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Conference realignment could mean the beginning of the end of the Big Ten

The SEC is moving fast and if the Big Ten can’t, it could go the way of the Chicago Maroons

NCAA Football: Big Ten Conference Media Days Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

With Oklahoma & Texas submitting notice they will not extend their grant of rights with the Big 12, it sets off the first of a series of dominoes which puts realignment into focus, once again, for the Big Ten.

Their previous expansion efforts have resulted in something between underwhelming (Nebraska losing their AAU status and then many many football games) and expected poor performance (the records of Maryland & Rutgers speak for themselves) but plenty of dollars: annual television rights now exceed $50M per school. Now, the conference is faced with not just maximizing their dollars but doing all they can to ensure the conference’s athletics exist in something resembling the current form in the long term.

Otherwise, Jim Delany’s words (I’m paraphrasing) of seeing the conference go D-III before they pay players would prove prophetic. Many member institutions would find themselves alongside Amos Alonzo Stagg & his Chicago Maroons: in the history books and out of relevant athletic achievement.

Below are some ideas which could be explored to ensure the Big Ten’s athletic relevance for decades to come.

Exhaust the possibility of Oklahoma and Texas joining the Big Ten

All indications are they are set to join the SEC which would grant them the 4th and 6th all-time winningest programs alongside Alabama (3rd). Tennessee, Georgia, LSU, Texas A&M, and Florida also find themselves among the top 20 in the FCS. The Big Ten does have four of their own but recent success does not place even those schools on the same level as the SEC’s potential eight (Tennessee excepted).

An all-out blitz to get OU & UT into the Big Ten would provide the foundation for the conference’s long-term viability alongside the SEC without being forced to think much outside the box. Further, it would not enable the SEC to create a singular elite league by courting Ohio State & Clemson.

From the Sooners’ and Longhorns’ position, joining the Big Ten offers a much more stable competitive balance. There is the measuring stick of Nebraska and both should feel comfortable that they can exceed the last decade of performance the Cornhuskers have put forth.

By joining the SEC, the path to the College Football Playoff is much more cluttered than it would in the Big Ten and Oklahoma would become an immediate foil to Ohio State in a way Nebraska could only dream. Texas should fit immediately into at least the conference’s second tier (Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin). Top to bottom, the conference looks much more 1B to the SEC’s 1A instead of a distant second to the SEC’s top spot.

The hold up would be OU’s lack of AAU accreditation, which cannot necessarily be discounted as the research dollars involved dwarf athletic revenue. While I generally share Todd Brommelkamp’s opinion on this matter, it is university presidents making the call. So it probably matters.

Therefore, we turn our sights west.

Create the first super conference

Jon Miller was not necessarily on it first, but if AAU accreditation is a non-starter, the Big Ten needs to raid the Pac-12. Their AAU schools are: Arizona, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, and Washington. Each offer varying levels of athletic capabilities but collectively, they (or some combination of them) would provide a worthy “anchor” to ensure the Big Ten’s elite teams stayed home.

There are other options to getting to 20* but none offer the same geographic opportunities while retaining the same academic focus as absorbing the Pac-12.

* Iowa State and Kansas are the leftovers from the Big 12 while Missouri, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt are the SEC’s AAU members. They do not feel like particularly inspired choices individually or collectively, though.

By creating a super conference, it eliminates a potential competitor (Pac-12) while providing the Big Ten with a first mover’s advantage over the SEC. The new league would preempt a potential ACC/SEC merger by providing long-term stability for its members to keep them from seeking out a spot in another super conference. It would also set the Big Ten up for a payday when their television rights come available in 2025. In the long-term, it would provide an AAU-focused super conference whenever ACC schools** may need to choose which super conference they want to join.

** ACC schools a part of the AAU are: Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Pitt, & Virginia

Don’t sweat the details

Scheduling, maintaining rivalries, etc. can all be figured out after you’re set for the long term.

The Big Ten is at an inflection point for it’s long term future. There’s opportunity to absorb a critical mass of like-minded institutions which would raise the collective athletic profile. If they wait to add, they open up themselves to being poached as the quest for super conferences becomes even more cutthroat.

In other words, eat or be eaten.