For the second year in a row, conference realignment news shocked the college football world and NO ONE saw it coming.
In case you haven’t been on the internet in a week, USC and UCLA will be playing in the Big Ten conference in 2024.
Now the question everyone wants to know: what happens next?
The Big Ten says it is done expanding (for now).
Sources: Oregon and Washington have been told by @bigten that it is standing pat for now. Waiting on a decision by Notre Dame.— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) July 1, 2022
-12 10 says it will explore expansion options and the remaining ten universities remain committed (for now).
Many different scenarios have emerged—everything from the PAC-12 adding teams to merging with another conference to being completely gutted and folding altogether. While, in theory, every possibility could happen, not all are likely, and most won’t materialize as things unravel.
Specifically, for the Mountain West conference, either they will be affected, or they won’t. Affected could mean either adding teams or losing teams. Not being affected means nothing changes in the conference, as the MWC stays as they currently are as the world around them changes.
The most likely scenario is that either the PAC doesn’t expand, or they figure out some kind of merger with the Big12 to form a super conference before they lose any more teams. However, the Big12 may not want to compromise. Since they have the power, they can poach the PAC rather than merge together. And they may be doing just that.
This developing situation may not leave the PAC with much of a choice. Either expand or die. Or, perhaps expand and still die, since there are not any teams left who could truly fill the void USC and UCLA are leaving.
Because of this, let’s assume things continue to get worse for the PAC and how the Mountain West could benefit. See how the dominoes could fall (and not particularly in this order either):
The Big 12 immediately goes on the offensive, adding Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah.
The conference sees blood in the water and knows how important it is to be as proactive as possible. Especially since they barely had a pulse just eleven short months ago.
This all but destroys the PAC.
Washington and Oregon make offer after offer to the Big Ten until their bid is accepted.
The biggest domino in the equation seems to be Notre Dame (because of course they are). It seems inevitable the Fighting Irish will have to join a conference. Maybe not now, but before this is all done.
Washington and Oregon would join the Big Ten now if it were on the table. But there currently isn’t one, as the B1G is spending all of its time trying to secure Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are the biggest unclaimed brand, infinitely more valuable than the Huskies or Ducks. Still, those two teams are likely bound for the Big Ten; it’s just a matter of time. Either they have to wait for Notre Dame, or they have to make the deal more attractive to the conference. Perhaps they have to settle for less media revenue money or subsidize the money via some wealthy alumni booster, such as Phil Knight.
It also seems likely that both the Big Ten and the SEC will keep expanding, maybe up to 20 teams. So UW, Oregon, and likely Notre Dame all join the Big Ten at some point, even if not now.
Meanwhile, the SEC senses the vulnerability of the ACC and decides to add Clemson and Florida State, pulling off another huge swing. If the goal is 20 teams, they take Miami and Louisville (or whoever else).
The SEC knows they can get those teams whenever they want. Maybe it’s in the next ten years, or maybe it’s in the next ten days. But they will add those two or four teams whenever they decide they should.
If that move doesn’t force Notre Dame to cave, nothing will. They join the Big Ten.
It’s a historic day as the most well-known independent team joins a conference. The Big Ten has a massive celebration, and since they are at 19 teams, they pluck Pittsburg or Boston College or someone so they too reach 20 teams. Hey, Illinois, Rutgers, and Maryland need another team more at their level.
This creates two fractioned conferences, the ghosts of the ACC and PAC-12.
The solution? The leftover teams are absorbed into the AAC and Mountain West, respectively. Or maybe they keep the ACC and PAC names if they want. Or perhaps they make up all new names. Basically, the AAC halts the adding of teams they announced last year (sorry, Charlotte, FAU, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA) and instead looks at the likes of Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Wake Forest.
Meanwhile, The Mountain West takes Oregon State and Washington State. They could try for two of the Texas schools as well, but it probably makes more sense to try to make another run at Gonzaga as a basketball-only school to balance out Hawaii as a football-only. Since this is a hypothetical exercise, Gonzaga agrees.
Cal and Stanford
They either go independent, somehow join the Ivy League, or create a west coast Ivy League with some other academic-focused schools. Or maybe they focus most on chess, or fade into oblivion. No one knows, and at this point, no one really cares.
At the end of this chaos, the Mountain West adds two very competitive teams, both of which add value to the conference without instantly dominating the conference, which is an excellent middle ground. The MWC would be stable (or as stable as anyone can be in the college football world) and competitive. Not as strong as the B1G or SEC but on par with the east coast conference (AACC merger) and competitive with the Big 12.
As for the College Football Playoff, there would be a system that allows what are now the top five conferences to benefit.
Twelve teams make the playoff. Four teams from the Big Ten and four teams from the SEC, as they are the two power or super conferences. Two teams quality from the Big 12/16, as they are undoubtedly the third-best conference. Then, one team from both the Mountain Pac West and the AACC conferences, who are good but not great conferences. In this model, the CUSA, MAC, and Sunbelt all get left in the dust. Now, if the SEC and Big Ten really want to be jerks, they can have their own playoff with no one else. However, the model present here allows for the best conferences to get more guaranteed spots than anyone else while also giving all five a seat at the table.
Could this scenario happen? Yes. Will it happen? Probably not. But whatever does happen will be just as chaotic and unpredictable.