Big 10 and SEC conference realignment musings, Independence Day edition

One of the discussion points in this latest round of conference realignment is how many schools will eventually wind up in the Big 10 and/or SEC. With the addition of UCLA and Southern California to the Big 10, the current combined total of institutions in the two leagues is 32, counting UCLA/USC and Texas/Oklahoma.

No one really expects 32 to be the final number, but what will be? 40? 50? More?

One key to determining the number is that, at least for the time being, other varsity sports are being included as part of the conference changes, even though football is obviously the driving force behind all the movement.

If this were a football-only situation, then we would probably only be talking about one conference entity. It could be called the College Football Playoff Conference, or CFPC. Some of the current (and prospective) B1G/SEC members would be left out of the mix, either by choice or because of not bringing enough to the table in terms of brand identity.

The way I envision it, the CFPC would be made up of roughly 30 schools, all of them willing to designate players as employees and decouple their respective football programs from the rest of the NCAA (or whatever governing body inevitably succeeds the NCAA).

However, the college sports industrial complex seemingly isn’t at that stage yet. It might be by 2032, when the TV contract for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament expires, but right now in these very uncertain times schools and conferences are continuing to keep football as part of their existing sports portfolios.

That is why I suspect when the dust settles in this round of conference expansion, the Big 10 and SEC could have between 24 and 32 schools each. My guess is the number for both will be closer to 24 than 32, but it is not completely out of the question there will be over 60 schools in the two conferences.

I believe there is a strong possibility of a sizable increase in the total number of schools in the two conferences in the near future.

I anticipate travel logistics will be a major issue. As a practical matter, the Big 10 cannot have only two schools on the Pacific coast if they are all-sports participants. Two (and possibly four or five) more universities on the west coast need to be added.

Another consideration is Fox (and ESPN as well) undoubtedly would prefer a more national product – for promotion, advertising, and additional (and flexible) time slots, among other things. That is one reason some of the current ACC members would be attractive to the Big 10.

Of course, it is unlikely any of those schools would pass the “maintains/increases media rights payout average per institution” test right now, in the way the UCLA/USC addition did. Notre Dame is arguably the only school in the country outside the Big 10/SEC right now which would.

That notwithstanding, it might be worth it for Fox to decimate the ACC (with its ties to ESPN), much as the Big 10 adding UCLA/USC permanently wrecked the Pac-12 and its future contractual opportunities.

The ACC’s Grant of Rights currently stands in the way of the Big 10 and/or SEC poaching teams from that conference, but it isn’t impervious to attack.

I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me the simplest and quickest way to get around the GOR for the ACC would be for more than half the conference schools to bail on the league. At least eight schools would have to do so (this would not include Notre Dame).

The problem is the Big 10 probably would not have interest in more than six of the current ACC schools — North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Florida State, and Duke (a serious candidate if men’s basketball is part of the equation).

It is hard to imagine the conference taking all of them, and it would still be two short of a GOR-busting majority. Would the Big 10/Fox be willing to add those schools, plus perhaps Pittsburgh and Clemson? I don’t see it.

If the Big 10 grabbed 8 ACC schools, though, and picked up five additional west coast institutions (like Oregon, Washington, Stanford, Colorado, and Utah), along with the dream addition of Notre Dame, it would result in a 30-team league covering the entire country, undoubtedly broken down into four geographically reasonable divisions for travel.

That scenario is almost certainly not going to happen. I do think something like it could happen, though, which is why I believe a 24- to 28-school conference is not an outrageous possibility.

The more realistic way to get an eight-member majority in the ACC, and thus force the ending of the Grant of Rights, would be for the SEC to take three or four of the schools. Would the SEC’s partner, ESPN, really want to short-circuit its own deal with the ACC? Maybe not. It is conceivable, though, that the network decides the conference (and is contract) is permanently damaged, and its priority should be to focus on savable assets within the league – namely, the schools in the ACC with brands which would translate to the new world order of the Big 10/SEC.

That list of schools could mirror the group of eight schools mentioned earlier. For the SEC, though, other institutions (notably North Carolina State and Virginia Tech) might be in the running.

One final thought: some of these schools could have issues with state legislatures trying to limit conference movement at the expense of other public universities within their state. There is a history of political interference in league realignment in Texas and Virginia, and in this cycle it has already appeared in Washington and Oregon. Such machinations likely would be a factor in North Carolina as well.

Most or all of what I have written may be complete nonsense. I freely admit I have no idea what will happen.

I don’t think anyone else really knows what will happen, either.

28-member Big 10 and SEC, 2025 (theoretical)

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