College Football’s Conference Realignment and Playoff Expansion is Headed in Only One Direction

The University of Texas and Oklahoma University are heading to the Southeastern Conference. The conference now becomes a 16-team behemoth in college football. Conference realignment is slowly but surely taking the sport in one direction. The College Football Playoff, which decides the sport’s national champion, is heading the same way.

Hundreds of millions of years ago, most of Earth’s landmasses were together in one supercontinent. It was called Pangea. Conferences will keep realigning (at this point, it’s fair to call it consolidating) until the sport becomes one super conference — its own Pangea.

College football is headed toward a single endgame

The Ohio State Buckeyes and Alabama Crimson Tide face off the College Football Playoff National Championship.
The Ohio State Buckeyes take on the Alabama Crimson Tide during the College Football Playoff National Championship in 2021. | Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Texas and Oklahoma, technically, are under contract with the Big 12 Conference until the summer of 2025.

The word “technically” can be used here since the two schools could forfeit money to get out of their contracts sooner and head to the SEC earlier if they so choose. According to the Wall Street Journal, once the two schools join their new conference, the SEC will feature 16 teams — seven of which were among the top 10 most valuable college football programs. The Wall Street Journal did the study in 2019, so a few programs may have slid up or down the list, especially after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But it’s still a good barometer of which programs drive the money — and therefore drive the sport.

Additionally, as it stands now, the NCAA has a four-team format in the College Football Playoff to decide a national champion. According to the AP, tripling the number of teams would increase the annual revenue to almost $2 billion.

Non-SEC Power Five conference commissioners met to discuss the future of the rest of the NCAA

The Power Five conferences of college football are comprised of the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and ACC conferences. Reportedly, the commissioners of the Big Ten, ACC, and Pac-12 met to discuss a “scheduling alliance to counter SEC’s growing power,” according to CBSSports.

So the SEC is consolidating the most valuable programs in the sport. And commissioners of three of the other four power five conferences are meeting in response. Thinking logically, the next step would be bringing together the most valuable programs outside of the SEC in order for those schools to compete financially.

Another thing to consider: SEC programs like Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt remain in the conference. Boston College, Syracuse, Wake Forest, and Duke play in the ACC. Kansas and Kansas State would be left to fend for themselves in a depleted Big 12. Programs like Rutgers, Illinois, and Northwestern toil away in the Big Ten. All of these programs, and several others, tread water with the hope of winning maybe four or five games a year.

What happens to those programs if conferences continue to realign? Are they left on the outside? What about the non-Power Five conferences like the Mid-American Conference (MAC) or Conference USA?

Following the bread crumbs, college football is eventually heading in only one direction

To recap: Seven of the 10 most valuable programs in the sport will reside in one conference once Texas and Oklahoma join. Other conference commissioners are now meeting to discuss how to counter that SEC conglomeration.

Meanwhile, the sport would be raking in about $2 billion in revenue if it expanded the playoff to 12 teams instead of four.

The sport’s current path is leading to one giant super conference consisting of its wealthiest programs. If the NCAA also wants to expand the playoff, that gives it the perfect opportunity to do so. The SEC consists of East and West divisions anyway. If the sport becomes one super conference, wouldn’t it make sense to split that into two divisions as well, similar to the AFC and NFC in the NFL? And if the goal is to generate more revenue, why not have a 12- or even 16-team playoff structure between the two divisions?

After all, football is the most popular sport in America, both at the professional and collegiate levels. Why not do everything possible to make them even more similar and make everyone richer in the process?

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