College football is changing before our very eyes and will likely never be the same. The product on the field will still be entertaining and draw eyes to the television sets, but it’s going to look and feel very different 10 years from now.
Conference realignment has changed the face of college football over the last 30 years. From the disbanding of the Southwest and Big 8 conferences to the expansion and contraction of the Big East to the realignment that saw four of the Big 12’s programs find new homes a decade ago to what we’ve seen over the last year as powerhouse programs make the move to big-time conferences.
Oklahoma and Texas’ commitment to the SEC and USC and UCLA’s pledge to the Big Ten were the final straws that broke the back of the tradition-rich college football we love.
As the sands shift in college football, profitability and value are just as important as results on the field.
With conference realignment just getting started, let’s take a look back at Forbes’ list from 2019 of the 25 most valuable college football programs. It was the last time it updated the list, but it’s telling.
The new-look SEC, with Texas and Oklahoma, features 12 of the top 25 programs on the list. The only conference schools not listed are Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Missouri and Mississippi State. The new-look Big Ten has eight of the top 25. Oregon, Notre Dame, Clemson, Washington, and Florida State make up the rest of the list, and each has been discussed for possible relocation to the SEC or Big Ten.
The ACC would be in good shape if it weren’t for its media rights agreement that runs through 2036. As media rights deals are estimated to be worth more than a billion dollars for the Big Ten and the SEC in the future, the ACC is getting left behind financially.
That reality could create a situation that leads to more moves coming in the near future for college football’s most valuable programs.
Jan. 1, 2021; New Orleans, Louisiana; Clemson Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) warms up prior to the College Football Playoff semifinal against the Ohio State Buckeyes at the Allstate Sugar Bowl in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Friday, Jan. 1, 2021. Adam Cairns-USA TODAY Sports
Ole Miss Rebels
Jan 1, 2022; New Orleans, Louisiana; Mississippi Rebels head coach Lane Kiffin reacts after a play against the Baylor Bears during the first half of the 2022 Sugar Bowl at Caesars Superdome. Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Oct. 12, 2019; Madison, Wisconsin; Wisconsin Badgers defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk (97) celebrates after tackling Michigan State Spartans quarterback Brian Lewerke (14) during the third quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Michigan State Spartans
Dec. 12, 2020; University Park, Pennsylvania; Michigan State Spartans wide receiver Jalen Nailor (8) makes a catch and runs the ball in the end zone for a touchdown during the second quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports
Oct. 1, 2021; College Park, Maryland; Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras (7) scrambles during the second half of a game against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports
Sept. 4, 2021; Lincoln; Nebraska Cornhuskers linebacker Luke Reimer (28) pressures Fordham Rams quarterback Tim DeMorat (17) in the first half at Memorial Stadium. Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
Dec. 4, 2004; Pasadena, California; USC running back #5 Reggie Bush outraces the UCLA defense on his way to an 81 yard touchdown run during the Trojans’ 29-24 win over the Bruins on Saturday at the Rose Bowl. Photo by Joe Robbins-USA TODAY Sports.
Sept. 11, 2021; Fayetteville; Arkansas Razorbacks running back AJ Green (0) celebrates after scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Texas Longhorns at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas won 40-21. Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
South Carolina Gamecocks
Dec. 5, 2020; Lexington, Kentucky; South Carolina Gamecocks running back Kevin Harris (20) scores a touchdown during the third quarter against the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field. Arden Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
Florida State Seminoles
Florida State Seminoles defensive back Asante Samuel Jr. (26) after Clemson does not complete the pass as the Florida State Seminoles take on the Clemson Tigers in college football at Doak S. Campbell Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Alicia Devine/Democrat
Dec. 6, 2019; Santa Clara, Calilfonia; Oregon Ducks running back Cyrus Habibi-Likio (33) rushes against the Utah Utes during the first half of the Pac-12 Conference championship game at Levi’s Stadium. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Penn State Nittany Lions
Nov. 9, 2019; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Micah Parsons (11) celebrates after sacking the Minnesota Golden Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan (not pictured) in the second half at TCF Bank Stadium. Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Nov. 20, 2021; Knoxville; Tennessee Volunteers head coach Josh Heupel talks with offensive lineman Javontez Spraggins (76) during the first half against the South Alabama Jaguars at Neyland Stadium. Bryan Lynn-USA TODAY Sports
April 17, 2021; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; LSU Tigers huddle during warm ups before the annual Purple and White spring game at Tiger Stadium. Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Sept. 25, 2010; Auburn, Alabama; Auburn Tigers quarterback Cameron Newton (2) straight arms South Carolina Gamecocks linebacker Tony Straughter (44) in the second half at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Auburn defeated South Carolina 35-27. Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dec. 19, 2020; Atlanta, Georgia; Florida Gators tight end Kyle Pitts (84) runs the ball against Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Jordan Battle (9) and defensive back Josh Jobe (28) during the fourth quarter in the SEC Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports
Dec. 12, 2020; Columbia, Missouri; Georgia Bulldogs defensive back Eric Stokes (27) returns an interception against the Missouri Tigers during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Nov. 13, 2021; Charlottesville, Virginia; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Logan Diggs (22) carries the ball past Virginia Cavaliers inside linebacker Nick Jackson (6) during the fourth quarter at Scott Stadium. Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Nov. 16, 2019; Waco, Texas; Oklahoma Sooners running back Rhamondre Stevenson (29) and quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) in action during the game between the Bears and the Sooners at McLane Stadium. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Ohio State Buckeyes
Jan. 11, 2021; Miami Gardens, Florida; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Garrett Wilson (5) catches a touchdown pass against Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Brian Branch (14) in the third quarter in the 2021 College Football Playoff national championship at Hard Rock Stadium. Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama Crimson Tide
Jan. 10, 2022; Indianapolis, Indiana; Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young (9) drops back to throw against the Georgia Bulldogs during the third quarter of the 2022 CFP college football national championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Nov. 2, 2019; College Park, Maryland; Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Kwity Paye (19) and linebacker Jordan Glasgow (29) prior to the snap during the 2g against the Maryland Terrapins at Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium. Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Sept. 11, 2021; Fayetteville; Arkansas Razorbacks running back AJ Green (0) rushes for a touchdown in the second half against the Texas Longhorns at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Arkansas won 40-21. Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
Texas A&M Aggies
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports