The Big Ten and Pac 10 are ready to expand. The Big Ten already has its own cable network, and now the Pac 10 wants one, too. The Pac 10 has suggested it may be willing to partner with another conference to form a more nationally appealing network. Either way, someone is losing a team or three. You can feel the tension mounting in Big East and Big 12 headquarter offices as we speak.
Everyone knows the details, and myself not being the first to discuss the topic of conference expansion, I will save space and effort and cut to the chase instead of recounting all the public commentary from the last year or so concerning expansion.
The Big Ten wants to get to a minimum of 12 teams for a variety of reasons, but the only one that matters is money. The Pac 10, likewise.
I say a minimum of 12 teams because there has been at least some discussion that the Big Ten will go beyond a 12-team format and possibly expand to 14—maybe even 16—teams. If they do that, look for the Pac 10 to follow suit.
The wild card in all of this is the SEC. There is no way they will sit back and let the Pac 10 and Big Ten become the Pac 16 and Big 16 and thus concrete themselves as the two top voices at college football (and most importantly, BCS) negotiating tables. No, make no mistake, if the others do it, the SEC will follow, too.
So now that we have established at least the possibility of the formation of three college football "Super Conferences," let's look at how they may play out. And despite my affinity for the Big East, this is going to get messy.
The SEC would be smart to act first and secure the top southern draft picks for themselves before the other two monsters have a chance to woo them.
For the SEC, how exciting would it be to have Texas, Oklahoma, Clemson, and Virginia Tech in the conference? Two eight-team divisions. Sixteen of the most recognizable names in college sports to market.
As a fan of college football, I would love to see this happen. Just thinking of the weekly conference matchups with Oklahoma vs. LSU or Florida vs. Texas, Clemson vs. Tennessee, Virginia Tech vs. Alabama. Well, okay, Virginia Tech vs. Alabama wasn't much of a game after the Tide rolled the Hokies, but it is still a game with heat, and that means television and money.
How might the Big Ten respond? Well, they need to add five teams to get to 16, so there is more room for experimentation. But the Big Ten prides itself on being an academic conference, so a little experimenting should be right up their alley.
Forget all the Rutgers talk, this is about making your conference more appealing, and nothing makes you more appealing than marketing known brands. Rutgers just isn't a known brand in the traditional college football power sense. Maybe they will be one day, but right now, no thanks.
So for the Big Ten (and put Notre Dame out of your head right now) look for Nebraska, Missouri, Syracuse, Kansas and Pittsburgh. If that isn't a major television footprint, I don't know what is. Not only will the football side of the equation be shored up, but adding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Kansas in basketball means the Big Ten doesn't have to take a backseat to anyone come March.
The Pac 10 is in a little bit more difficult position due to its geographic location and the general lack of quality teams out west. It isn't that there are no quality teams in the western part of the country, rather the ones that are have already been locked up by the Pac 10 for some time.
Still, there are some potential mates for the Pac 10, and they will need to add a whopping six teams to fill out their conference in order to move among the superconference elite.
Who are the most likely culprits? Utah, Colorado, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and Texas A&M. Although geography will look ridiculous, keep in mind that there will be two eight-team divisions, each featuring seven divisional contests, and for the Pac 16, the divisions splitting into east and west divisions will keep traditional regional rivalries intact for the most part, and will limit exorbitant travel costs.
With all the carnage, the next player that will try to keep up with the superconference triumvirate will no doubt be the ACC After losing a pair of teams to the SEC, the ACC will need to acquire six additional teams to keep pace and grow to the 16-team format that will define the future of the college sports world. So who are the best choices left?
Well, the ACC is going to have to forget about remaining solely in coastal states if it wants to be taken seriously.
With that in mind, they will still try to maintain as strong a coastal presence as they can. So look for UConn, Rutgers, South Florida, Louisville, West Virginia and Cincinnati to complete the superconference circle.
For those left out, they will begin posturing to create a fifth superconference, and may very well succeed in doing so, but at the end of the day, the most valuable commodities will have been spoken for, and the football dollars will continue to drive the machine.