Happy Fourth of July everyone…
Last Friday, THE breaking story in the sports world was the announcement that USC and UCLA would be leaving the PAC-12 to join the Big-10. I received a couple of emails from readers expressing surprise that I did not mention that news in Friday’s rant. My answer to both readers went along these lines:
- I did not write about it because I do not know what I think about it yet. Give me the weekend to try to digest all this.
Well, the weekend is history, and I am still not fully clear about all the consequences of this announcement except for some basic stuff. I am convinced that these four things are true:
- This is all about money and USC/UCLA have done the calculation that it is worth it to them to join the Big-10 for the revenue sports.
- The Big-10 is thrilled to have a “home team” in the Los Angeles TV market.
- This Big-10 expansion is a response to the earlier announcement of the SEC’s expansion by admitting Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC.
- One of the seven teams currently in the Big-10 West will necessarily be transferred to the Big-10 East. [Aside: If it were my decision, I would flip a coin between Wisconsin and Purdue.]
There are some other pretty obvious fallouts from this decision:
- Some non-revenue sports at USC and UCLA will not be part of the Big-10. Beach volleyball is one example; the current Big-10 schools do not play beach volleyball; USC and UCLA do. [Aside: If you have ever been to Penn State or Michigan or Ohio State such that you could simply wander around the campus on a football Saturday, you will probably realize why those schools do not play beach volleyball.]
- The Rose Bowl Game has probably lost some of its stature for the near future. Suppose for a moment that USC or UCLA wins the Big-10 Championship in its first year in the conference. The Rose Bowl has a contract pitting the Big-10 champ against the PAC-12 champ. So, the Rose Bowl game would look like an “ordinary Pac-12 midseason game” – – at least until memories of those contests fade.
- The Big-10 – for most of its existence – was a regional conference centered around the upper Midwest; all the schools were relatively proximal to one another. Then the Big-10 inched east to admit Penn State and then did a small western slide-step to acquire Nebraska. Following a blatant attempt to get more following in the major metro areas of the east like NYC, Maryland and Rutgers were invited to join. Now, the Big-10 cannot even pretend to have a geographical identity; the distance between Los Angeles CA and New Brunswick, NJ is 2,439 miles.
When this transfer – along with the Texas/Oklahoma transfer are completed, there will be three dominant forces shaping college football. Assuming they do not get mired in internecine squabbles, they will determine all the important matters that relate to college football. Those three forces are:
- The expanded SEC
- The expanded Big-10
- The CFP
The PAC-12 and the Big-12 will suffer the loss of their two most glamorous football programs. Surely both conferences will seek to add teams, but the pickings will be slim. As of today, the only “prestigious football brands” not to be controlled by the Big-10 and the SEC all reside in the ACC:
- Florida State
- Notre Dame
So as a strategic question, do those schools jump to one of the new “Big Boy Conferences” or does the ACC try to get itself the best of what is available out there to expand to 16 teams while holding on to those 4 schools? And what kind of additions might the PAC-12 make without becoming another geographic hodgepodge. Boise State and Air Force are known entities and are relatively near the center of gravity of the PAC-12 – – but even if those two schools signed up, the PAC-12 would still be 4 teams smaller than the newly expanded SEC and Big 10. I do not think that the ACC or the Big-12 or the PAC-12 have a lot of schools to add that bring with them some sort of history/prestige:
- Cincy has been very good for the last two seasons.
- UCF was really good for a couple of years – – same with USF
- SMU was a “big time program” about 35 years ago
- San Diego St. and Fresno St. are OK programs
Those are the biggest fish in the small pond of “conferences not part of the current Power 5”; and – putting it politely – none of them moves the needle even a little bit.
For me, right now, the most important question to consider is this:
- Will the Big-10 and the SEC stand pat with 16 teams each or will either one or both expand again?
I think 16-team conferences are plenty big enough – – but there are motivations to grow yet bigger. For example:
- Might the Big-10 want to have a third or fourth team on the West Coast so that every road game for USC and UCLA does not require a time zone change or three?
- The SEC has remained geographically regional to date, but it could hold onto that status and still acquire Clemson, Florida State and Miami.
- Notre Dame has always valued its independence; will that status still be as valuable to the school in 2025 as it has been for the last 50 years?
Moreover, do not dismiss the reality of ongoing intrigues that even the college football insiders know nothing about. Consider:
- When the SEC “poached” Texas and Oklahoma, the Big-10, the ACC and the PAC-12 formed what they called “The Alliance” to prevent SEC hegemony over college football.
- That happened just about 1 year ago – – and now the Big-10 has “poached” the two biggest football programs from one of its alleged “Allies”.
The movement is not over; the musical chairs game will continue. And please notice that I have not even begun to weave the other power player – – the CFP – – into the situation. The reason for that is simple; I have not sorted out in my mind how it will fit into the equation. Maybe tomorrow? Maybe later in the week?
Finally, several observations from noted thinkers seem appropriate for my closing today:
“College football would be more interesting if the faculty played instead of the students – there would be a great increase in broken arms, legs and necks.” [H. L. Mencken]
“Immorality: the morality of those who are having a better time.” [H. L. Mencken]
“When it is a question of money, everybody is of the same religion. [Voltaire]
“Revolutions have never lightened the burden of tyranny; they have only shifted it to another shoulder.” [George Bernard Shaw]
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………