Marc Daniels: Is Another Wave Of Conference Expansion Coming?

2021 Big 12 Championship - Oklahoma State v Baylor

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The whispers are getting louder. The rumors are getting more outrageous. The dots may or may not connect but there is a feeling we are headed towards another round of expansion in college sports.

On Monday, the Pac 12 released a statement saying the schools are "looking forward to consummating successful media deals" in the near future. Many were puzzled by the release since it's not common for a conference to do something like that. But it may have also been done as a PR move since the college football media and sports media group have been criticizing the league for not getting a deal done and made some wonder if there is not a deal that will be on par with the Big 12 and its newest deal.

Pac 12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff has been confident publicly about the unity in his league and getting an attractive media deal that would be on par or better financially than the Big 12. But he's also been quite public about potential expansion sooner than later with recent visits to San Diego State and SMU.

But there is buzz about other conferences and expansion plans.

It's no secret Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark continues to look at adding to his stable of schools. With the Oklahoma and Texas exit now finalized, the new chief of the UCF's newest league continues to gauge interest about growing. There has been speculation about looking at Gonzaga for a basketball-only invite but there is also the whispers of Yormark continuing to explore poaching Pac 12 schools and possibly growing his list of full members to 16. Most speculation centers around the four corner schools of Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah. 

Despite the Pac 12's release about unity and excitement over a pending media deal, it doesn't mean all schools in that league are excited about the future and why not keep all options open.

Meanwhile, there appears to be a sense of urgency within the ACC. Commissioner Jim Phillips, thought to be a candidate for the top job at the Big 10, is aggressive in trying to find more media money for his ACC schools. The only way to do that would be to expand and convince ESPN to rework the current deal. That is tricky since Disney CEO Bob Iger has warned about committing new media rights money. But the whispers are on the ACC again pitching Notre Dame about becoming a full member. One idea Phillips has pitched to ACC schools is unequal revenue shares and there may be support. Instead of all schools getting an equal pie, bigger brands would get more money and even build a model where the more successful you are the more money you make. I have said for years this would be a formula adopted by all schools. Someday Alabama, LSU and Georgia are going to look at Vanderbilt and wonder why they make the same.

But Phillips is also expected, if he hasn't already, engaged in talks with a few Pac 12 schools- such as Oregon, Washington, Stanford and Cal. The idea is that if the Pac 12 money is not attractive those schools have more in common with the ACC than the Big 12. Oregon and Miami as a conference game? Hey, we have moved past the geographical model for conferences years ago.

The ACC thought that if they could add Notre Dame and the Pac 12 four they would have 20 schools and ESPN would open up talks on a new value to the media deal. And that the ACC could move into third when it comes to revenue behind the Big Ten and SEC.

Such scenarios of those four schools to the Pac 12 and the "corner schools" to the Big 12 would end the Pac 12 and leave four major conferences and have three leagues sit with 16 schools and one with 20.

The ACC's plan is a challenging one. Notre Dame, despite being able to make more money with unequal shares, may have no reason to join the ACC. The Irish are set for a new megadeal with NBC and don't need to join a conference. The ACC needs the Irish schedule partnership more than Notre Dame needs the ACC. But the ACC needs to be proactive. Jim Phillips knows it may also be a matter of time before one or more of his members challenges the Grant of Rights in court. FSU, Miami and Clemson are just a few that prefer the SEC and Big Ten because of the money to be made in those leagues.

As for now, it appears the SEC and Big Ten are content with the new lineup of schools and no plans to grow...for now.

So attention falls back to the Pac 12 and if there is a new media deal that makes it worth it for the current ten schools to stay, Whether the league adds San Diego State and SMU doesn't appear to be a key piece in convincing schools like Oregon and Washington to stay. I can't see any scenario where those schools and the four corner schools sign a Grant of Rights deal to stay for 8-10 years.

What if Kliavkoff can't deliver a media deal that is financially on par with the Big 12 and ACC, do Pac 12 schools look elsewhere? Is Brett Yormark ready to pounce? Is the ACC ready to take Pac 12 schools whether Notre Dame makes a move or not?

It's noisy out there and it appears a domino is wobbling and when it falls...another round of expansion is likely and a Power 5 may become a Power 4...or maybe not. Stay tuned...

Final note: Earth is said to be 4.5 billion years old. However, the oldest planet is said to be Psr B1620-26B at 12.5 billion years old.

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