Just when we all thought the landscape of college football was starting to settle a little, Maryland and Rutgers decide to make everything chaotic again. This week, Maryland and Rutgers announced they will be moving to the Big Ten which has started everyone thinking about the next dominoes that will fall in reaction to this latest move. Who will be next to move in the realignment process? The more teams move conferences, the more it is looking like only a matter of time until we have the much discussed "Super-Conferences" in college sports.
I am completely fascinated right now by college football and all the many possibilities of how they could operate (see my Holiday Madness brackets as an example). This idea of Super-Conferences is the latest thing to catch my attention. What would it look like? Here is one scenario of how it could all play out.
The idea of Super-Conferences is that all major college football programs would fall into four 16-team Super-Conferences. These Super-Conferences would then be split up into two 8-team divisions each. A conference championship game would be played in each Super-Conference that would act as a play-in game into a 4 team National Championship playoff. This could be expanded to 8 teams also with some stipulations put in place on potential "wild card" teams. With that said, how will all the schools be divided?
The first thing you realize is that if there are 4 Super-Conferences, then two of the major BCS conferences have to discontinue their football programs.
The obvious first choice to fall apart is the Big East. Everyone has been jumping from the Big East as fast as they can so they don't get left out when this all is said and done. Rutgers is just the latest to leave. Last year, Syracuse and Pitt announced they would be leaving for the ACC, West Virginia jumped to the Big 12, and TCU left for the Big 12 without even playing a game in the Big East. Now some of the replacements that had been brought in for football (Boise St. and Nevada) are trying to get out of their commitments to the conference because they see how it is dying. Also, every conference that is losing schools look to pull from the Big East first to get the quality while they still can (like the ACC trying to replace Maryland).
The second conference to fold is a little more difficult. A couple years ago, it looked like it would definitely be the Big 12. Four schools (Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M, and Missouri) bailed as soon as they could. This is mainly because Texas has become the bully of the conference that controls everything. The schools left put up with it because they don't have a second option like the other four did. Also, without Texas the conference is dead. The other conference that is now looking like it could be on the chopping block is the ACC. With Maryland jumping ship (and rumors that Florida St. now wants out too), the ACC appears to be scrambling to survive. With all this in mind, the Big 12 is still more likely to dissolve. There are too many East Coast teams to lose a conference over there, so unless the conferences get geographically messed up the ACC has to stay around. So that leaves these 4 Super-Conferences: Pac-12, Big Ten, SEC, and ACC. Now how would they all split up?
This division gets a couple new teams but from the current conference make-up. Utah and Colorado desperately wanted to be in a division with the LA teams, but it simply makes no sense with further conference expansion. This would put the northernmost 8 teams in the North Division while also keeping the rivalries together.
If the Big 12 dissolves, this is the best fit for the rest of the Texas schools and the Oklahoma schools. It almost happened a couple years ago, but didn't due to some issues with TV contracts. (Again, Texas was being the bully.) If this becomes as inevitable as it appears to be, Texas will reluctantly jump to the Pac-12 and take the best of the Big 12 with them, which will definitely kill the Big 12.
The first realignment in this division is the rumored move of Illinois into the Legends (they really need to rename these divisions). They also needed an 8th school which is filled by Iowa St. This would make the most sense geographically. The Big Ten may try to go for a bigger name like Louisville or Kansas, but the natural rivalry developed in Iowa may be too tough to deny. Also, Kansas won't go anywhere without Kansas St. It might work to take both Kansas schools, but I think the Cyclones make more sense.
Here we see the two newest confirmed members of the Big Ten with Maryland and Rutgers along with Cincinnati, one of the Big East schools that will be well sought after and will most likely land here. Out of all the possible candidates, a second Ohio school would make sense. Ohio St. may try to block it to keep its monopoly on Ohio, but if the Bearcats are going to end up somewhere in a Super-Conference, it might as well be the Big Ten.
The SEC only needs two more schools since they already have 14. Louisville would be a perfect fit. It would make some great rivalries in-conference rivalries, mainly on the basketball side of things. Eventually, the football program will catch up to the SEC.
Since this division already has a foot into Texas, why not put two feet in Texas? Adding TCU would be a perfect fit for the SEC and TCU the way their program has been progressing.
North Carolina St.
This division has the two new schools that will be joining next year (Pitt and Syracuse), as well as one that is rumored to be joining the conference to replace Maryland in UConn. This division is pretty well set.
Notre Dame is almost a full member of this conference already. There is no way they could survive the Super-Conference realignment without joining one. They may try to join the Big Ten, but since they are already connected to the ACC they will most likely stay. With the Big 12 dissolving, this is the best spot for West Virginia to land also.
Here is the problem. With four 16 team Super-Conferences, there are room for 64 teams in the big conferences. There are 70 teams (including BYU who is now an Independent) that are currently in BCS conferences. That means, under this scenario, these 6 schools will be left out of the mix. There are two solutions to this problem. First, these 6 schools disperse among the remaining 4 conferences (remember, the WAC is dissolving). Here is the likely way that would happen.
Kansas - C-USA
Kansas St. - C-USA
Baylor - Sun Belt
Temple - MAC
South Florida - Sun Belt
BYU - Mountain West
This would really be disappointing for several of these schools, especially the Kansas schools. The Jayhawks are a perennial basketball powerhouse that would be banished from the best competition, and the Wildcats are nationally relevant in football at least a couple times every decade. The only way this could be made better is if the football goes to an 8-team playoff with the 4 Super-Conference champs making it with 3 "Wild Cards" and the best team from the other four. This could even be determined by their own 4-team playoff if they want.
Here is the other scenario. The Big East doesn't dissolve. Remember, the Big East almost doubles in size when basketball season comes around. Even if this happens and the Big East isn't one of the Super-Conferences, chances are the Big East still survives as a basketball only conference. So here is the option: the six teams left out of the party (add in Army and Navy to make it 8) become the Big East football conference. Three of those schools play basketball in another conference already (Temple in the A-10, Army and Navy in the Patriot). That leaves 5 leftover schools to form a 12-school basketball conference with the 7 basketball-only members still in the Big East. This would make a more competitive football conference for these schools used to the high competition, and would also give heavy basketball competition for those striving for that. I think it is making the best of the bad options. Here is how it would break down.
Basketball Division 1
Basketball Division 2
So there is just one scenario. There are many different way it could play out. It will most likely look nothing like this (Who saw Maryland and Rutgers going to the Big Ten?) and probably take a long time to finally settle. Another scenario I did not explore at all is one where the future Super-Conferences kick out weaker schools to make room for ones transferring in (for example, the Pac-12 kicking out Washington St. to make room for BYU). That potential move makes this even more unpredictable. I am really excited to witness this fluid time in college athletics where everyone is finding their new home and most likely working their way to this crazy Super-Conference format.