From an SEC-centric standpoint, there are no tangible fears with the Big 12 possibly expanding to 12 member schools in the near future.
Yes, the 10-team conference (Big 12) has been granted approval to stage a season-ending championship game, without adding two more schools to the mix. But why would the Big 12 even pursue this strategy, given how the league boasts an ideal scheduling model for football — a round-robin format which covers nine conference games?
What’s more, the Big 12 schedule has been conveniently back-loaded in recent years, with The Big Four of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU all playing one another in mid-to-late November. In essence, this scheduling tweak — prompting the above programs to be great down the stretch — serves the purpose of a championship game. (Especially with the University of Texas still in transition mode.)
Of course, we all know why the Big 12 would consider expanding to 12, 14 or even 16 schools: Money.
It’s also why some defections consequentially might occur with the other Power 5 teams in the next few years. But let’s be honest: The SEC still holds all the cards with realignment — no matter the combination of frenetic moves from other conferences.
**If Arkansas were to join the Big 12, the SEC could counter with a swap-in, swap-out invitation to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State or Texas.
You know, an eye for an eye?
And if that didn’t work, do you not think the powers-that-be at Florida State, North Carolina, Georgia Tech or Clemson (ACC schools) would take the SEC’s call — when seeking a replacement for Arkansas?
Speaking of which, why would Arkansas want to lead an SEC-free existence? The Big Ten and SEC produce the most annual revenue — by a long shot — and the Razorbacks would theoretically jump from a stable moneymaker (SEC) to perhaps the most dysfunctional conference in college sports.
(See Texas holding the Big 12 hostage in 2010.)
On the plus side, this hot topic opens up some fun scenarios to explore with SEC Nation:
Hypothetically speaking, if the SEC ever swapped out Arkansas for Oklahoma (five Heisman Trophy winners, seven national titles, 45 conference championships), it’s hard to fathom the SEC West moving forward with a divisional slate of Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.
Traditions be damned!
This arrangement would be an absurd Murderer’s Row — and one that’s likely double or even triple the strength of the SEC East, from year to year.
Instead, with Oklahoma in this hypothetical mix, the SEC would have to get really creative with realignment.
Here are three themed examples:
EAST | WEST
Auburn | Alabama
Florida | LSU
Kentucky | Missouri
Tennessee | Mississippi State
South Carolina | Oklahoma
UGA | Ole Miss
Vanderbilt | Texas A&M
SKINNY: This mild form of realignment — putting Oklahoma and Missouri in the West and moving Auburn to the East — would make the most sense. Assuming a scheduling model of eight conference games, this would allow Auburn to play six East opponents, add Alabama as the permanent crossover and then rotate the other West foes over a six-year cycle.
As an unfortunate consequence, this system would force Tennessee to abandon its long-standing tradition of playing Alabama every year (as the permanent crossover). But maybe an annual clash with Oklahoma would go a long way toward soothing the masses of Vols Nation.
(A pocket of UT fans might already be wary of seeing Alabama on the yearly docket anyway.)
Permanent crossovers: Auburn-Alabama, Tennessee-Oklahoma, Florida-LSU, Kentucky-Missouri, South Carolina-Ole Miss, UGA-Texas A&M and Vanderbilt-Mississippi State.
RADICAL SHIFT #1
EAST | WEST
Alabama | LSU
Auburn | Missouri
Florida | Mississippi State
Kentucky | Oklahoma
Tennessee | Ole Miss
South Carolina | Texas A&M
UGA | Vanderbilt
SKINNY: The shock value of seeing Auburn and Alabama in the East notwithstanding … this might be the most balanced alignment scenario — presuming Oklahoma as a full-time SEC member.
Think about it: Over a 10-year period with this arrangement, one could envision the East and West splitting the number of overall conference championships down the middle — especially when factoring in the expected retirement of Alabama head coach Nick Saban (within the next 5-7 years).
Permanent crossovers: Alabama-LSU, Florida-Ole Miss, Tennessee-Vanderbilt, Auburn-Mississippi State, Kentucky-Missouri, South Carolina-Texas A&M and UGA-Oklahoma.
RADICAL SHIFT #2
NORTH | SOUTH
Alabama | Auburn
Kentucky | Florida
Missouri | LSU
Ole Miss | Mississippi State
Oklahoma | South Carolina
Tennessee | Texas A&M
Vanderbilt | UGA
SKINNY: An immediate thought jumps out when initially viewing the North/South arrangement: What if Alabama and Auburn claim division titles and had to face one another in back-to-back weeks — the Iron Bowl and SEC title game? What if the same scenario held true for Ole Miss and Mississippi State (Egg Bowl/title game)?
Well, that’s a legitimate concern, but we also have a good rejoinder: Since the Power 5 leagues adopted the premise of conference championships in the 1990s — starting with the SEC’s landmark title clash from 1992 (Alabama over Florida) — the notion of consecutive games involving the same teams has been an extremely rare occurrence.
**When Ohio State and Michigan were paired in separate divisions (before the current East/West alignment), the Buckeyes and Wolverines never met in the Big Ten title game.
**The ACC or Big 12 has never had a conference championship pitting programs that played the previous week.
The only Power 5 example of back-to-back clashes involves Stanford and UCLA from 2012. The Cardinal bashed the Bruins in SoCal on the final Saturday of November (regular-season finale) … and then slipped past UCLA six days later for the Pac-12 championship.
Obviously, Alabama and Auburn are certifiable superpowers in college football, built to compete for national championships just about every year. But as a counter to that: Florida State and Miami, the ACC’s most nationally renowned programs a decade ago, have been paired in different divisions since 2004 … and yet, the Seminoles and Hurricanes have never squared off in the ACC title game.
Back to the SEC’s North/South model: After an initial adjustment period (nobody likes change), the respective fan bases might eventually warm to a divisional system which promotes competitive balance and travel feasibility.
Permanent crossovers: Alabama-Auburn, Ole Miss-Mississippi State, Oklahoma-LSU, Tennessee-Florida, Missouri-Texas A&M, Vanderbilt-South Carolina and Kentucky-UGA.
THE NUCLEAR ’16’ OPTION
In the mid-1980s, Sports Illustrated boldly hailed that, 30 years from then (our present day), the NCAA would feature four major “super” conferences, at 16 schools per league. And while the prediction hasn’t been fully realized … would anyone argue that SI’s forward-thinking writers, editors and cartoonists (yes, SI once had cartoons) were off the mark?
Who knows, perhaps the Pac-12 or Big 12 will eventually pursue a monumental expansion to 16 teams for football and basketball.
Or maybe the ACC will convince Notre Dame to make the permanent plunge into conference play (shared revenues across the board) — instead of the Irish simply playing five ACC teams per year in football (three-year rotation), under the guise of high-profile non-conference outings. (If this occurred, the ACC would need only more add-on school to reach 16.)
Yes, in this age of chaos being The New Normal in college football, anything can happen. But from my perspective, none of these leagues would get super-serious about a 16-team super conference — unless it’s following the lead of the SEC or Big Ten.
For the 2015 fiscal year, the SEC reportedly collected $527.4 million in revenue; and if the 14 Big Ten programs earned $36.7 million apiece in 2015, as reported, the league’s annual take comes to $513.8 million.
The larger point: The SEC and Big Ten have the greatest national reach of the Power 5 conferences. The two leagues are the redoubtable trend-setters for game-changing initiatives — such as TV networks, TV ratings, member expansion, digital rights, policy-making, etc.
In fact, the conferences’ power status runs similar to how the NFL operated from 1996-2015, when The Shield used the perceived threat of a Los Angeles/relocation to help an established franchise finalize terms of a new stadium project — or major expansion, citing the case of the Buffalo Bills — in its current market.
As in, Need some leverage to secure another $550 million in taxpayer financing? Just say you’re going to L.A. … and then watch the local politicians crumble under that speculation.
For 20 years, the NFL never fully exercised that power of moving back to L.A. — after the Rams and Raiders left SoCal after the 1995 season. The mere threat was good enough to satisfy the league’s market agendas … at least until the St. Louis Rams opted for a Los Angeles move one week ago.
From a college standpoint, the Big Ten and SEC enjoy the same leverage of maybe expanding to 16 schools down the road.
It’s a brilliant bargaining chip to store away for another day. After all, for The Big Two, there’s little motivation for rushing into such a mammoth venture (16-team leagues).
Especially during peacetime among the other power conferences.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.