Nothing lights the college football portion of the internet on fire like a new round of conference realignment.
After a decade of stability, shockwaves were sent throughout the sport when Oklahoma and Texas abruptly waved farewell to the Big 12 and hello to the SEC.
After months of quiet, behind-the-curtain progress, much has changed in the past few weeks. And we aren't done. Not even close.
As the Big 12 scrambles for survival and other conferences seek out possible countermeasures, more programs will be changing conferences in the not-too-distant future. It's a matter of when, not if.
Earlier this week, we asked B/R readers to submit their best realignment proposals. The results? Some thoughtful ideas, others with serious zing and plenty of weird. Weird, by the way, is wonderful.
Here are some of our favorites, with commentary attached.
The Big 12's Perfectly Reasonable Band-Aid
Proposal: "Houston/Cincinnati to the Big 12"
Yes, this will do.
Now, let's address the obvious. Replacing two of college football's biggest brands with Houston and Cincinnati is not necessarily an ideal swap. That should go without saying.
We're taking away that big tomahawk steak (cooked rare, of course) and giving you a quality hamburger on a pretzel roll instead. Always on a pretzel roll.
Replacing Oklahoma and Texas with teams that can move the needle in the same way is impossible in the current landscape. This is about survival. It's about salvaging whatever can be salvaged for the next TV deal. Plain and simple. And if the Big 12 is going to add teams rather than merge with a conference, it could do a lot worse than these two.
The Houston market is a quality place to start. Houston has also produced quality football and basketball teams over the past five years, and the Big 12 feels like a natural fit.
Cincinnati, while perhaps a geographical stretch, would be a fabulous piece. The Bearcats have helped boost the reputation of the AAC in recent years, and their football team would be immediately competitive in a new-look conference.
Cincinnati is also one of only five teams with 15 or more bowl games and NCAA tournament appearances since 2000. How do I know this? Because Cincinnati told us. And the fact that the Bearcats are putting this out there should speak to their current mindset.
These two moves wouldn't heal all wounds. Those are forever scars. But it would be a good start for a conference in need of, well, a lot.
The Pac-12 Finally Becomes the Pac-16
Proposal: "New PAC12 East: Kansas State, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Arizona State. West: Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, California, Stanford, USC, UCLA"
A decade ago, the Pac-12 tried to become the Pac-16. Oklahoma and Texas were the central fixtures of the plan that never was, although the intent to become a super conference was there.
The Athletic's Max Olson reported that Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and new Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff met Tuesday to discuss a variety of possibilities of how the conferences could work together, including the possibility of a potential merger.
While I understand the interest, I don't believe this is the best possible direction for the Pac-12 at the moment. In fact, for the first time in a long time, the Pac-12 is actually in a position of strength. It shouldn't expand to simply expand, and adding all four of the teams presented might be overkill.
Texas Tech? Now, that makes plenty of sense. That is a football market that could be good for business. Getting into Texas would be a good thing. Oklahoma State, which has had success in football and basketball, would mesh as well. I'd probably stop there, though.
Regardless, the two conferences are already talking. This kind of layout is certainly viable.
The Big Ten and the ACC Beef Up
Proposal: "Iowa State & Kansas to Big10; WVa and ND (football of course) to ACC"
Let's start with the Big Ten, which is the more likely outcome of the two.
There seems to be some steam connecting Kansas to the Big Ten. Whether this is real or not will be determined soon, but the Jayhawks make some sense for the B1G.
The football program has been bad beyond words, and a conference that might have buyer's remorse when it comes to Rutgers and Maryland could be wary of that. But the basketball fit is incredibly solid, even if that sport doesn't drive new TV deals.
By the way, I know I've said that already. But it needs to be said. That is the core of everything, and it certainly is to what happens next.
Iowa State is a fit geographically, already has a rival (Iowa) in the conference and has blossomed into one of the Big 12's most competitive football programs. Again, I like it. If the Big Ten expands, these feel like two logical additions.
The next suggestion is pretty interesting. If the ACC gets into the realignment swing, West Virginia fits aligns well. It would also check the box of being a good basketball addition while holding its own in football.
No school is more interesting and more important than Notre Dame moving forward. The ACC would love to add the Irish, as would the Big Ten.
The question is whether the Irish want to stay independent or if the possibility of future scheduling challenges finally force them to join a conference..
The Big Ten scenario feels very possible. The ACC one would be a huge victory for the conference, but it feels less imminent.
The SEC Stays Active and Targets Two Enormous Fish
Proposal: "ND (Notre Dame) and Clemson go to SEC"
In the days following the additions of Oklahoma and Texas, there were whispers that the SEC might not be done. That might still be the case, although the conference seems content with where it is for now. Granted, we know how quickly that can change.
Clemson and Florida State were rumored to have interest in the SEC, although both schools quickly shot down the report. Should we completely trust those denials? Sure, I guess. But everyone's football chess boards are being looked at closely.
Unlike Texas and Oklahoma, Clemson is tied to ACC until 2036. The penalties to leave, assuming the Tigers can't wiggle out of that deal through expert lawyering, would be enormous. As such, it's hard to imagine a move before then taking place. But never say never.
Notre Dame, as mentioned above, could be a different story. The Irish are far more equipped to do as they please, but would they be a better fit in the Big Ten or the ACC as mentioned above? Let's not forget that ND just spent a season in the ACC because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the SEC would be financially enticing, it still feels like the Irish are likely to land elsewhere if they decide to make the leap. Still, that is perhaps the biggest fish in this massive pond still lingering below the surface.
An Impossible (but Delightful) Stick of Dynamite
Proposal: "Abolish all conferences for college football, create a relegation system between FBS and FCS, 10 game regular season, 64 team CFP."
Where to even begin?
For starters, I absolutely adore this. I want to wrap my arms around this completely unreasonable plan, hold it close and reach out to all of my football contacts and tell them about it. I want them to do the same, and I want this glorious concept to spread until there is no choice but to adopt it.
I want to dream about this world tonight—a place where teams flow back and forth between the FCS and FBS based on actual results. A place where conferences, which are essentially teams that are lassoed together for money, are removed completely.
I want to actually map out a 64-team bracket. Dates, locations, odds. All of it. I also want to find a way where I can attend every game in this dream scenario.
Oh, this won't happen. We all know this. It cannot happen.
There is far too much money for conferences to make by staying together—if they're in a position to do so. And a 64-team playoff, while wonderful to dream of, is actually a terrible football reality.
However, I do still love the creativity and spirit of this plan. Tremendous work.