When conference realignment took the forefront of the college football discussions a year ago, many wondered if the Big 12 would survive the loss of its two most prominent programs, the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners. Since then, conference leadership, led by the outgoing commissioner Bob Bowlsby, moved to reexpand, adding BYU, UCF, Houston, and Cincinnati. Those schools are scheduled to join the Big 12 in 2023, creating a 14-team league for potentially two years with Oklahoma and Texas’ grant of rights agreements not expiring until after the 2024 season.
Last week’s news that USC and UCLA are heading to the Big Ten created another firestorm of realignment talks, and the idea of two super conferences began taking hold of the conversation. There’s a belief that this ends with the Big Ten and the SEC standing in leagues with 20 or more teams, leaving much of the FBS on the outside looking in at the power conferences.
Reports are that the Big 12 is looking to take advantage of the Pac-12’s losses and further drive a stake into the heart of the Power Five conference out west. The Big 12 is planning to meet with Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, and Colorado as it looks to expand its ranks in the conference realignment arms race.
With the Big Ten and SEC creating the Cold War of college football, the Big 12 and the ACC might not be safe for long, but for different reasons. The ACC has arguably the worst media rights deal in the country that goes through 2036. While the Big Ten, SEC, and the Big 12 have upcoming negotiations for their media rights packages, which will likely see a significant bump in annual payout, the ACC and its member schools are stuck. It’s not hard to fathom schools like Miami, Florida State, Clemson, Virginia, Tech, and North Carolina looking at how realignment is playing out and get a sense of urgency to leave as well.
The Big 12 is in a different position. Without the big-name programs that the Big Ten, SEC, and ACC bolster, they look like a conference ripe for the picking. Sure, they could expand by adding the four schools mentioned above, but how much does that move the needle in media rights discussions. Football is football and will always be a significant draw, but the difference in what the networks or streaming services like Amazon will be willing to pay for the Big 12’s product and the SEC’s will be pretty different.
Though USC and UCLA showed us that geography has little to do with conference affiliation in modern college football, Cincinnati and Iowa State are in Big Ten country. West Virginia is at a crossroads between the SEC, ACC, and Big Ten. Though not the draw of some other Big 12 schools, UCF is in the heart of the ACC and SEC, while Houston and Baylor are right on the border.
And that brings us to Oklahoma State. The Cowboys felt the brunt of Oklahoma’s SEC exit more than most. Left out of the discussion at the time, there wasn’t a home for the Cowboys and Bedlam in the SEC. However, with realignment at the forefront of college football again, Oklahoma State could be a part of the discussion to expand the SEC further.
Oklahoma has maintained its desire to continue Bedlam after they move to the SEC. Could this be the opportunity for the Sooners to go to bat for their in-state rival with SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and make all things right in the Sooner State?
Conference realignment is far from over, and even though the Big 12 has thoughts of expansion, they’re not out of the woods by any stretch of the imagination. As teams look to get a piece of the billion-dollar pie that’s coming in future media rights deals, the Big 12 could see another wave of schools exiting stage right to become a part of the conference structure of the future.
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