Following last week’s announcement of USC and UCLA making an earth-shattering move to leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten, talk immediately moved to the possibility of super conferences taking over college football.
I mentioned previously I’m skeptical that major consolidation is coming in the very near future. Here are a few more considerations
As always, ESPN and FOX are running the show.
A new piece in Awful Announcing laid out the manner in which the rival television networks are driving conference realignment behind the scenes. To be fair, that role essentially involves running the numbers on potential additions to leagues – not all that nefarious. The shot callers in conferences and schools can take it from there.
When you’re coming up with your fanciful scenarios for new configurations of teams in different leagues, keep in mind that ESPN and FOX will have a (big) say in how this process shakes out. Importantly, ESPN has all-in contracts with the SEC and ACC; FOX is aligned with the Big Ten via the conference’s primary rights deal and FOX’s majority ownership of the Big Ten Network. Adding the Trojans and Bruins to the B1G’s football programming inventory signifies FOX’s response to Oklahoma and Texas joining the ESPN-aligned SEC and shows FOX clearly intends to make the B1G the cornerstone of its college football package.
Borrowing from Jules Winnfield, you’ve got to appreciate what an explosive element this Notre Dame situation is.
The Fighting Irish reached an agreement with the ACC in 2012 that helped stabilize the wobbly conference. Tying down ND to play five football games against ACC teams every year was considered important to quelling unrest among some of the league’s more valuable programs. On top of that, the contract locked in the Irish to the ACC if they ever chose to join a conference.
Sources: Oregon and Washington have been told by @bigten that it is standing pat for now. Waiting on a decision by Notre Dame.— Dennis Dodd (@dennisdoddcbs) July 1, 2022
Turns out, though, that ND can walk away from its deal with the ACC for a modest price. If the Irish do decide it’s time to join a conference in football, they automatically become the top expansion candidate on every conference’s wish list. Hence the B1G temporarily declining the advances of Oregon and Washington until the conference has more clarity on ND’s intentions.
In the next few weeks, what happens if we wake up to the news that Notre Dame is joining the Big Ten as a full member?
It could trigger the collapse of the ACC. I say “could” because – returning to an earlier point – ESPN owns the ACC. The Worldwide Leader in Sports is definitely going to try to throw up roadblocks to keep any schools it wants in its fold from defecting to a FOX-owned conference. Note that the ACC has a grant of rights ($) in place through 2036.
The SEC has no reason to rush into anything at this point.
The suggestion that the SEC would have an interest in adding teams from the ACC doesn’t really add up to me. From a defensive perspective, the prospect of the B1G scooping up any ACC schools seems complicated by the aforementioned ESPN factor. The ACC schools that match the B1G’s preferred academic profile don’t necessarily bring much to the table in terms of TV revenue, either:
- Georgia Tech;
- North Carolina;
- Virginia; and
Then there are the downsides for the current SEC members. Why elevate programs like Clemson and Florida State if the B1G isn’t courting them?
As the ACC’s contract with ESPN nears its end point, the SEC picking up a few of its teams might make more sense. But probably not at this particular moment.