SEC last summer. UCF, BYU, Houston, and Cincinnati will join the Big 12 in 2023, as the conference responds to the departure of Oklahoma and Texas.
For nearly a year, there wasn’t any more news about realignment. The Pac-12, Big Ten, and ACC formed The Alliance and voted against college football playoff expansion as a group while publicly committing to working together. However, the agreement was short-lived, as the Big Ten’s decision to add UCLA and USC has dramatically changed the outlook for the future of college football.
USC and UCLA Join the Big Ten
While Oklahoma and Texas’ move to the SEC was vital to the future of the sport, and had big impacts on conference realignment, it didn’t necessarily have the potential to change the entire structure of college football. The Big 12 quickly added four new schools, and it looked as if there would still be five major conferences, even if the Big 12 needed a few years to rebuild.
USC and UCLA’s move from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten completely changed that. It is now unclear if the ACC, Pac-12, and Big 12 can even maintain stability in the future, let alone whether or not they will continue to be a part of a Power Five.
The Big Ten’s decision to add USC and UCLA removes any consideration given to geography, rivalries, and several other factors in how conferences are organized. It also left the ACC, Pac-12, and Big 12 in a startling new reality where only two of them may continue to exist five years from now.
Notre Dame, thought to be the best candidate for the ACC to add, seems more interested in the Big Ten than the conference. Meanwhile, Oregon and Washington reportedly have interest in moving to the Big Ten. The SEC will also likely respond to the Big Ten’s expansion, with three ACC schools, Miami, Clemson, and Florida State, thought to be the most logical universities to add to the conference.
Major schools not already in the Big Ten or SEC are most likely all having discussions with each conference. The Big Ten’s decision to add USC and UCLA will probably not be the last news regarding conference realignment before the end of the summer.
Adapting to the Future
The Big Ten’s next television contract will most likely be worth more than a billion dollars per year. Members of the conference could receive more than $100 million in revenue per year after the deal begins. In 2024, the SEC’s new television contract with ESPN will begin, and it is scheduled to be worth more than $3 billion over the course of 10 years.
As those contracts take effect, it will become harder for programs within the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12 to compete. As a result, over the next few months, several programs within those conferences could potentially evaluate their potential to become members of the SEC or Big Ten.
In the long term, the whole structure of college football is on its’ way to changing completely. It is possible, if not likely, that in the future there will be two major conferences with more than 20 members, the SEC and Big Ten, with the ACC, Pac-12, and Big 12 merging or competing with each other.
By the time the current College Football Playoff contract expires, the Big Ten and SEC could be in a position to request that their conference champion is guaranteed a spot in the playoff, with only at-large bids available to the remaining conferences. A playoff only involving teams from the Big Ten and SEC may even be a possibility.
USC and UCLA’s decision to move to the Big Ten is the beginning of a new phase of the realignment process in the sport. It is extremely likely more programs will move to a new conference over the next few months before the beginning of this year’s college football season.