Texas A&M yesterday did what we expected them to: they officially notified the Big XII of their intention to investigate other conference membership. That’s a little bit like Tiger Woods announcing he’s “open to seeing other women.” A&M did the wise thing after being “turned down” by the SEC a few weeks ago. They stepped back, allowed the smoke to clear, and then did as the SEC requested and followed procedure. This way, nobody ends up in court. A lot of schools are going to end up in different conferences though.
Texas A&M’s move to the SEC (and it will be the SEC) will trigger a domino of conference realignment, moving toward a group of four, possibly five “megaconferences” centered around media revenue and markets. What follows is my scenario for how all this could play out. Keep in mind, this situation is very fluid. My list is by no means a firm prediction. Like interlocking tumblers, each move will trigger the succeeding moves. Here’s what I see the college football (and basketball) landscape looking like by 2014. Each list will show the major media sponsor(s), conference name, schools, and the media market they bring in.
ESPN/FOX Pacific Coast Conference:
Cal (SF Bay Area)
Stanford (SF Bay Area)
Arizona State (Phoenix/Tuscon)
Utah (Salt Lake City)
Texas (Dallas, Houston, Austin)
Oklahoma (OKC, Dallas)
Oklahoma St. (OKC, Dallas)
Kansas (Included for basketball revenue)
TCU (Dallas/FW) and BYU (Salt Lake) could also be invited if they’re willing to ante up. Out of the picture may be Oregon St. and Washington St. Neither has the cache or the viewing draw in either football or basketball.
FOX Big Midwest Conference:
Ohio St. (Columbus, Cincy, Cleveland)
Indiana (Indianapolis, primarily for basketball revenue)
Penn State (Philly, Pittsburgh, Eastern audience)
Iowa (Plains audience)
Michigan St. (Detroit)
Nebraska (Lincoln, Omaha, Plains)
Notre Dame (US)
Missouri (St. Louis/KC)
All the Big 10 teams represent major markets, so all will be invited. Notre Dame will be forced into a major conference and this one will be the most logical and provide the best revenue opportunities for the Irish.
ESPN Southeastern Conference:
Florida (Orlando, Tampa)
Kentucky (Lexington, Cincinnati, national basketball)
South Carolina (Atlanta, Southeast coast)
Tennessee (Nashville, Knoxville)
Alabama (Birmingham, statewide)
Arkansas (Little Rock, statewide)
LSU (New Orleans)
Ole Miss (Statewide)
Mississippi St. (possibly out, but I don’t see the SEC letting traditional teams go.)
Texas A&M (Dallas, Houston)
Georgia Tech (Atlanta)
Clemson (Southeast coast)
Virginia Tech (Richmond, DC area)
Auburn (Major question mark. They definitely have the clout to belong, but the Newton investigation could threaten the school, not just the athletic program).
CBS/Comcast Big East Conference:
Syracuse (NYC, Buffalo)
West Virginia (statewide, Western PA)
Boston College (Boston)
North Carolina St. (Raleigh/Durham)
South Florida (Tampa)
UConn (New England)
Duke (Raleigh/Durham, US)
North Carolina (Charlotte)
Miami (South Florida. Miami’s troubles with the NCAA are irrelevant as the NCAA won’t be governing this group).
Wild Card Schools: These schools either are currently in a BCS league and may not have the cache (or cash) to make the move, or they’re in a non-BCS league and represent a major media market.
A lot will depend on how the current FBI investigations shake out as well as which dominoes fall first. If one of the wild card schools ponies up and gets in, it could have geographic or sponsorship implications that would force another school elsewhere.
This probably won’t look like the final product, but it’s one model of how college football and basketball will look in the very near future.