The college football conference realignment tracker is a project that aims to keep track of all the major changes in conference affiliation for each FBS college football team.
The college football season is the time of year when college football conferences realign. This can be a very exciting time for fans, as it means that their favorite team might move to a different conference. However, there are also many questions that come up during this process. What about the bowl games? Will the playoff system remain the same?
Texas and Oklahoma have formally informed the SEC that they would be pursuing “an invitation for membership” on July 1, 2025. This comes after the two colleges informed the Big 12 that they will not be renewing their grant of rights media deal, which expires on June 30, 2025, one day before the deadline.
Since the news first surfaced late last week, the revelation has sent shockwaves across collegiate football.
What’s next for the restructuring of conferences? ESPN writers respond to important topics about each conference, including what the next moves may be.
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | Notre Dame is a Catholic university in the United States. | AAC | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | SEC | Notre Dame | AAC
There’s real faith in incoming commissioner Jim Phillips, and for the time being, the power players are saying the right things (or saying nothing at all) about staying together. The ACC’s grant of rights agreement extends until 2036, thus it would be very tough for any school to bear the financial impact of leaving for the SEC or Big Ten unless the league is willing to be flexible. The issue then becomes how the ACC can compete with its regional competitor, the SEC, when the SEC may eventually double the ACC’s TV deal while benefiting from the enormous recruitment advantage of being seen as a mini-NFL. Worse, if realignment becomes a territorial war between the SEC and the Big Ten, the ACC will almost certainly be stuck in the midst.
The ACC was already considering ways to break out of a poor television contract that extends through 2036, with expansion being the best option. Several league officials predicted that Texas and Oklahoma would be strong bets in the future, but the SEC came out on top. The number of programs that might truly alter the league’s economic environment is now likely to be reduced to just one: Notre Dame. Additional options, such as Cincinnati, UCF, and West Virginia, or working out the framework of a partnership with the equally troubled Pac-12, would certainly be considered, but none of them would make a significant dent in the larger problem, which is a per-school revenue deficit compared to the SEC that could now reach upwards of $30 million.
Because of the inherent rivalry between the two conferences, Jay Bilas urges ACC commissioner Jim Phillips to contact the SEC regarding a merger.
For the time being, Phillips is the soothing influence. He’s been preaching patience to the league’s members, and it seems the message is getting through. Of course, no one wants to be the last team standing when the music stops, and football powerhouses like Clemson, Miami, and Florida State have cause to be worried about how the new SEC would affect revenue and recruitment. In the meanwhile, colleges like North Carolina, Virginia, and Pitt could all benefit from a Big Ten expansion. Would any of them begin to consider making a move? No, for the time being. However, as Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby acknowledged when Texas and Oklahoma announced their departures, the reality of collegiate football is quickly changing.
David Hale and Andrea Adelson
The Big 12 has once again found itself on the receiving end of restructuring talks. Texas and Oklahoma are on their way out after losing Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Missouri. The league’s appeal in future rights negotiations will be severely weakened by the departure of the league’s final two historical powers, after the league was previously rejected on extension discussions when the two were still in the league.
The Big 12’s best chance of retaining its Autonomy 5 status is to expand aggressively. However, the next step may be a tug-of-war between the Big 12 and the American Athletic Conference to see who can pull teams away from one other. There’s an argument to be made that Houston and SMU would love to play Baylor, Texas Tech, and TCU again, given the increasing worry about attendance among administration. As is customary, it will likely come down to money: would an AAC school want to pay a departure fee to join a weaker Big 12 that is facing a significantly lower next TV contract? Is it feasible for a Big 12 school to join the AAC, which currently has a presence in nine states? The issue will be if the Big 12 schools can stay together, which few of them are doing right now.
Dave Wilson is an author.
In 2010, the Big Ten started the most recent round of restructuring. Commissioner Jim Delany and the nation’s oldest conference, buoyed by the success of the Big Ten Network, led from the front and eventually continued to rake in money. This time, the Big Ten is in a different, more perplexing situation. Despite having just one regular CFP candidate in Ohio State, the Big Ten can compete with the SEC in terms of money, at least for the time being, and does not need to make drastic changes. However, there is considerable worry in the league, particularly about commissioner Kevin Warren’s ability to drive things ahead and make strategic decisions, as SEC commissioner Greg Sankey has done. Warren recently told ESPN, “My goal is to make sure that we’re prepared for what occurs three, five, seven, and ten years from now.” Is he capable of keeping his word?
Within the league, there is considerable anxiety about Warren, who had a rocky first year as commissioner during the COVID-19 epidemic, and he has to rebuild confidence in some quarters. Schools wonder whether, like Delany, he will take the initiative and lead from the front, putting the league on the best footing possible, even if that means staying at 14 members. However, the Big Ten’s television rights deal ends in 2023, and a bold realignment strategy might pay out handsomely. One option is to try again for Notre Dame, which Delany was unable to get into despite his best efforts. Warren, who has a law degree from Notre Dame, as well as other important Big Ten figures such as new football consultant Barry Alvarez, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, and Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour, have connections to the university. Another aggressive strategy would be to poach Pac-12 schools such as USC, UCLA, Oregon, and Washington. This would be a difficult plan to implement since the two conferences are very close and share the Rose Bowl, but the Big Ten would be able to demand much more money with a regular West Coast football presence.
The Big Ten should not respond to the SEC’s bold move by adding schools simply to add schools. According to sources, Big Ten presidents are still choosy when it comes to applicants, preferring those with comparable academic profiles and, preferably, membership in the Association of American Universities. Iowa State and Kansas are both AAU members with some positive attributes, but neither would make a significant impact in the SEC’s plans. Warren is at a crossroads in his brief but tumultuous presidency, and the whole conference is watching. Because almost half of the league’s presidents or chancellors are newer, the burden falls squarely on his shoulders.
A league source questioned Tuesday, “How can we reclaim the Big Ten lead?” The solution will most likely be determined during the following several months.
Adam Rittenberg’s remark
If the Pac-12 were to consider expansion, a variety of reasons make it difficult to determine who would be suitable candidates. Would they want to recruit current Big 12 teams seeking for a new home (Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, etc.) or current Big 12 teams looking for a new home (Boise State, San Diego State, BYU, etc.)? There aren’t any colleges that stand out in the same manner that Utah and Colorado did last time. For a variety of reasons (intellectual, cultural, or religious), some of the region’s more appealing institutions from a football perspective don’t seem to be a suitable match. But, in this day and age, does it really matter? On some level, it most likely will. It’s difficult to envision a scenario in which the Pac-12 would welcome Baylor, for example.
Instead of expanding, the Pac-12 would be better served by forming a partnership with the Big Ten. Through the Rose Bowl, the conferences have enjoyed a close connection for decades, and it seems to be a logical way for both leagues to go ahead as the environment evolves. What would that look like? I’m not sure. However, if there was a need for both teams to play a specific amount of nonconference games, that would make sense. One of the positive outcomes of the 2020 season was the implementation of plus-one games at the conclusion of the year by both the Pac-12 and the Big Ten. It would be interesting to see a system with two rounds of extra games. The first round would serve as the conference championship game, while the second round would include nonconference games between the Pac-12 champion and the Big Ten champion (runners-up play each other and so on down the list). Something like that may have unexpected playoff implications, but it seems like a way to maintain what so many of us like about the sport as we enter a new age.
George Kliavkoff, the Pac-12 commissioner, had his first day on the job – and in college sports administration – earlier this month. He has a diverse experience in sports and entertainment, giving the Pac-12 cause to be hopeful about its ability to adapt to changing circumstances.
Kyle Bonagura (Kyle Bonagura)
On Tuesday, the Longhorns and Sooners officially asked to be considered for SEC membership, a day after notifying the Big 12 that their grant of rights deal with that conference, which ends in 2025, would not be renewed. The SEC’s chancellors and presidents will meet on Thursday, but it’s uncertain if they’ll decide to invite Oklahoma and Texas. Clearly, all indications point to it occurring soon, if not on Thursday. This has been in the works for months, and Oklahoma and Texas would not have taken such drastic and unexpected measures unless they were certain of being asked to join the SEC.
Texas and Oklahoma, according to Sam Acho, will have no trouble competing in the SEC.
Although Texas A&M administrators voiced dissatisfaction at no longer being the sole SEC club in the Lone Star State, the league cannot afford to ignore the competitive and financial advantages of adding these two institutions to what would become college football’s first superconference with 16 members. Obviously, the most pressing issue going forward is when the Longhorns and Sooners will be able to compete in the SEC. In a letter to the SEC, Texas and Oklahoma both indicated that they plan to stay in the Big 12 until June 30, 2025, when the existing Big 12 media rights agreements expire. But it doesn’t rule out the possibility that they’ll discover a way out before then. According to reports, this might happen as early as 2022, or they may finish their final four years in the Big 12, as unpleasant and unfriendly as they may be. Oklahoma and Texas are likely to reach a financial agreement with the other eight Big 12 teams, who have so far refused to let their two flagship institutions walk away without a fight.
According to industry insiders, this may be only the first stage in the SEC’s big plan to establish a genuine superconference, which could include as many as 60 teams or as few as 32, according to one source. If there are more institutions, the sport’s top tier will feature four superconferences, but the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC would continue to exist as separate organizations. If the Big 12 folds, some of its clubs would likely be absorbed by the other conferences, while others may join the AAC, Mountain West, or other non-Power 5 leagues.
If a superconference with fewer teams is formed, it will feature the best of the best from the current Power 5 conferences, as well as Notre Dame. Not every team in those leagues would be asked to participate. The league’s organization would be similar to that of the NFL, with two conferences and divisions, and a 12-team playoff at the conclusion of the season.
According to several individuals familiar with Notre Dame’s philosophy, the institution has three main objectives. The first need is a broadcast partner, which the Irish currently have with NBC. The second is an Olympic sports league, which the ACC offers through 2036. Last but not least, and probably most importantly, is eligibility for the College Football Playoff. The Irish would still be in good shape to reach the playoffs every year under the planned 12-team expansion. But, if that plan fails to materialize, and the importance of a conference championship rises, that might be the tipping point for the Irish to abandon their bid for independence.
The Irish’s deal with the ACC for other sports stipulates that if they ever wish to join a football league, it must be the ACC. Of course, everything is negotiable, and it’s probable that enormous sums of money would be involved if Notre Dame were to seriously explore league membership. The ACC remains the default for the time being, since it has contractual connections, a history with the program, and the greatest need. However, virtually every administrator informed on the issue thinks that Notre Dame’s top goal right now is to remain put.
Mike Aresco, the AAC commissioner, understands what it’s like to pick up the pieces after a league realignment. In 2012, he was named Big East commissioner in the middle of a major reorganization that resulted in the conference no longer supporting football. Aresco was named to head the American Athletic Conference, which has been battling for recognition as a national player since its inception. The American is resolved not to allow another expansion wave ruin this league now that another conference is being restructured.
But is it even possible? According to several sources, the American believes it is in a much stronger position than the Big East was ten years ago to be more active in the present climate. The possibility of the Big 12 raiding the American is based on two major questions: Are the Big 12’s remaining eight clubs going to stay? If so, how much more valuable is a depleted Big 12 conference than a school’s present home in the American?
According to several reports, Texas and Oklahoma are worth up to 75% of the Big 12 broadcast deal value. According to a conference source, now that those schools are out of the picture, the first thing any American club will ask Big 12 commissioner Bowlsby is, “How does this help us financially?”
It would have been a no-brainer ten years ago for colleges like Cincinnati, USF, and UCF to join the Big 12. They were all vying for a place in the conference. But what about now? It’s unclear whether or not relocating there is still a no-brainer. The discussion would clearly alter if the ACC, Big Ten, or Pac-12 came knocking, and the American would be hard pushed to keep those leagues from absorbing member institutions. However, the Big 12 seems to be the greatest immediate danger, and there are much more uncertainties than answers at this time. In fact, the American may have an easier job selling itself to Big 12 colleges now than at any other moment in its existence.
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