Conference Realignment: Superconferences Are Inevitable

Paul RosikContributor IIISeptember 22, 2011

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Head Coach Mack Brown of the Texas Longhorns reacts to a call during the game against the UCLA Bruins at Rose Bowl on September 17, 2011 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

After the announcement by the Pac 12 that it will remain the Pac 12 and not become the Pac 16, everyone seemed to let their held breath go and assumed realignment was over for now.

Realignment is still happening and will go forward. The question is just how long will it take. Conferences may now pull back and actually examine the issues and see what they want to do going forward.

What issues, you ask? I am glad you asked.

With the creation of a sixteen-team Superconference, the power conferences were looking for two things:

  1. A reasonably strong team and tradition and
  2. New markets to add to their television and recruiting area

And in my opinion, the latter is more important than the former to the Conference. The Big East adding TCU, the ACC adding Pitt and Syracuse and  the SEC looking to schools like Missouri and Texas A & M have way more to do with where these schools are located and what television and recruiting areas they contain than the recent wins and losses of any of these teams.

This is all about the huge amounts of money available for these conferences to tap.

What the proposed Superconferences have failed to account for is just how the new conference would shape and go forward. How many conference games would be on the schedule? How do you rotate the teams in the other division into your schedule? Will the BCS still see a two- or three-loss Superconference Champion as Championship game-worthy? Will the BCS still exist? What happens to any stragglers or Independents not in a Superconference?

The Conferences need to know the answers to these questions before they form and create new schedules.

But the conferences have seen the future and Superconferences will arrive. It is just a matter of what will be the trigger that sets it off. We have seen the minor earthquakes signaling a change, but the “Big One” has not arrived yet. The creation of the Pac 16 may have been that big event, but now it has been pushed back.

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 18:  (L - R) University of Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson and Chancellor Mark Nordenberg speak during a press conference following the acceptance of the University of Pittsburgh into the Atlantic Coast Conference on Sep
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The question is whether the power conferences are investing in earthquake protection or investing in earthquake-creating technology?

To sum up what has happened thus far:

Nebraska has moved from the Big 12 to the Big 10.

Colorado and Utah have joined the Pac 12.

Pitt and Syracuse have announced they are leaving the Big East to join the ACC.

TCU is scheduled to join the Big East.

Texas A & M is proposing to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC.

This is already a tidal wave of change that hasn’t been seen since the SWC died. The old Southwest Conference died and created the Big 12 in its wake. The remainder of the teams joined the WAC and Conference USA. This is not a new phenomenon.

What appeared to hold back the Pac 16 from forming at this time was the “bogeyman” in the room—the Longhorn Network.

The reports are that the Pac 12 would not allow Texas to get a sweetheart deal that included their fledgling network. The Oklahoma schools would not sign off on any deal that included the Longhorn Network in the same conference as them, and the deal all went on hold for now. In the history of the creation of Superconferences, this will undoubtedly be known as the Longhorn Network Reprieve.

AUSTIN, TX - SEPTEMBER 10: Longhorn Network broadcasters (L - R) Lowell Galindo, Priest Holmes, and Joey Harrington report on the Texas GameDay set before the NCAA game between the Texas Longhorns and the BYU Cougars on September 10, 2011 at Darrell K. Ro
Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

In the meantime the Pac 12—which has been the most forward looking of the conferences—will form its own Pac-12 network that someone may actually see on their cable or satellite package. Once this is sitting pretty and progressing, they will re-investigate who wants to join and look again at the usual suspects (Oklahoma and Oklahoma State) and possible new recruits.

The SEC is eventually going to add Texas A & M. The rumors of who will come with them to make the conference contain an even number of teams are plentiful and change faster than a teenage girl’s love interests.

Whether it is Missouri, Clemson, Florida State or someone else, it will be a two-team addition. This would put the SEC at fourteen teams and may force other conference’s hands into going forward to fourteen or sixteen-team arrangements.

The Big 10 now has twelve teams, a conference championship game and its own successful network, so they may be happy with this for now. If dominoes start to fall and Superconferences begin to pepper the landscape, they will certainly do whatever is necessary to position themselves with another four teams and two divisions with ridiculous names ready to go into the new era.

Again the rumors of who would join are too numerous to take seriously. Everyone assumes Notre Dame would end its interminable courtship with the Big 10 and become a full-fledged member, but this could just as likely go a different direction.

Originally it appeared that the ACC and Big East would be left in the position of picking up who’s left rather than getting first pick when it all went down. The Longhorn Network Reprieve may allow them to consolidate their positions and create stable conferences before the big earthquake arrives.

The ACC has struck first in claiming Pitt and Syracuse and now doubts are surfacing about the future of the Big East. The Big East will need to reassure TCU that all is well and make some moves of their own in the near future to strengthen their position.

The Big 12 has been more raided than any other conference and seems to be the straw stirring the realignment drink thus far. This area of the country appears to be the France of college football in that it is conquered by a new conference over and over. The SWC and Big 8 begat the Big 12, which now may beget the new era of Superconferences.

The Longhorn Network Reprieve gives the Big 12 a last hope to continue. With the defections of Colorado, Nebraska and now Texas A & M, the Big 12 will be down to nine teams and the Longhorn Network is still hanging over its head.

There will be a lot of boardroom negotiating that needs to come out with a solution to the Longhorn Network (how a network no one has ever seen can cause so much trouble is tickling me) before any team will sign on to join the conference. They need to get it back to at least twelve teams quickly so a championship game can be scheduled, or the conference may become extinct.

If the “Red River Negotiation Shootout” fails to deliver a solution, look for the Big 12 to fall apart. This may be the spark that spurs the Superconference mania on to begin again. Word is that Texas is open to at least discussing ways the Longhorn Network revenue could be divvied among the conference participators.

But whether this goes forward or Texas decides this is their baby alone could go either way.

Texas has always had dreams of being J.R. Ewing, so deep down you know they would love to be independent. But when Superconferences happen, will conference schedules now be ten games long and will independence even be possible anymore?

It may be tough but if you're Notre Dame, or Texas, it may still be possible to make a blockbuster schedule as an independent. Notre Dame has had their own private network for years and this allows them to create a top flight schedule without the benefit of a conference alignment.

Will that opportunity remain true five years from now? Everything is changing so much that this may not be the time to risk independence. Texas may deal some and decide they would rather stay in a revitalized Big 12 than go out there in the age of Superconferences as an independent, even with their own television network that no one has on their lineup yet.

All we are sure of at this point is that every program is only looking out for themselves. Tradition or long-term rivalries do not appear to matter to any of them. "Texas Fight" might mention A & M in the lyrics, but whether they play them every year or not does not seem to worry anyone at either school. Money and power will be the ruling factor here.

The big earthquake will arrive and Superconferences will form. It may be the SEC expansion, the Big 12 dissolution or the reinvestigation of the Pac 16 that starts it, but the questions is only when—not if.


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