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Conference Realignment Chaos Cleared Up

College Football has changed forever, well, at least until the next round of significant shakeups. The past few years have been a whirlwind, and many traditionalists are shaking their fists at the clouds. The College Football Playoff, new uniforms designed to increase recruiting (and sales), the transfer portal (allowing student-athletes to switch universities on a whim), and according to some, the most egregious offense: Conference Realignment.


Conference realignment seems to rear its head every time the post-season is altered. The Bowl Alliance, later the BCS era, saw the demise of the Big 8 and the SWC as Oklahoma and Texas sought to create a better conference by combining the best teams, shedding the dead weight (especially the harshly punished SMU). As the BCS lost favor to the concept of an actual four-team College Football Playoff, the winds of change again saw major universities shedding their “traditions” in favor of better-standing conferences with more clout. Missouri and Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the BCS powerhouse SEC, and Nebraska also left the Big 12 to join the Big 10. The Big 10 would also expand from their midwestern roots to the east coast by adding the likes of Maryland and Rutgers. Last season, the dominoes again started to fall for realignment as the CFP prepares to expand from four teams; before the 2023-2024 season kicks off, a major slew of changes are in the works.


The Pac 12…Well, The Pac 4


On the precipice of being one of the dominant conferences in college football with the flash of Utah and Oregon and the reemergence of USC, now the Pac 12 is set to lose two-thirds of their teams with the remaining universities looking at exit strategies.


Who’s Out?:

  • The University of Southern California Trojans set to depart after ‘23

  • The University of California Los Angeles Bruins set to depart after ‘23

  • The University of Oregon Ducks set to depart after ‘23

  • The University of Washington Huskies set to depart after ‘23

  • The University of Colorado Buffaloes set to depart after ‘23

  • The University of Utah Utes set to depart after ‘23

  • The University of Arizona Wildcats set to depart after ‘23

  • Arizona State University Sun Devils set to depart after ‘23


Who’s In?:

  • No schools are planning to join the Pac 12


(From) They used to be Big 12 and Back Again


Once thought dead in the water after Oklahoma and Texas announced their respective exits, the Big 12 added the fiercely competitive schools of Cincinnati and UCF, among others. Now as the swan song season for the Longhorns and Sooners is set to kick off, the Big 12 has gone and raided the once imposing Pac 12, helping to decimate it.


Who’s Out?:

  • The University of Texas (Austin) Longhorns set to depart after ‘23

  • The University of Oklahoma Sooners set to depart after ‘23


Who’s In?:

  • The University of Cincinnati Bearcats from the AAC set to play ‘23

  • The University of Central Florida from the AAC set to play ‘23

  • The University of Houston Cougars from the AAC set to play ‘23

  • Brigham Young University Cougars from Independent set to play ‘23

  • The University of Colorado Buffaloes from the Pac 12 set to play ‘24

  • The University of Utah Utes from the Pac 12 set to play ‘24

  • The University of Arizona Wildcats from the Pac 12 set to play ‘24

  • Arizona State University Sun Devils from the Pac 12 set to play ‘24


The Atlantic (and someday Pacific?) Coast Conference


At the time of writing, the ACC has remained untouched. Rumors continue to swirl about Florida State’s future, which one would assume also means the Hurricanes out of Miami would follow suit. FSU seemed to be headed for the SEC (or, unrealistically, the Big 10) until the ACC reminded the world that FSU would owe 300 million dollars to depart, and although a ten-year payment plan was presented, most exit talks appear to have stalled. The most recent news accounts for Florida State complaining about media revenue and supposedly on the brink of their athletic department being funded by private equity (making some wonder if Saudi Arabia’s public fund would step in) have caused not only confusion but worry about the legitimacy of public institutions being treated like commodities. Speculation would also lead one to believe that based on FSU, we could see the likes of Clemson join the SEC for the rivalry with the Gamecocks. For right now, the ACC appears safe from any degradation, although one could argue they should be looking to expand to remain lucrative, I mean competitive.


The Southeastern Conference… No Jokes, just Solid, Consistent, Regional Expansion


The most dominant conference in college football refuses to quit. Bolstered by the recent success of the Georgia Bulldogs and the tradition of Alabama and LSU, the SEC is set to add two more traditional powerhouses as early as next season. However, not all that glitters is gold, as Missouri and Arkansas have recently questioned their futures. As the Big 12 is back on the right foot, it could be a natural fit for the two schools that find themselves feeling the odd ones out. That would be quite the stretch, but anything regarding conference realignment (or consolidation) is possible.


Who’s out?:

  • No schools are planning to exit the SEC


Who’s In?:

  • The University of Texas (Austin) Longhorns from the Big 12 set to play ‘24

  • The University of Oklahoma Sooners from the Big 12 set to play ‘24


The more than Big 10


The Big 10 added their eleventh institution, Penn State, in 1993. Although it took nearly 20 years to expand again, the conference has recently benefited from expert navigation from former commissioners Jim Delany and Kevin Warren. Ever growing and creating turmoil for other conferences, the Big 10 has recently signed arguably the most profitable media deal ever for college football, leading to a windfall of expansion. USC and UCLA had already announced their entry last season, and as the ink dried on Colorado’s departure (from the Pac 12), the winds of fortune again went in the direction of the Midwest. Oregon and Washington have joined to the unanimous overture of acceptance by the current Big 10 schools. The conference may not be done yet. At the time of writing, schools Stanford and Cal have shown interest in the Big 10 (and, to a lesser extent, the ACC), and as always, when the conference discusses expansion, someone inevitably mentions Notre Dame.


Who’s Out?:

  • No schools are planning to exit the Big 10


Who’s In?:

  • The University of Southern California Trojans from the Pac 12 set to play ‘24

  • The University of California Los Angeles Bruins from the Pac 12 set to play ‘24

  • The University of Oregon Ducks from the Pac 12 set to play ‘24

  • The University of Washington Huskies from the Pac 12 set to play ‘24


Final Thoughts


Many people complain that the most recent onslaught of conference realignment has ruined the majestic tradition that is college football. I’d argue that tradition was first (probably before that) destroyed in 1998 with the introduction of the BCS and again in 2014 with the initial CFP offering. NIL and the transfer portal “ruined” the tradition by allowing student-athletes to leave for greener pastures after making their commitments. These institutions have made millions off the backs of their athletes for decades, and now that the practically free money is in jeopardy, they are forced to look elsewhere for cash flow. I doubt the university presidents and athletic departments care too much about a geographic rivalry compared to airing games on national television, netting them a more significant profit. In the end, I look forward to this expansion.


I look forward to seeing Oregon play Ohio State on a more consistent basis and all the rest that comes with it. We should embrace change with the hope that the student-athletes are being taken care of and the understanding that the overall product will be in a much better state.


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