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Conference Realignment

UCLA and USC are are off to the Big Ten (er Sixteen) in 2024-25 and the Pac 12 is left to pick up the pieces. West Coast athletics is the biggest loser in all of this. So where does this all end is the question I think we have to to start to ask. College athletics continue the march towards two super conference in an obvious arms race dominating the college athletic landscape and which programs will be left sitting on a mountain of money. This is mostly driven by football and as a basketball fan I can’t see how this is good for college basketball in particular.

This isn’t like playing distant teams once every other year in football and predominately in your division. The large basketball conferences still play home and homes or every team at least once every year. The Big Ten will be the first real example of a national conference (by choice) in basketball, and teams choosing to fly from Los Angeles to Maryland or New Jersey on a Wednesday. Even the short trips to Nebraska or Minnesota are going to be a stress on the USC/UCLA athletes. Some form of this happens in the NBA but those players don’t have to go to class, take exams, and turn in papers every week.

So how big can these conferences get?

I wouldn’t have thought it was realistic that teams from Los Angeles would willingly join a Midwest conference that stretched into the New York and DC markets. What is clear is money talks so I certainly wouldn’t put the idea of more expansion past them at this point. Eighteen teams or even 20 even seams realistic now. I think the case could be made it would actually function better if it operated as essentially two conferences under one umbrella, especially if some other west coast teams were brought along to help offset the island UCLA and USC sit on now. It’s become an exercise in preservation at this point and trying to get to the biggest conference ships possible.

I believe Oregon with their Nike money will eventually end up in the Big Ten with UCLA and USC. As long as Phil Knight is alive and pushing for it that is their reported goal. USC and UCLA would likely be fore a western flank. Washington stands a fair chance to join them at some point. Now that early figures of a Pac 12 TV seem underwhelming that push will become greater one would expect. It may take a few more years.


Let’s start with UCLA and USC and what is obviously just a move to protect their financial interest. It’s a marriage of convince between the two biggest media market teams in the west partnering with a conference in an arms race with the SEC in a super conference showdown. Decades of rivalries are now gone in an instance, and as a fan of their schools I would be sickened, but as a pragmatist I completely understand getting on the money train before it leaves the station. East coast exposure is always preferable as that’s where most of the people are.

If they didn’t leave Oregon, Arizona or one of the Big 12 schools would have gladly tried to jump in their space. It’s better to be first off the ship than last and they have secured their future now regardless of how alien it may seem to be in the Big Ten.

Here is what the setup in the Big Ten will likely be now.

Big Ten
Ohio State
Michigan State
Penn State
*Watch for Oregon and Washington to try to get to the Big Ten as well.

Big 12

It doesn’t sound like we are finished as Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah have met with the Big 12. Originally I would have thought the 10 teams in the Pac 12 left still had more leverage that what was left of the Big 12, and it may end up nothing comes of this. Some of the MWC teams if you remember listened to the AAC teams before passing. Still it’s an ominous sign for the rest of the Pac 12 and I can see the rationale.

The Big 12 acted quickly adding teams and secured a 6 year 2.3 billion dollar media rights deal with ESPN and Fox. The Pac 12 now seems to be bringing up the rear in overall conference value and status. Their options for as lucrative of a tv deal seem to have been taken off the table as well which will create instability. With the Pac 12 recently countering by visiting SMU and San Diego State who the Big 12 passed on seems to be a sign of weakness..

If Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah were to get cold feet on the Pac 12 and move they would certainly help solidify the Big 12 at a level fairly equivalent to the ACC on the 2nd tier of P5 conferences. It would leaving the Pac 12 scrambling to survive. It would be quite an incredible move to pull off being the P5 conference most picked on but then delivering a major blow to the Pac 12. Again I’m not convinced it will happen but if it did this could be what we are looking at.

Big 12
Kansas State
Arizona State
Texas Tech
Iowa State
West Virginia
Oklahoma State
* Gonzaga is being considered for basketball only

What is apparent is that one of these conferences is going to “win” and add teams from the other. It appears at the moment that the Big 12 has the momentum and what is left of the Pac 12 could end up as an even bigger loser in this expansion realignment. This makes some sense as they have more teams and stability in numbers. Their is also more TV potential being more east and in Texas and Florida markets for TV and recruiting.

If you are the teams in Arizona and you have no natural tie to Los Angeles now in conference you just as well look east towards Texas. Colorado was always a more of a natural fit in the Big 12 and most likely to jump anyway. If you get any of them to jump first like Colorado or Utah it makes it easier for the rest. Utah has it’s old conference rival in BYU there as well.

Gonzaga and the Big 12

Gonzaga is also being considered by the Big 12 as a basketball only even without the additions of the Pac 12 schools. This would be the last part of establishing the foundation of their program for the future. Where as a program like Butler was able to secure their longterm future with the addition in the Big East, I still questioned Gonzaga after Mark Few. He’s been content to take less money and stay there but to truely be a basketball powerhouse after Few, they need the resources that the Big 12 or Pac 12 winner in conference expansion can provide. It’s unlikely you keep the next coach 20 years making 20% of what they were paying at some blue bloods. From a basketball perspective Gonzaga being let in is the biggest mover. If they end up with Kansas, Arizona, Houston and others they are secure longterm. Even without Arizona or the Pac 12 wing the Big 12 could still be the best conference many years. If the offer comes Gonzaga has to take it. They will have recent WCC rival BYU as well to help bridge the transition.

If those other four Pac 12 teams were to leave for the Big 12 that would be the entire south division.

Pac-12 Remnants
Washington State
Oregon State

Obviously they would all want out, but Oregon and Washington would be the most likely to be picked up by the Big 10.

That’s pretty rough for these teams and not many options remain to rebuild. Obviously from a basketball perspective partnering with Gonzaga would be the obvious play, but they seem more likely to go to the Big 12 at this point. Football drives this mostly as well. That really only leaves the MWC and SMU to try to rebuild with. Any of them would certainly say yes, I think the most obvious ones with the inside track would be San Diego State and SMU. As much as people will say academics matters I don’t think Stanford or Cal are going to be able to stop a Boise State marriage if the conference gets raided by the Big 12 too. It’s athletic survival here and their athletics will take precedent ultimately in an athletic conference.

The Pac 12 could stop at 8 teams but it seems like they will try to at least get to 10 in case any other expansion happens with the Big Ten. That gives them some cushion. They may even try to get back to 12 but that’s really only diluting the product at this point. San Diego State, SMU, Boise State, UNLV seem to be the pecking order. Colorado State, Air Force, and Utah State would likely be considered next and possibly even Memphis as geographical outlier. Air Force is probably the most respected as an institution of those remaining after SMU. Presidents at schools like Cal and Stanford may push that direction.

Washington State
Oregon State
San Diego State
Boise State
*Utah State, Air Force, or Colorado State seem next most likely

In this scenario it comes down to how far the Pac 12 will go rebuilding off the MWC. At any rate they are the most in trouble it seems. I’ll say less is more and stick with 10. Boise State seems to be the most questionable. It’s how hard some of these presidents will swallow for academics prestige vs athletics. Air Force or Colorado State may jump them if it becomes more about that.

This is what remains in the MWC.

Air Force
Colorado State
New Mexico
Fresno State
San Jos? State
Utah State
Hawaii(Football Only)

The MWC could add New Mexico State or UTEP if any additional teams left and still be qualified as a conference, Those are basically the only western team even available that currently play in the FBS.

The American

The AAC already has a better TV deal than the MWC. At this point it seems like both the American Conference and Colorado State and Air Force were short sighted. The American for going all the way to 14 teams with less than desirable additions and for Colorado State and Air Force for not taking the AAC lifeline when it was offered and they strongly considered. They probably could go back to them now and try now as it is the most stable conference left in their mid market area and could offer more money. The MWC without San Diego State or Boise State makes less sense. I think Air Force and Colorado State could end up in the AAC as close as they got to the finish line a year ago if the MWC loses anyone.

Navy (Football Only) /Wichita State (Basketball Only)
Colorado State
Air Force
North Texas
East Carolina
South Florida

So this is where the MWC projects in this exercise at this point in the trickle down. The cascading trickle down it inevitable as many of the FCS conferences will be touched.

New Mexico
Fresno State
Utah State
San Jos? State
Hawaii (Football Only)

Wyoming and New Mexico would probably like to go to the AAC at this point if this is how it played out with Air Force and Colorado leaving, but I’m not sure there is a spot for them. The most likely outcome looking this far out seems to be a partnership with CUSA. The Sun Belt seems to be the most cohesive unit of the non power conferences. Like minded mostly small market southern teams. They have a good ESPN contract relative what they are. I don’t think any of them would leave for what is left of that MWC. Surprisingly they might be the most stable G5 conference at this point.

Maybe a potential MWC/CUSA merger is a marriage of convenience and they see strength in numbers at this point. It does actually break down pretty nicely into two divisions.

New Mexico
Fresno State
San Jos? State
Hawaii(Football Only)
New Mexico State
Sam Houston State
Louisiana Tech
Jacksonville State

The hypothetical trickle down this will likely affect much of college athletics and our current basketball formations if there are any bigger moves higher up. This isn’t good for the sport in my opinion as conferences get larger, and there are some massive losers in what is left of the Pac 12 potentially. I don’t see it slowing down, there will likely be continued shuffling of chairs and movement towards 16 or 18 team super conferences with a clear 1 and 2 super conferences in the SEC and Big Ten. This is a never ending cycle it seems at this point so shuffling chairs as teams jocky for a seat at the best table. Perhaps even once it gets more stable some schools and their fans like UCLA become unhappy. The money is ultimately what will cement the moves.

This is big time pro sports now and I don’t think we are done even after this current round. It’s almost similar to what is going on in golf with LIV and the PGA and the schools are the independent contractors looking out for themselves. UCLA and USC have been in a conference with Oregon, Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, Stanford, and Cal since 1927. Ask the typical Maryland fan if they like the Big Ten more than the ACC and I think most would say no. Maryland isn’t going to be flying as frequently as UCLA or USC will for basketball either and at least have some geographical rivals that make sense like Penn State. There will be more history supplanted in favor of the money. The fans of historical programs an with tradition and rivalries out west lose out the most.

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