Texas and Oklahoma appear destined to join the Southeastern Conference, possibly within weeks, which leads some Ohio State fans to wring their hands and others to wonder, "So what?"
The worrywarts have legitimate reasons to fret. Begin with recruiting. The Buckeyes have done well to snatch elite talent out of Texas, including top-rated quarterback Quinn Ewers.
Ohio State’s allure derives from a mix of coaching, led by Ryan Day (head coach/quarterbacks), Brian Hartline (wide receivers) and Larry Johnson (defensive line), and the Buckeyes reputation for producing first-round NFL draft picks — 16 since 2016 alone. Top it off with a record-four consecutive Big Ten titles and five appearances in the College Football Playoff and no wonder Ohio State attracts the best high school players in the nation.
Why Texas, Oklahoma joining SEC is bad news for Ohio State, Big Ten
But the recruiting trail gets rockier if Texas and Oklahoma bail on the Big 12. Five-star recruits from the talent-rich Lone Star state want to play against the best, and the SEC with the additions of those two programs would provide that chance more than Ohio State in the Big Ten.
It’s often a thin line for southern-based recruits between staying near home or heading to the Midwest. Being able to play in the SEC against Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Florida would elevate Texas and Oklahoma recruiting.
There also is the money issue. Adding Texas and Oklahoma would put the SEC in line for new TV rights deals that, based on an increase in ratings, would at least match what the Big Ten manages. ESPN would be looking at adding another $130 million annually to what is already a $300 million exclusivity contract with the SEC.
Because ESPN also is looking to spend $500 million to secure the proposed 12-team playoff, how willing would the network be to throw crazy money at the Big Ten in future contract negotiations? That’s bad for Ohio State, because less money means having to dig deeper into shallower pockets to keep up with the SEC in everything from facilities to coaching salaries to recruiting to funding name, image, likeness education as NIL compensation evolves.
Could Big Ten, ACC, Notre Dame create superconference?
How to fight back? Three options: The Big Ten could merge with the Atlantic Coast Conference to create a powerful football-basketball force that would match the SEC — and supplant it at No. 1 if Notre Dame could be convinced to go all-in by joining the new Big ACC. For those thinking the Fighting Irish might just join the Big Ten instead? Sorry, but not happening. Notre Dame considers itself more East Coast cosmopolitan than Midwest practical.
That potential merger does seem like a stretch. (For one thing, it’s hard to picture Clemson, Florida State and Miami wanting to play at Wisconsin and Minnesota in November.) If realigning with the ACC is too extreme, then the Big Ten’s next-best option is going after Southern California, Oregon and maybe UCLA.
The Trojans and Ducks (Nike!) have the brand appeal that would help the Big Ten trend upward, unlike with trying to add Oklahoma State, Pittsburgh or West Virginia.
Geographically it makes little sense, but college football is changing so fast that travel issues are of secondary concern, especially if millions of dollars can be made flying west of the Rockies.
Now, to address the "Nothing to see here" crowd bothered by what it views as an overly-panicked Buckeye Nation.
It is true that at a base level, nothing really changes for Ohio State if Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC. It’s not like the Buckeyes’ schedule becomes more difficult or their odds of winning the Big Ten and making the four-team playoff diminish. It’s fair to argue the opposite, that the Longhorns and Sooners joining the SEC weakens the Big 12 to an extent that its conference champion is less worthy of a playoff spot, and that helps the Big Ten.
It should be noted that within the SEC, powers like Alabama and LSU might regret adding Texas and Oklahoma if it means more regular-season losses.
In the end, however, the SEC comes out ahead, if only because adding two football factories — even if Texas is more a phony than a factory these days — focuses America’s college football attention to the South. And more eyeballs equal more power.
Day isn’t sure what to make of it all.
"I honestly can’t tell you which way is up," Day said Friday during Big Ten media days in Indianapolis. "To sit here and tell you, with the one-time transfer, with name, image and likeness … CFP expansion, realignment, it’s like, ‘Wow,’ there’s just so many things right now. We may wake up in five years and not recognize college football. All of these things can affect (Ohio State), but to know what those things are going to be? I can’t answer right now."
Fair enough, but here’s one clear answer: Time for the Big Ten to be more proactive than reactive. For a change.
This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State needs Big Ten to outflank SEC, join with ACC/Notre Dame