With the recent statements made by West Virginia University's athletic director, Oliver Luck, it is obvious the world of major college football is nowhere near the end of conference realignment.
As a fan, I find the whole process fascinating and tiresome, all at the same time, and I am sure many of you feel the same way. It is almost like straining your neck to see while driving past a traffic accident. You cannot help but look, but after you do, many times you end up wishing you had not.
There is absolutely zero reason for the expansion process to go on with all the will-they-won't-they nonsense. Today, as in this very minute, any of the more powerful conferences could make a few phone calls and finalize their leagues' lineup for a long time to come.
Instead, however, they sit back and play the waiting game. They take a team or two here and there, then take a break to look around and see the turmoil they created. Then, when everyone starts to feel just a little bit of relaxation creeping in, someone else jump starts the whole process all over.
Now, with public lobbying by a Big 12 member whose own school has yet to play a down, you can bet teams in lower-paying conferences are either getting excited by the possibility of an invitation, or getting nervous at the prospect of being left out once again.
So in order to save everyone some time, I will make the decisions for the major conferences in terms of who they should invite, so we can all move on and get back to the actual performance on the field and not the performance in the negotiating room.
First off, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) needs to pull the trigger and finalize the move to 16 members, just like we all know it is planning to eventually do.
The SEC's recent additions of Texas A&M and Missouri were about adding television sets to their footprint. The conference already has the power teams to offer exciting matchups week after week. They just needed to bring in larger markets so they can demand even MORE money from television networks and cables companies when they begin renegotiating their deals as a result of reinventing their league membership.
Looking at the fact that the SEC went with schools in two completely new states, it is safe to assume that the conference will look to bring in two more schools in two new states. So that pretty much eliminates schools such as Florida State, Clemson and Louisville, since they all reside in states where the SEC already has a large piece of the pie.
One school the SEC would love to have is Oklahoma. It is a household name in the world of college football, and it definitely resides in new territory. The problem is, all the teams in the Big 12 – including Oklahoma – signed over their television rights to the conference for several years to come. That disqualifies the Sooners or any other Big 12 affiliate from being brought on board for at least the near future.
So the SEC needs to turns its eyes back to the region that made it what it is today, the Southeastern United States. And it doesn't take long to see which two programs make the most sense for the SEC: Virginia Tech and North Carolina State University.
The states of Virginia and North Carolina are virgin territory for SEC commissioner Mike Slive. And there are millions of reasons why Mr. Slive would be interested in acquiring some property in those territories. To be more specific, about 8 million residents in Virginia, and nearly 10 million in North Carolina. Those are a lot of eyeballs to add to the SEC's geographic footprint.
So why would those two schools be willing to jump to the SEC? First and foremost is money. We are talking treasure-bath amounts of money that the SEC will soon have once it renegotiates its TV contracts. There is no way the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) can even begin to compete with what the SEC can offer.
And if money is not enough, then there is the athletic prestige of joining the SEC. Virginia Tech is committed to big time football, and there nothing bigger than the SEC. Their fans already fit the mold of the SEC, so they might as well transition to where they really belong.
As for NC State; well, the same reasons that South Carolina left the ACC and the same reasons that Texas A&M left the Big 12 are why NC State would make such a move. NC State has always been regarded as the "little brother" to UNC and Duke. And as far as academics go, you can drop them down a further notch in the ACC's hierarchy-of-snobbery, behind Wake Forest.
Moving to the SEC would be the great and final flip off to years of taking a back seat in the state of North Carolina. And of the four BCS programs in that state, NC State fans seem to care the most about their football team.
With the wounds fresh and deep to the ACC, the Big 12 would be the next to strike fast and hard. And they would make a serious run for some serious players in the ACC.
With the Big 12's move to bring in West Virginia last fall, they signaled that they are no longer bound to the Midwest. They are willing to branch out if the right teams are available. And make no mistake, there are some "right teams" available and ripe for the picking in the ACC.
ACC football as a major player in the college landscape is living on borrowed time. You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it. The departure of Virginia Tech and NC State will only serve to grant permission for other programs within the association to begin looking elsewhere.
They all know the conference will never bring in the type money that the SEC or Big 10 brings in. With programs like Maryland bleeding cash annually, there will be no shortage of programs looking for a lifeline from a more affluent league.
The ACC makes around $14 million to $15 million. The Big 12 is looking to begin making approximately $20 million per team, and with their escalating contract, they can negotiate for even more with additions to their lineup, but obviously those additions have to add value.
For the ACC, the additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse barely caused a move of the needle. In fact, that the ACC took on a couple more Big East members was all the proof one needs to show that the league is aware of the writing on the wall. They expect to lose a couple of teams. Heck, they know they will. Pitt and Syracuse were a futile attempt to stop a hemorrhage that has yet to begin bleeding.
So while Florida State and Miami watch the Florida Gators reap a financial windfall while they settle for fifth-tier payout status... and while Clemson watches the South Carolina Gamecocks continue to rake in big time dough... and last but not least, as Georgia Tech looks around and notices all the shiny new objects the Georgia Bulldogs can afford that the Yellow Jackets can only dream about... well, it is easy to understand why a program in the ACC might want to begin looking elsewhere.
And that "elsewhere" will be none other than the Big 12. To get to 16 teams, the Big 12 is going to have to take in a minimum of six programs, the majority of which need to be big-name programs on the national scene. If they can land a caliber of program like the Florida State Seminoles or Clemson Tigers or Miami Hurricanes, then they will then have the luxury of adding a couple of teams more so for their potential or for their television market share.
And there are also rumors that won't go away of the Seminoles and Tigers reaching out to the Big 12, but so far that orchard has yet to bear fruit publicly.
The best candidates for the Big 12, however, are most certainly Florida State, Miami, Clemson and Georgia Tech. They add not only pedigree, but they bring new and large TV markets to the Big 12. They also help fire a shot across the bow of the SEC, which was all too happy to pilfer Texas A&M and Missouri from the Big 12, in case you had forgotten.
Those big name additions also lighten the need for the conference to hit home runs with its final two choices. For slots 15 and 16 in the Big 12, the choices should be Louisville and Cincinnati. Not, mind you, because of their football prowess, as I realize that Louisville and Cincinnati are not going to get many college football fan hearts racing.
Rather, they are good candidates due to their geography as schools that help tie the western portion of the conference to the new eastern additions to the conference. The fact that both Louisville and Cincinnati reside within a couple of top-50 television markets in previously untapped states by the Big 12 doesn't hurt either.
And what college basketball fan wouldn't like to see an annual matchup between the Jayhawks and Cardinals on the hard court each year?
Those six schools along with West Virginia and Iowa State make up a great "eastern division" for the Big 12, and the remaining eight schools are a great "western division." Splitting the divisions that way
affords the opportunity for most of the schools to maintain close geographic rivalries.
Or, if preferred, the schools could split into four mini-divisions, or pods.
Florida State, Miami, Clemson and Georgia Tech make up one division.
West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati and Iowa State make up a division.
Texas, Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor form their own division.
And, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas and Kansas State make up the final four-team division roster.
Regardless of the direction the Big 12 goes as far as division alignment, the potential match ups within the conference are intriguing. And with the signing over of TV rights, it gives the ACC schools enough assurance that the Big 12 will be around for a long time to come.
Sometimes it feels like the Big 10 is like an iceberg, moving slowly across the North American continent back during the last ice age, digging a huge trench as it goes that will eventually become what looks like a giant bottomless lake.
The Big 10 doesn't do anything fast. Just ask the multiple SEC tams that have beaten Big 10 teams in major bowl games.
So it will probably take the rest of the college football world making moves before the Big 10 rolls out of bed and decides it better begin positioning itself for the future before there is nobody of worth left to
Target "numero uno" for Big 10 boss Jim Delaney has always been Notre Dame, and that won't change when the conference decides to expand again. This time, however, the need to join a conference will be imperative for Notre Dame, as there will not be anywhere left for them to park their "other sports," such as basketball and baseball.
The Irish have resisted the urge to join a conference for decades, but in the past there was always the NBC contract to lean on and the privileged spot in the BCS that no other team is afforded.
With the remaining power leagues moving their respective memberships to 16, Notre Dame will have to move or be left out. Make no mistake, they will choose to move.
The Big 10 tries to take its members' commitment to academics seriously. The majority of its members are AAU affiliates, so it makes sense that the it would prefer institutions with a high academic profile as future additions.
It also makes sense that the conference would like to add as many television sets as possible to its viewing area.
And finally, the Big 10's feasibility study conducted recently suggested a shifting of the population and, as such, the conference felt future expansion should take that into consideration.
Taking all those elements together to derive at candidates eliminates most options. They are not going to take any SEC members. And inviting any Big 12 members would be pointless because expansion is about televising college football, and as I previously pointed out, the Big 12's members have all signed over their broadcast rights to the conference.
And the Pac-12 is too stable, too distant, and too much of a bed-partner for the Big 10 for them to try and pry away a Southern California or maybe a closer Colorado program. But there are a couple of conferences in the east that offer little to zero resistance to prying hands of more powerful leagues.
So the ACC and Big East feeding frenzy will continue.
Rutgers was a rumored target during the 2010-2011 expansion craze, but that never materialized. It was hypothesized that due to its location among New York and New Jersey households, Rutgers could be a cash cow in terms of selling the Big Ten Network for premium dollars to the gigantic New York television market.
Going after eastern teams also finally gives Penn State some geographically close conference mates to help promote the league's banner in the northeast. After Notre Dame and Rutgers are added, the University of Maryland and the University of Virginia will be teams 15 and 16 for the Big 10.
For Maryland, they were on the Big 10's radar before Nebraska was brought on board. And Maryland's Athletic Department's well publicized financial struggles would lead the Terrapins west to greener
pastures and greener wallets. The fact that Maryland is close to Penn State, as well as to Baltimore and Washington, D.C. TV sets doesn't hurt its appeal to the Big 10 any. And there is also the AAU membership that Maryland boasts that helps its cause.
As for Virginia, its academic prestige (and AAU membership) is the biggest selling point, but the 8 million residents in the state of Virginia do not hurt either. Virginia also produces a lot of football southern speedster talent, and the Big 10 is always looking for players that can help them compete with the SEC.
The Pac-12 is probably going to remain at 12 teams for the foreseeable future, mainly because there is a lack of attractive candidates available. They had their chance when they flirted with Texas, but that fell through.
So now, unless they decide that Boise State or Hawaii are the answers to their needs (not gonna happen), they will sit out west, uncontested as the only show in town, and remain a player with the rest of the power conferences, only with fewer members.
The ACC will continue to exist. They will bring in Connecticut and probably Temple for their TV market and basketball team. Losing FSU and Miami hurts their recruiting, but they will answer with USF and UCF to return to the Florida marketplace.
Memphis might get a look because the conference is desperate for warm bodies, but also because Memphis is decent at basketball and has a top 50 TV market. East Carolina will send out feelers to the ACC, but unless the ACC wants to take a shot at NC State for leaving, ECU might not get the call it
has dreamed about for so long.
There aren't many options out there for the ACC, and the Big East will eventually fold. Their western members will end up back in the Mountain West Conference or Conference USA.
The gap between the "have's" and the "have not's" will get wider. BCS automatic qualification for conferences may disappear, but not much will change in terms of the conferences that get the invitations versus those that do not.
Huge amounts of cash will be thrown around and huge amounts of money will be spent.
In 20 years, the big conferences will break up once again and become smaller, more regionally friendly conferences. And when the money isn't as big, conferences will start trying to pry members from one another once again.