The latest round of conference realignment appears paused. For now.
That’s the most important update in college sports in the two weeks since USC and UCLA announced they were bolting the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024. As we wait for the next moves to drop — whether that’s later this month, later this year or five years from now — here are three random thoughts on the current landscape:
1. Where would college football be without the ACC’s grant of rights?
That contract — which grants ACC schools’ TV revenues to the league, effectively tying them to the conference until 2036 — is bad for Florida State, Miami or Clemson. The deal will cost them tens of millions of dollars per year compared to their peers in the SEC and Big Ten. It was a long-term problem before Texas and Oklahoma decided last year to move to the SEC, and it looks like an even bigger problem now with the Big Ten’s impending additions.
But as bad as it is for the ACC’s power programs, the grant of rights looks like one of the few things holding the sport’s structure together.
In the last year, the Big 12 and Pac-12 have each watched their biggest brands get poached by the Power Two. Those moves were possible because the Big 12 and Pac-12 deals expire in the next few years. If the ACC’s grant of rights ended in three years instead of 14, it’d be much easier for the Big Ten or SEC to be raiding the other Power Five league for some combination of Clemson, FSU, Miami, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech.
That will probably happen anyway, eventually. But for now, an intact ACC provides a potential lifeline to the Pac-12 through a TV partnership, and it ensures that at least three big-name programs remain outside the Power Two. It’s bad for those teams, but it’s protecting diversity, which is good for the sport as a whole.
2. Don’t get your hopes up with the Big 12, USF.
At Big 12 media days Wednesday, incoming commissioner Brett Yormark said his conference is “exploring all options” with expansion and “open for business.” That sounds good for USF fans hoping to join UCF in that league. But remember the context.
The Pac-12 looks shaky with the impending departures of the Trojans and Bruins. If the Big 12 expands, the top candidates are probably out west (Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Colorado) and not in the AAC.
Is it possible that the Big 12 rejected USF, SMU and Memphis a year ago but wants to add them now? Sure. If USC can agree to start playing conference volleyball games at Rutgers, anything seems possible with realignment. But is it likely? Probably not, barring more seismic changes to the landscape.
3. Keep an eye on San Diego State.
As the Pac-12/10/whatever explores expansion, San Diego State is a potential target that matters locally.
The Aztecs are in a top-30 market and would help the conference regain the southern California presence it is about to lose. They’re also opening the $310 million, 35,000-seat Snapdragon Stadium on the school’s Mission Valley campus this fall. Know any other mid-major programs in heavily populated recruiting hotspots that want to build a state-of-the-art, on-campus stadium?
If USF does build its long-awaited stadium in the next few years, it does not guarantee admittance to a better conference. The Aztecs can also tout football success (five seasons with at least 10 wins since 2015) that USF does not have, and they might remain stuck in the Mountain West. But as the Bulls continue to push for an on-campus stadium, San Diego State is a program to monitor.
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