College Football Off-Season Means More Conference Expansion Talk

Sup? - The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE

Maryland and Rutgers are already in, but could there be more?

THERE'S STILL A LITTLE OVER EIGHT MONTHS BEFORE COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2013 KICKS OFF. That means it's conference expansion discussion time! Jim Delany couldn't wait for the off-season when the Big Ten announced Maryland and Rutgers will join the Big Ten conference. Is the Big Ten done expanding? Probably not according to Ohio State president and bow tie enthusiast, E. Gordon Gee.

Gee says that the Big Ten's discussion about more expansion is "ongoing." Gee added that he "believes there is movement towards three or four super conferences that are made up of 16-20 teams." Which regions would the Big Ten likely expand into? Gee said, "there are opportunities to move further south in the (E)ast and possibly a couple of Midwest universities."

Before Gee's statement hit the Internet, rumors were swirling that the Big 12 was looking to raid the ACC. The source of that rumor is radio host Greg Swaim whose credibility has been disputed around Twitter, Reddit/CFB, and college football blogs. There's also a post from Chip Brown, of Rivals and previous expansion rumor fame, who discussed the possible plans of the Big 12.

Friday evening, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the Big 12 "is actively exploring a possible alliance with the Atlantic Coast Conference and two other unspecified leagues for the purposes of scheduling, marketing and possibly even television partnerships." It's a move similar to the now defunct deal the Big 10 and Pac-12 had in the works. If the ACC and Big 12 were to partner that could end expansion or raid discussion but still potentially pair the two conferences as a "super conference."

ABOUT THESE "SUPER CONFERENCES." Since the powers-that-be decided to move from the current BCS formula to a four team playoff it's been my opinion that "super conferences" will eventually form. The new playoff will include four teams selected by a committee rather than rely on polls or computer formulas. Still, those will still exist and no doubt have a bearing on the committee's selections. Four super conferences eliminate the selection committee's role determining which four teams are in as the four conference champions earn a playoff spot. There's still a matter of seeding and undoubtedly a committee or poll will determine that.

Super conferences will be large enough to contain divisions. Those divisions will have winners and each divisional winner would meet in the conference championship. That essentially becomes the quarterfinal playoff game and without changing the current four team playoff structure, the playoffs have expanded to eight teams.

With all of the seasons emphasis on conference play, current conference schedules potentially expand to an even number (for competitive equality; home vs. away). The Big Ten considered moving to nine conference games in 2017, prior to the Pac-12 deal dissolving. They again could decide to move to nine or could easily add another. The non-conference schedule shrinks from four to two but those games essentially become exhibition games, since playoff eligibility is entirely determined by conference play.

How each coach, or more importantly athletic director, handles those two exhibition games will be unique to each school. For example, Iowa or Iowa State could continue their series and supporting FCS school Northern Iowa because that game puts people in the seats.

There's also a possibility of scheduling top ranked opponents because an early season loss doesn't hurt your team's chances at a National Championship. The door is open for more Alabama vs. Michigan type match-ups at neutral sites making big money for super conference teams.

There then becomes a greater gap between the college football haves and have-nots. Under the current system, non-AQ teams have earned the right to play in BCS games. However, Northern Illinois, recent Orange Bowl participant, got the BCS selection despite having the weakest strength of schedule in college football. NIU earned their trip under the current BCS rules but there's the matter of if they deserved a shot at Florida State. America was interested in the match-up; television ratings were up 44% over the previous Orange Bowl game with Clemson and West Virginia.

With the possibility of super conferences and if they were to expand their conference schedules, the non-AQ teams have less chance to earn those pay days they have in today's college football. Conferences like the MAC and Sun-Belt earn a boost to the athletic department budget when they play sacrificial lamb to BCS conferences. There's still opportunity to serve as a warm up before BCS teams head off to conference play but that opportunity could be cut in half. There's still bowl games and Tuesday night football, so perhaps they will survive.

SO, THE BIG TEN? Following the addition of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten, rumors circulated that Georgia Tech and Virginia would also be prime candidates for Big Ten additions. Georgia Tech has a little over 21,500 students and is a member of the AAU. Tech is also is located in Atlanta and that's a large television market for the Big Ten Network. Virginia is also a member of the AAU but may not bring the television sets that Atlanta could. The University of Virginia is located near Richmond and could potentially bring more of the Baltimore and Norfolk television markets.

North Carolina and Duke are two other schools rumored to be Big Ten targets. North Carolina is a member of the AAU. Duke is also a member but expansion is football driven and historically, Duke has not been good on the football field. These two teams would likely jump to a conference together, assuming they would like to keep their legendary basketball rivalry intact. However, old rivalries, especially basketball (see: Big East), haven't stopped schools from switching conferences through the course of these last two rounds of expansion business.

The ACC schools may be waiting on the lawsuit Maryland filed against the ACC. Last year, the ACC voted to impose a $50 million dollar exit fee for current members and Maryland is going to fight it tooth and nail. If, somehow, Maryland wins their case the ACC could see a mass exodus as universities looking to boost their athletic department budgets through conference television contracts head for the exits.

What about these "Midwest universities?" The University of Kansas is a member of the AAU and puts the Big Ten in the Kansas City market. There's also Iowa State but they bring nothing to the table in terms of a television market (that Iowa and Nebraska already provide). So, that's a no. Missouri could potentially seek a way out of the SEC, although that seems highly unlikely. And of course, there's Notre Dame.

It's possible that none of this comes to fruition. Conference expansion and realignment is becoming the go-to topic for off-season discussion. One thing that is clear, there's big money being made and more profit potential as made clear by the Big Ten adding Maryland and Rutgers simply for television markets.

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