July 1, 2022
And once again....domino tipped.
The college athletic world was sent spinning again when news broke that USC and UCLA were leaving the Pac 12 for the Big Ten. Gone are the days where rivalries matter or geographical makeup matters. It's about money and survival.
There's much to unpack and how does it all impact other conferences and schools in Florida. Let's try and look at a few things:
Why are USC and UCLA doing this? Remember, money and survival. The two schools saw that future projected payouts to schools in the Big Ten and SEC are around $100M per school. The best projected new media deal for the Pac 12 is in the $50M range. For years, Pac 12 schools have complained about their TV coverage and the Trojans and Bruins saw a world where other brands far smaller than them would be making twice as much. So, take a page out of the game plan already scripted when Oklahoma and Texas left for the SEC. Why did they leave? Money and survival.
Some believe ESPN played a role in the move of the Sooners and the Longhorns to the SEC because it would increase the value of their media package. Some now believe FOX played a role in the move of USC and UCLA because of their new deal with the Big Ten and it's their answer to the move made by the SEC.
Gone are the rivalries and history of the Pac 12's unique scheduling model of a school going to Washington, Oregon and Arizona and playing both conference opponents and gone may be the Rose Bowl. In its place USC and UCLA get games at Rutgers, Maryland, Purdue and Northwestern. You can't play Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State every week. And if you live in LA, get set for those 9 am kickoffs. But remember what this is all about.....money and survival.
Will the Big Ten and SEC just grow to 20-24 team leagues and break off and form their own league/division of college football? Maybe. And that's led to an avalanche of speculation of other teams on the move. But be careful with the info out there. Lots of stuff being thrown against the twitter wall is not true or just assumes conferences will let teams walk from Grant of Rights deals and the hundreds of millions of dollars connected to them. But yes, the SEC and Big Ten were moving further and further away from the other P5 leagues when it comes to media money and it leads to the idea that they may be positioned to take their ball and go on their own. Form true super conferences of 20-24 teams, have your own playoff and get even more money from such a tournament. Imagine each conference playing an eight-team playoff and the two super conference winners then playing a title game. That could be worth $50-60M per school alone.
If the Big Ten wanted to not stop at 16, who would be targeted to get to 20? This is where it gets interesting. First, before you assume Notre Dame is a lock, remember the Irish are contractually obligated to the ACC until 2036. They have all teams, outside of football, playing in the ACC and they have a football scheduling partnership with the league. The ACC is not about to let Notre Dame out of that deal. Some have suggested Oregon, Washington, Kansas, Iowa State, Stanford and Cal might be candidates. Oregon and Washington offer brands with value. Kansas believes its Big Ten material because of location and academics and many believe Kansas has been lobbying since the Big XII recently expanded. Before you think about schools like North Carolina, Virginia or anyone else in the ACC, their grant of rights deal is in place until 2036. And before you say "that's for lawyers to figure out", that is a lot of money and the ACC is not about to let anyone out easily. Money and survival and is not about to let anyone just walk out of the league.
Who would the SEC target if it decided to expand to 20? Oklahoma and Texas get the league to 16. Many in the college football media world throw out names like Clemson, FSU and Miami. Look, if you are Clemson you have been a dominant program with multiple national titles and have been the best team in the ACC for years and you are watching schools like Vanderbilt and Missouri making more than twice as much per year than you-that is tough to swallow. Clemson would run to the SEC tomorrow because it's about money and survival but the buyout and grant of rights are real numbers. Some are speculating on social media that ACC schools have done the math and think they can get out of the deal. I don't believe that. Lawyers get paid big bucks to find ways out of deals like this but you are taking north of $200M, at least, and it's not that simple. Also what would Florida think about giving up a massive recruiting advantage it would have being in a league making so much money that does not include FSU or Miami and then suddenly having them as conference partners.
But what if getting out of these deals is not impossible, who might the SEC target? Clemson leads the pack and then there is the list of those who think/hope they are on the list and that might be FSU, Miami, Louisville, West Virginia, North Carolina, NC State, Duke....see a trend here.
Could the Big Ten and SEC not do anything else and hold at 16 each? Yes. For the Big Ten, I'm guessing FOX ran the numbers and concluded adding USC and UCLA puts the amount per school over $100M in a new media deal. If you can't add to that amount, why would they add you to their league. While schools like Oregon, Washington, Kansas, Iowa State or anyone from the ACC would love an invite, if you are not worth enough to increase that $100M+ figure, why add you? The same would apply to the SEC in evaluating any team if they thought about expanding.
What about the Pac 12 and the Big XII? Ahhh, finally to this part of the story. What is our theme today? Money and survival and both need to have the same game plan. With the Pac 12 losing two teams from its largest market, what do you do? If you are thinking of expanding, where do you look? And if you are expanding, strength in numbers is a must. If you are Big XII, you can guess where the Pac 12 will look and are you prepared to act before they do? Meaning, both leagues will look at the other and figure out how you sell that your league is better. The Pac 12 might target BYU(national brand), Oklahoma State(outside of Oklahoma the most successful football program in current Big XII last decade), Texas Tech, Houston(massive TV market) and maybe others. Some feel the Pac 12 might not be comfortable with the religious schools in the Big XII(TCU/Baylor). The Pac 12 pitch would be to join and survive and in numbers a new media deal would be as good or better than you currently have and you can join established brands. The Big XII would be looking at all this while a new commissioner is just arriving. But you must be aggressive and target schools. Could the Big XII look at adding Utah and Colorado to go with BYU in the area of the country. Arizona and Arizona State fit the geographical part in relation to your Texas schools. Those four would get you to 16 and you can sell that playing in a league that has games in the eastern, central and mountain time zones is good for your brand and a new media deal would be better than what's left in the Pac 12.
What about a merger between the Big XII and Pac 12? Why not? Strength in size applies to this idea. I'm not sure adding the two league members and getting to 22 is where it would land. You would assume maybe two schools would move to the Big Ten. If they don't then a 22 team league that covers coast-to-coast has some media appeal and if the SEC and Big Ten are looking at 20 members, a 22-team league is not crazy. Yes, scheduling is a challenge but everything is a challenge these days and travel is already something schools deal with. UCF has been in a league with Tulsa and Wichita State for years.
But is the Big XII in a position of strength vs Pac 12 teams scrambling? I say yes. On June 6th, Pac 12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said his league was strong and stable and didn't see anyone leaving the league and expansion was not on the table. Less than a month later, his league is in jeopardy of existing. The Big XII needs to be on offense here. The Big XII has a chance to poach the Pac 12 and sell a plan based on money, survival and stabilization. Oregon and Washington may think the Big Ten is an ideal spot, but you need to be wanted and if you can't increase the media payout, why would they want you? I actually think Stanford is a candidate for the ACC. Their image actually fits and we tossed out the regional thing with USC and UCLA. But if the Big XII can convince Arizona and Arizona State along with Utah and Colorado that their league is the perfect landing spot, then maybe Oregon and Washington may realize it too is the best place. I think the Big XII has a chance to move quickly here.
What if the Pac 12 successfully poaches teams from the Big XII, how does this impact UCF if they were left behind? It would impact the Knights and then what's left in the Big XII would turn where to add members? You see where this is going, don't you? Suddenly you could be in the same situation you found yourself in with AAC. UCF fans have been down this road before. First, South Florida blocked their move to the Big East years ago and then when they got to the Big East, the Catholic schools bolted and the AAC was born. This scenario would see media money drop like an anchor in a deep body of water. It is why UCF needs the Big XII to be aggressive to survive any poaching effort by the Pac 12.
UCF....Big XII, ACC or.....? Just follow me on this one....If the Pac 12 poaches teams in the Big XII and if the SEC does indeed expand and they target Clemson, FSU and Miami, the ACC would have to move, one would think. If their goal was to build in numbers where might they turn? See what we did there? If you had a choice at UCF between a weakened Big XII that looked at the American to reload or the ACC looking to build back up, which would you choose? But again, I think the Big XII is in a opportunity position and that bodes well for UCF.
NOW, READ THIS.......ALL THIS IS SPECULATION, NOT FACT....NOT REPORTING WITH "SOURCES IN THE KNOW"......EVERYONE IS GUESSING AND IT'S DANGEROUS BECAUSE ALL THESE STORIES ARE SPENDING EVERYONE ELSE'S MONEY.........I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE THIS IS GOING AND AT THE MOMENT, NO ONE DOES.
Ok, now that we have that out of the way, here are a few other things likely impacted by USC and UCLA's move:
--that 12-team playoff we all thought was going to happen....not sure of that anymore.
--Rose Bowl? Sadly it may go the way of other great traditions in this sport
--the NCAA Basketball Tournament? The current TV deal runs through 2032 but if the SEC and Big Ten decide to break away and do their own thing, I would expect changes to the model of this great event
--How would all this impact NIL/Pay-for-play? No one knows but two conferences would have lots of money if they wanted to create a model different from what we have now, which no one knows what that is either
--Is this good for the game? The answer today is no. In fact, all this is sad to me. Money is addictive and has made us toss away any value we had in traditions. We don't like change quickly and this all has happened faster than quick. As far as long term, eventually this will settle down.
--How does all this impact the other sports? A great question and only time will tell. I have said for years, most college teams- especially those that are not revenue generating- should play in regional conferences and that it would be fine if a school had its teams in multiple conferences.
I long ago accepted that college sports were going through significant change and some are long overdue and some are sad. No one knows what the end is and there might not be one because all of this comes down to money and survival. Conferences, schools, presidents, athletic directors, coaches and even fans ultimately make decisions about what's best for them and not the whole. We have watched that in the recent moves by Oklahoma and Texas and now UCLA and USC. They chose to look out for themselves and not those they called home with. I get it. Many of us do the same everyday. Times are changing quickly in college sports. But remember what it always comes down to......money and survival.
Final note: The original Pacific Coast Conference would eventually turn into the Pac 8. But the PCC actually disbanded in 1959 because of "pay-for-play" scandals at Cal, Washington, USC and UCLA. The last two have made the decision to jump leagues where it pays to play in a different way....