The college football world is still reeling from Thursday’s shocking news that USC and UCLA are moving from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten. The reverberations will inevitably affect Florida programs. We just don’t know how yet.
Here are some of the unanswered questions and some possible scenarios as we progress through another summer of conference realignment:
What does this mean for the Power Five?
That it’s time to start changing your vocabulary. The financial gap between the Big Ten/SEC and the ACC/Big 12/Pac-12 is large and getting larger. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, each ACC school made about $16 million less than each SEC school. Within a decade, the gap could triple. With USC and UCLA, the Big Ten’s next TV deal will be even more lucrative, while the Pac-whatever will suffer.
Is it possible for Clemson and Oregon to compete with Alabama and Ohio State while making $50 million less per year from their conferences? Maybe. But it will be a lot harder.
Another related question: If the Big Ten and SEC collect almost every big-name program, can they form their own playoff, shutting out the other current Power Five leagues (and everyone else)?
What does this mean for Florida State and Miami?
This is the most pressing question in the state and, arguably, one of the most important in the nation. Though both programs have struggled since their 1983-2001 glory days, the Hurricanes and Seminoles remain two of the biggest brands in the sport. They have history (eight national titles combined) and are based in one of the top recruiting states.
They would be attractive expansion candidates on the open market. But they, like Clemson, are tied to the ACC through a grant of rights contract that goes until 2036.
Those contracts — which give a school’s TV rights to the conference — are not public, so details are scarce. We do, however, figure that breaking it would be extremely expensive. That’s why Texas and Oklahoma are expected to stay in the Big 12 until that league’s deal expires in 2025.
In the best-case scenario, attorneys at FSU and Miami poke holes in the ACC’s grant of rights, allowing them to leave early without nine-figure exit fees. If that happens, it’s easy to envision both of them (along with Clemson and, say, Virginia Tech or North Carolina) jumping from the ACC to the SEC.
In the worst-case scenario, FSU and Miami spend a lot of billable hours learning that the ACC’s deal is ironclad. In that scenario, they’re stuck in a second-tier league that gets lapped by the Big Ten and SEC.
What does this mean for USF?
This answer is even trickier.
The Big 12 has been USF’s prospective Power Five lifeboat. Unlike UCF, the Bulls have not been able to climb aboard yet. This round of realignment could sink that possibility.
A weakened Pac-12 is enticing for other conferences. What if the Big 12 poaches Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado? It’s harder to find USF a Power Five home in that situation.
Another scenario: If the Big Ten and SEC continue to consolidate the biggest brands, a new league/division could form with the leftovers (think: Kansas State, Pitt and, yes, UCF). The Bulls wouldn’t be in the top tier, but they would be in a large pool of similar programs that could lead to fun matchups.
The best hypothetical has a spooked Big 12 and ACC choosing to expand quickly to fortify themselves with quantity. That seems unlikely, but never say never.
What are the other keystone programs to watch?
Oregon and Washington are the most obvious ones. They’re the Pac-12′s top two remaining football brands and are in the prestigious Association of American Universities (which matters to the Big Ten). It wouldn’t be a shock to see both move with USC and UCLA. If you want to get crazy, Kansas is also in that academically prestigious group and fits the Big Ten’s Midwestern footprint (though that, clearly, no longer matters). Utah is another option.
The wildcard is, as usual, Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are partial ACC members and play a handful of ACC opponents annually in football. If they chose to go all-in on the ACC, the conference would stabilize immediately. It’s also possible that Notre Dame could get out of its ACC commitment and move to the Big Ten or (less likely) the SEC. Or the Fighting Irish could stand pat as the college football world shifts, again.
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