Something big is happening in college football right now and we’re not talking about the start of the new season. Conferences are seeking to change their memberships and expand in what promises to be the biggest shakeup in College Football in history.
Last week, after the news that Texas and Oklahoma were set to quit the Big 12 to join the powerhouse SEC, we heard news that the Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC had tentatively agreed to join forces to explore some possibilities about how they could proceed forward
Then just yesterday, news broke that the Big 12 is seeking to return to a 12-team conference by inviting four schools, BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston to join its conference.
So, is this an indication of just a few teams swapping conferences, or is a greater shake up of the college game very much on the horizon?
The Threat Of The SEC
There is no doubt that at the moment, the SEC is the dominant conference in College Football. Alabama, Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Tennessee are just a few of the stellar names in the conference.
Soon, they will be joined the Longhorns and Sooners which will make this conference even stronger.
So why would teams want to join a conference that is going to be much tougher to win? The answer doesn’t lie in being more or less competitive.
It is simply down to money.
A stronger conference with top ranked teams is more attractive to TV companies, sponsors and viewers and of course, this translates into better TV deals for those conferences.
This is part of the appeal of the SEC for teams. By 2025, the SEC is expected to receive over $307 million in TV income. Compare that with the 30 Million income for the Mid American Conference.
The Big Ten currently takes in. the largest amount of any conference, with $437m in 2021 due to their deals with ESPN/ABC and FOX, however it is not so much about how much each conference will generate now, but in the future which is perhaps the key issue.
Future TV Rights
Most current TV Rights deals run until 2025 and my impression of these current changes in College Football are that the bigger leagues are attempting to increase their appeal by inviting more top schools to their franchises.
This has led to perhaps more mid-level conferences, such as the Pac-12 and ACC, seeking to secure a more viable future by teaming up with the Big Ten. My guess is that we are going to see a lot more of this kind of inter-conference agreements and partnerships over the next few years.
I think we will also inevitably see more teams move conferences and the general feeling is that it will be the traditional powerhouse teams, especially those that tend to play in weaker conferences or the independents, that will be the ones targeted by the likes of the SEC, Big Ten/Acc/Pac-12 and Big 12.
Then when it comes to negotiate the new TV deals in a couple of years time, these conferences are going to be in a much stronger position to negotiate far more lucrative deals.
Which will trickle down into the big schools receiving even more money.
With the whole issue of college players being able to earn money through image rights and/or sponsorship deals still very much a topic for discussion, not to mention discussions about clarifying and expanding the playoffs, the whole issue of how college football is organized is very much open to debate.
Is A Tiered College Football System Inevitable?
Well, there already kind of is a tiered college football system. It’s just not expressly stated, but everyone knows that the top teams and likely BCS Championship Winners will come from the SEC, Big Ten, ACC, Big-12 or Pac-12.
What is likely to happen in time, is that these conferences may just hoover up some of the top teams from other conferences and the independents.
This will simply increase the divide between those conferences and the others in College Football and I think a big part of any future TV deal will be a shake up and expansion of the playoffs, perhaps at the expense of a couple of regular season games, to allow for a clearer, fairer qualification process based on on-the-field performances, rather than a committee vote.
However, what must be considered is the heritage of college football. It is not fair on smaller schools or those with a lesser football history, to be effectively side lined while the focus is only on the top schools and conferences. Worryingly, this is already starting to happen.
One potential solution could be aligning smaller conferences with bigger ones and having some form of promotion/demotion system offering smaller colleges a chance to play. That would not appeal to the bigger schools however.
It’s going to be an interesting few years in College Football and things are starting to change. It remains to be seen whether this is a natural evolution of the game, or a revolution that could change the fabric of college football for good.