Conference Realignment: Seismic Changes And More Moves Likely To Come

By Ryan Bologna

When Oklahoma and Texas accepted invitations to the SEC for 2025 everyone knew that the landscape of college sports would change dramatically over the next decade. The question was how would the other power five conferences react to this power play? The Big Ten responded by adding USC and UCLA for the 2024 season.

These moves leave the Big 12 and Pac-12 conferences floundering without two of their most powerful programs. In case you’re wondering, the ACC is likely not as vulnerable. The current university agreements run through 2036, making it extremely costly to leave in the near future. It is unclear what these three conferences will do in response. The only certainty is that the power programs outside of the SEC and Big Ten will try to make their way into those two conferences. For now, those schools are left waiting. Here are nine of the schools from the Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC conferences that should be considered, sorted into tiers based on the likelihood of receiving an invite.

Tier 1:

Likely Destination: Big Ten

Oregon is an obvious choice. One of the top programs in the Pac-12. Their connection with Nike makes them attractive as well. They have shown they can recruit with the best of them in recent years as well, beating out Alabama for Kayvon Thibodeaux, the number one overall recruit in the 2019 class. Oregon has the flexibility to leave the Pac-12 conference the same year that USC and UCLA will. The current grant of rights agreement expires in 2024. The geography of the Big Ten does not make sense with just USC and UCLA. It would be surprising if the conference didn’t bolster its West Coast presence with Oregon.

Likely Destination: Big Ten

Washington is one of the top traditional powers in the Pac-12, but after a successful run from 2016-2018, the on-field play has dropped off. Oregon is undoubtedly the bigger program, but Washington is a program that could rebound. It will be interesting to see if the two schools work together in this round of realignment. Adding both Oregon and Washington would make scheduling much easier for the Big Ten conference.

Oklahoma State
Likely Destination: SEC

Mike Gundy has made Oklahoma State one of the most consistent football programs in the country. While not a national championship contender, the Cowboys are consistently near the top of the Big 12. The SEC might look to reunite the Cowboys with Oklahoma, and that is the most likely destination. The Big Ten could be a fit too, as it now has a big geographical gap between its current members and the California schools that are set to join. Oklahoma State could make travel easier for Big Ten newcomers. Unlike many schools, the Cowboys could be great additions to both conferences.

Tier 2:

Likely Destination: Big Ten

Yes, Stanford has dropped off a bit in recent years under David Shaw, but it is still seen as one of the better programs in the Pac-12. Power conferences will have the choice of Stanford or Cal if they want a Bay Area presence, and the Cardinal is easily the better choice. Not only has it been the more successful program over the last decade, it has the edge in other sports as well. Stanford should be one of the top candidates in this round of conference realignment because it is the top program in its area. Like the other Pac-12 schools on this list, Stanford would make scheduling much easier for the Big Ten.

Likely Destination: Big Ten

Baylor could be a good option for the Big Ten for similar reasons. The SEC already grabbed Texas, but Baylor could be the program to give the Big Ten a presence in the state. While Baylor had some really bad seasons in 2017 and 2020, the program has shown the ability to rebound quickly. Like with Oklahoma State, it makes a lot of sense for the Big Ten to add Baylor for geographical sense. The grant of rights agreement for the Big 12 expires in 2025, so Baylor has the flexibility to make a move by then.

West Virginia
Likely Destination: Big Ten

While West Virginia only joined the Big 12 in 2012, it is a quality football program. Outside of the programs already mentioned, it is arguably the most likely in the Big 12 to receive an invite. The Mountaineers have held their own since arriving from the Big East conference, hitting their peak in 2016 with a 10-3 season. The Big Ten probably makes more sense for West Virginia. The Mountaineers could be a sleeper in this round of conference realignment.

Tier 3:

Likely Destination: SEC

Clemson would be an obvious choice for the first tier, but ACC teams are at a disadvantage. The grant of rights deal with the ACC that runs through 2036 essentially locks those schools into place. It would cost a fortune for schools to leave the conference within the next few years. Athletic directors will undoubtedly pour over the agreement to try to find some kind of legal loophole, and if any school had the pull to work around it, it’s Clemson. If leaving is possible, the SEC would be a great fit.

Florida State
Likely Destination: SEC

Not only does Florida State face the same uphill battle that Clemson does regarding the ACC grant of rights deal, the program has not been the same since Jimbo Fisher’s departure. The Seminoles have gone under .500 in each of the last four seasons. The SEC already has Florida, so that is a natural rival in the SEC. Florida State would not make much sense for the Big Ten, as it needs to fill that geographical gap between Nebraska and the California schools.

Likely Destination: SEC

While Miami is a good program, it is similar to Texas in that the fanbase is always looking for reasons to declare that the Hurricanes are “back.” That could help Miami get an invitation, as it has a passionate fanbase and many view it as a program that could get back to the top given the right circumstances. The Hurricanes are at the mercy of what happens with the grant of rights agreement with the ACC, so they are not in the driver’s seat at all for this round of realignment.

Conference realignment is always crazy, but this round could lead to some of the most unprecedented changes to the college sports landscape we have ever seen. The one school we haven’t discussed is Notre Dame, it will be interesting to see how that school handles all the changes. Will it continue with independence, or will the Big Ten be able to convince it to join? We can make educated guesses about what schools are at the top of the totem pole regarding conference realignment, but one decision could cause a ripple effect that changes everything. College football fans are in for a wild ride over the next decade.

Photo Credit: Neon Tommy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Posts