In December, the Big Ten announced its intentions to expand to at least 12 schools, and possibly 14 or 16, giving them a championship game and expanding its income and the viability of the Big Ten Network.
Then, this past week, the Pac-10 also announced it would follow suit. Their expansion will create a crisis within college football, stemming from the raiding of other conferences, and the need of those conferences to replenish their lost ranks. Powerful programs will change conferences, possibly destroying the power of said conferences.
The result will be a complete realignment of college football. If one were to imagine what occurred in 2005 on a much larger scale, they would gain an understanding of what will occur.
Both conferences are looking for powerful football programs, established "brand names," similar sports cultures, and academically strong schools (remember, the Big Ten included an academic arm, the CIC, which includes University of Chicago, and both conferences are the "Ivy Leagues" of I-A in terms of academic reputation).
The beginning of the crisis will lay with the Big Ten. Due to the creation of its own television network, they are planning on expanding to increase the viability of it and heighten viewership. Thus, the most important quality of a possible expansion school is whether or not it can bring in a large TV audience.
The Holy Grail of TV markets, New York City, is the biggest fish in the pond for the Big Ten. How will the Big Ten capture NYC?
One possible route is Rutgers. However, despite the interest during the 2006 season, including the NFL Network having to temporarily install itself on cable, despite being restricted by contract to only DirecTV, interest in Rutgers (or any team, pro or college) is restricted to whether or not they do well (again, see 2006).
Just being in the Big Ten could be seen as doing well, and the Big Ten could see adding Rutgers as an investment for future success. Not only are they an up and coming program, but becoming a member of the Big Ten will help them recruit and bring in the impressive talent pool in New Jersey, talent that usually leaves for better prospects out of state.
Because Rutgers would not definitely give the Big Ten access to NYC, other options would be pursued. Notre Dame would be the simplest, as NYC has a huge ND fan base, stemming from the large Catholic population and general interest in teams that do well, and Big Ten rivals would make the transition easier.
National interest would make the Big Ten Network a must-have sports network, which would be required on basic cable as much as ESPN. However, ND loves its independence and $9 million NBC contract, even if joining the Big Ten would bring in $13 million more MINIMUM.
So, who else could bring in the NYC market? Traditional power Syracuse, originally sought after by the ACC in 2005 instead of Virginia Tech, would be a viable addition. A large NYC alumni and fan base, powerful brand name, basketball importance, and dormant rivalry with Penn State are all attractive characteristics.
But again, in football, they must again do well to gain any interest in NYC.
So, unless ND joins, the best way to gain the NYC market would be recruiting BOTH Rutgers and Syracuse, providing a rival for each of them in Penn State, as well as multiple teams to prevent having all of the Big Ten's hopes rest with one team. Unfortunately that leaves the Big Ten with 13 teams, which would again make the league awkward at an uneven number of teams.
To have the Big Ten be manageable, another school would need to be added. Most likely the Big Ten would go west, preventing a total Big East raid and also stabilizing the conference geographically.
Possible contenders include Missouri, long-shot Texas (which fits in everything but geography and would be as valuable as ND) and, again, ND. Texas would also be out due to the fact it is a packaged deal with Texas A&M, Baylor, and Texas Tech, none of which the Big Ten want.
If just ND is added, not much happens in college football (until the Pac-10 expands), but the Big East loses a non-football school, and they remain intact in football.
If Rutgers, Syracuse, and a Big 12 team are added, the Big Ten becomes the Big Fourteen, and the Big 12 becomes the Big 11.
And then the Pac-10 strikes, wishing to become the Pac-14. They will probably stick to the model of having every team have an instate rival model. One possible pair is BYU-Utah.
However, would the administrations in Berkeley, L.A., or Stanford really approve of a religious school, especially after the LDS-Prop 8 controversy? Also BYU bans Sunday games, which could be a minor scheduling issue.
Another expected pair is Nevada and UNLV. However, these are not national brand names, even if they bring in the Las Vegas market.
Possibly Colorado and Colorado State, or even Air Force with either could work, but the travel distances make that addition to the conference not make sense.
Other possible western schools (*cough* Boise State) lack the academic profile or do not have the ability to generate more income, due to lack of a "brand name" or not bringing in an additional market.
However, Texas' primary reason to join the Big Ten is to be associated with academic powerhouses like Northwestern, Michigan, University of Chicago, and Wisconsin. Before the creation of the Big 12, they toyed with joining the Pac-10 to be associated with Berkeley and Stanford, and to having an athletic conference after the death of the Southwestern Conference.
And so the Pac-10 could return to them. A deal breaker for the Big Ten would be the requirement to take A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor, as was required by the Texas Legislature when the Big 12 was formed. But a conference needing four teams being given four teams...the deal is done.
What does this amount to? The Pac-10 will either raid the Mountain West Conference, the Big 12, or a combination of both to become the Pac-14.
However, either would produce the same collateral damage as the Big 12 would need to raid the MWC to regain its strength if they lose the Texas schools. So it would be mean the Big 12 would gain TCU, BYU, Utah, Colorado State, and Air Force (possible Boise State could replace one of those MWC schools, most likely Air Force) to make up for losses to the Big Fourteen and Pac-14.
This would also kill the MWC's chances of becoming an automatically qualifying conference. Going from a nine to five member conference would also make it no longer a viable conference, as eight is the number of schools minimum required.
However, they could easily solve this by merging with the nine member Western Athletically Conference, which most of the MWC members were originally part of. Also, the new WAC/MWC could have its own conference championship game as it would have fourteen members.
And the SEC would not allow other conferences to expand and gain more money without joining in as well.
The SEC's two new numbers would be gained by an ACC raid. The first target would be Georgia Tech, who were originally part of the SEC and would fit well, with a rivalry with Georgia, "brand name," and football ability. The other two schools would consist of either Clemson, Florida State, Miami, or Virginia Tech.
However, Virginia Tech would likely be partnered with Virginia in any move, as it was the Virginia governor and UVa that insisted that Virginia Tech, not Syracuse, join the ACC in 2005. The SEC could even be more greedy and add Georgia Tech and three other schools, probably Clemson and either the Florida pair or Virginia pair, creating a sixteen team SEC.
And so the ACC needs to recover from losing two to four teams to keep its championship game, and even expand beyond that to stay competitive. At the same time, the Big East lost two members to the Big Ten, putting them at six and below the eight needed to be a conference. Thus, the six remaining Big East football schools join the ACC, which create a fourteen or sixteen member conference, with the twelve remaining Big East schools becoming a football-less, mainly basketball conference.
So, this leaves I FBS college football with the following conferences:
ACC: 14-16 Members
Big Fourteen (which will probably still refer to itself as the Big Ten due to its "brand name")
C-USA: 12 Members
MAC: 13 Members
MWC/WAC: 14 Members
SEC: 14-16 Members
Sun Belt: 9 members
Every one of these new conferences (except the Sun Belt) have a championship game. This could make a playoff more easy to implement and thus more likely.
However, that change would not occur until the BCS's contract is up in 2015, thus would not be part of the 2011 realignment.
If this all goes down, somebody owes me something...