Though a report that Florida State is pursuing private equity investments for the Seminoles wasn’t the most important news during one of the biggest days in conference realignment history, it was the most enlightening.
College sports is a business. Period.
Friday’s news that the Pac-12 was losing Washington and Oregon for the Big Ten and Arizona, Arizona State and Utah for the Big 12 was another cold reminder that the deciding factor isn’t rivalries, traditions or fans. It’s cold, hard cash.
Ignore whatever school presidents and conference commissioners say about helping student-athletes or strengthening academic relationships. Nothing about flying 2,600 miles from Eugene, Oregon, to State College, Pennsylvania, for a Big Ten volleyball game helps players or their education.
Even if the Oregon-Oregon State and Washington-Washington State rivalries survive, others won’t. Cal and Oregon first met in 1916. Washington and Stanford have played 92 times. Both series could end. It doesn’t matter if that’s what West Coast fans want because the bottom line trumps all.
FSU suggested as much this week when its trustees argued to leave the ACC. The exit strategy, if one exists, isn’t public, but sports business site Sportico reported the school is exploring opportunities with JPMorgan Chase and investment firm Sixth Street. Perhaps private equity could fund FSU’s nine-figure departure.
But at what cost?
Here are five other thoughts on Friday’s realignment:
Impact on FSU, Miami unclear
Major conferences will eventually hit a point of diminishing returns in expansion, and one of them just grew again. Does that mean there are two fewer lifeboats available in the Big Ten for FSU, Miami or Clemson? We don’t know, but it’s a fair question.
Seminoles athletic director Michael Alford said at a February board meeting that the Pac-12′s collapse would open TV windows for the ACC. His comments were hypothetical then but on the cusp of becoming ready. We’re about to learn what those windows look like and if they can provide the monetary jolt the ACC needs.
Effects on USF are mixed, too
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The impending demise of the Pac-12 likely keeps SMU with the Bulls in the AAC, which is good news. The league needs as many solid programs as it can get.
The bad news is that a Power Four might be worse for USF than a Power Five. Here’s why: The 12-team playoff that starts next year guarantees spots for six league champions. That accommodated every Power Five league while providing a playoff path for a mid-major champ.
A Power Four changes the math. Does it make sense to guarantee two spots to mid-majors? Or will a future AAC champ have to fight for an at-large bid? Remember that the playoff format isn’t set for 2026 and beyond, so it can adjust based on this round of realignment.
Gators aren’t affected yet
Perhaps the SEC will feel the need to respond so it will have 18 teams like the Big Ten. We doubt it unless the ACC schools can defect or Notre Dame wants to end its independence. This wave isn’t likely to affect Florida.
UCF’s a relative winner (for now)
Though the Knights can’t compete financially with Georgia or Michigan, the Big 12 is a deep, competitive league with upper-middle-class programs like Oklahoma State and TCU. Adding Arizona, Utah and Arizona State boosts the conference’s stability and stature.
We’re getting closer to an era of two super conferences, but we’re not there yet. For now, college football has four major conferences, and UCF is in one of them. That’s a fine place to be.
This story isn’t over
What happens to the Pac-12′s leftovers? Will Washington State and Oregon State move to the Mountain West? Could the AAC take them, adding some heft to USF’s conference? If the Power Five becomes the Power Four, does the playoff change in a way that forces Notre Dame to join a league?
FSU just watched two peers join the Big Ten while other major programs were left behind. How much urgency does that add for the Seminoles to join the Big Ten or SEC?
Those are among our unanswered questions after a chaotic, seismic week that left us with one undeniable conclusion:
Realignment won’t stop until the money does.
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