With conference realignment shaking the world of college athletics, the BTPowerhouse staff got together for a roundtable discussion about the league and what fans should expect in the coming months.
See the full discussion below.
1. Well, it’s happening again. After years of speculation, the conference wheels have started to turn. Texas and Oklahoma are heading to the SEC. What are your general thoughts on this massive move?
Thomas Beindit: Well, my first thought was wow. It finally happened. After years of speculation, somebody finally pulled the trigger. It’s something that’s felt inevitable since the Big Ten and SEC’s most recent expansion in the early to mid 2010s. It’s like the tornado that shows up after months of calm. You don’t know when it’s going to hit, but every once in awhile, it shows up.
Outside of general shock and awe, it’s hard to complain about what happened here. Texas and Oklahoma are top-tier brands on the college landscape and will be joining a great league in the SEC. It’s going to guarantee even more quality matchups every year. I’m a fan.
Kevin Knight: My first thought was relief the Big Ten never bit on rumors of this happening back in 2019 as I think little of Oklahoma and Texas is a toxic institution to whatever league they’re in. Also had a little bit of panic of could it hurt the Big Ten not to expand, and now I’m doubting expansion would be worthwhile for the Big Ten as, short of poaching Pac-12 schools, which is problematic for travel, there aren’t any worth having. I’m sure the Big Ten will be just fine in the long run, though.
2. While the move isn’t currently slated until 2025, it’s hard to think that timeline isn’t accelerated significantly in the years ahead. How do you think it impacts the rest of college athletics?
Beindit: Well, if the SEC is the winner of this move, then the Big 12 is the obvious loser. The league was already at a disadvantage numerically (10 teams compared to 12 and 14 elsewhere) and it’s now lost two more teams, which just so happen to be its biggest brands. What this all means is something’s coming with the Big 12. Maybe that’s the conference imploding, maybe it’s a few new teams joining, or some bizarre combination. However, there’s little to no chance the Big 12 decides to stay at eight teams. It’s simply not functional as is.
Many are predicting a domino effect, but I’m not convinced. There really aren’t many natural fits for leagues like the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac 12 to add from the Big 12 and what’s left. Honestly, the best move might be for the American and Big 12 to try and join forces. The brands wouldn’t be immensely strong, but there would be plenty of quality teams in there.
Knight: Given the questionable officiating in the 2009 Big 12 football title game, I find it hard to believe the SEC doesn’t put pressure on ESPN to help facilitate adding Texas and Oklahoma sooner and hope for just as awkward of officiating until it happens. It will definitely give the SEC a leg up in football, and football pays for everything else for the most part. Oklahoma has also been a decent power in men’s basketball over the last several years, and Texas just broke open the piggy bank to poach Chris Beard from Texas Tech while they join a league on the upward trajectory at a number of programs such as Alabama. This could make for a tough league in basketball in addition to being the clear cut money maker of the power leagues. Surely it will add some pressure to the other leagues to find ways not to be left too far behind in the finances, but I am not sure we will see the kind of foundation ravaging moves beyond tough times ahead for the Big 12.
3. Do you think the Big Ten needs to respond to this with its own move? And if so, what’s your recommended course of action? Does this create a permanent disbalance nationally?
Beindit: Yes, the Big Ten needs to explore every possibility out there, especially ways to elevate its league nationally in a changing landscape of college sports. This should not only include teams in the Big 12, but elsewhere as well. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be contacting teams in the ACC, Pac 12, and the SEC as well. However, any additions need to advance the league, meaning no more watering it down with questionable additions for cable revenue. Otherwise, you really do risk seeing the SEC secure permanent control of college sports.
Knight: I think the SEC from a financial standpoint will definitely benefit from the move to put the Big Ten at a disadvantage in that regard. However, not everybody can win everything every year and the Big Ten is still well positioned with FOX moving forward to place multiple teams into an expanded college football playoff and send plenty of teams to the NCAA in men’s basketball. With that in mind, I am not sure I see a clear route forward for the Big Ten to improve its stock short of raiding Pac-12 programs. As for basketball, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and Gavitt Games are two premier matchups each season. Does the new realignment mean the Big 12/SEC Challenge will be quickly offed? That could be helpful for the Big Ten in hoops.
4. What happens to the Big 12?
Beindit: For all intents and purposes, the Big 12 is dead. Yes, the league could add a few teams to avoid an implosion, but there just isn’t much left there from a national perspective. The Big 12’s media rights deals are going to tank in the years ahead and there really isn’t any way to stop it. There just isn’t a parachute for the league to grab. Expect fans and the media to start viewing four premier conferences. The Big 12 will be a mid-major league.
Knight: It is tough to say. On the one hand, you don’t want to be caught without a chair when the music stops, but the league is still very much contractually treated as a power-five league and that is unlikely to change if they can avoid anymore departures and even potentially poach a decent program like a Houston, BYU, and/or Cincinnati type level get. If they can’t staunch the bleeding, then it would likely dissolve being it is now eight regional brands with little national appeal for a broadcasting partnership moving forward when the contract of rights ends after 2024.
5. And what about the other leagues like the American? Do you think any of the Big 12 schools bail for the American?
Beindit: Yes, I think you’re going to see some shift. My prediction is both leagues will survive this round of realignment, at least in some capacity. However, four schools that could be poised to leave are Baylor, TCU, Texas Tech, and West Virginia. The former three might be motivated to join the American to play with Houston and West Virginia has always been a terrible fit for the Big 12. Look for the Mountaineers to explore ACC membership.
Knight: While Baylor and TCU could get jittery and try to find a home in the AAC, or maybe some other combination even larger or of other schools, I am not sure we should necessarily expect that. If the Big 12 keeps it together, it is arguably a group of more appealing brands than what makes up the AAC, but I stress arguably in terms of what remains. If any of them have hopes of growing their way into a potential power-five status, now is the time to dream big, however.
6. Any other thoughts?
Beindit: While conference realignment is always an exciting topic to cover, it’s hard to write about what’s happening right now without some feeling of sadness. Ripping up leagues and historical rivalries for a few extra bucks is a sobering thought. And unfortunately, that’s exactly what’s happening here with Oklahoma and Texas. Add in the inevitable snowball effect and it gets even tougher to stomach. I love college sports, but it’s really hard to believe the current climate is sustainable. You can’t continually tear about the pillars of the sport without some blowback. Let’s hope we see some settling soon.
Knight: It will be curious to see long term if this has a negative effect on Kansas in particular for men’s basketball. Obviously, Gonzaga does well in a non-power league, and the other programs are certainly no slouches given Baylor just won a title and Texas Tech was runner-up in 2019, though no guarantees the program has staying power without Beard. The Jayhawks struggle to turn much of a profit in men’s basketball alone, though, so can they continue to keep spending as needed in a future of far bleaker media rights deals? Can the other schools maintain men’s basketball at the level they are now? Will adding other programs help solve that issue? I have no idea, but I am fascinated to find out.