In the past couple of days, there has been a lot of talk about conference realignment and the changing landscape of college athletics. However, this talk began with the Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 and going to the SEC. Though it’s not yet official, the flood gates are open, and every day there is a school going to a news conference. But it’s not just schools wanting to merge now; it’s the possibility of two conferences forming as one. My colleague Kathryn McKinney-Roley discusses the potential Big 12/Pac 12 merger.
But, with all the realignment, I have one thought that this will ruin the College Football Playoff. Let me specify why I think the playoff will be ruined and not the other sports. The biggest reason is there are only four spots. So, it is understood that not all the power five conferences will get a spot. Also, based on the precedent of the playoff, the group of five is excluded from the final four. So let’s further explore how this realignment movement will ruin the College Football Playoff.
Conference Realignment Problem 1: If You Don’t Have Money You Are Not Joining Any Confrence
This problem is directly affecting the group of five who might want to join the power five schools. With all the potential movement occurring, the simple answer is to replace them with a group of five schools. But the simple idea is a mere fantasy. The reason is the overarching paycheck it is to leave one conference and then to join another conference. For example, when Rutgers and Maryland joined the Big Ten, the cost for Maryland to leave the ACC was $50 million.
The difference is those two schools are the flagship institutions of their respective states, so the donors and boosters were willing to pay the fee. The major difference is that Maryland and Rutgers were invited to join the Big Ten to help the Big Ten Network have a better reach in New York and Washington D.C. So, the move, in that case, benefits the conference more than the individual school.
However, if you are a group of five school trying to join the power five schools and it is not a direct invite, the cost is going to be expensive. The problem is group of five schools do not generate as much wealth than the power five do annually. So, schools in that realm will have to decide if the expensive cost is worth it to join.
Problem 2: The Competitive Expierence
The second biggest problem that will probably emerge is the competitive experience as now the conferences seem fair. Though, to the average viewer, it might not seem that way within the power five, one school dominating, but on the group of five is more even fair. So, if you start moving the conferences around, there is a greater chance for the superconference to form.
In my opinion, the superconference is a negative for college athletics as now, instead of a diverse athletic experience, it’s just one or two colleges who are the best. This leads to any other conference title being diminished nationally, which leads to the next problem.
Problem 3 The Playoff Will Become More Selective
The College Football Playoff is already a selective process, but the conference realignment will worsen the process. The main reason most likely is that the SEC will get three spots, and the last spot will be a Clemson/Ohio State debate. So, now the playoff will become the SEC show, and the rest of the power five is out. Though this is my theory, it seems that this will most likely. If the SEC puts Oklahoma and Texas in the same division, then I think the SEC will get two spots. But, since the alignment is not public yet, I will set the SEC to get three spots.
Examing what a potential Big 12/Pac 12 merger I think the new super conference will get left out. The reason is among the power five; in my view, the Pac 12 is the weaker conference. But the Pac 12 is usually left out of the playoff, so this will not be that the problem. However, for the Big 12, Oklahoma is normally the only ticket to the playoff for the conference. The idea of expansion is not bad, but it hurts the potential merger with their strongest member leaving the conference.
Though I do not have all the answers to conference realignment, I think this will be a big problem for the future of college sports. With all the proposed moves, the balance will be heavily in favor of the SEC for a very long time until the subsequent realignments.
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