“I think there could potentially be a cutoff where football tries to branch off and take the top 30 teams in the country is somebody’s opinion. That somebody would be television,” Gundy said. “Because funding everybody’s athletic department through television money. So, if you get to that point and you want to make that cut to the top 30, I personally don’t think that’s good for college football, but I don’t make those decisions.”
- Mike Gundy
“Notre Dame is an independent in football, but they’re in a conference for everything else,” Kelly said, per the Los Angeles Times. “Why aren’t we all independent for football? Take the 64 teams in Power 5 and make that one division, take the 64 teams in Group of 5, make that another division. We play for a championship, they play for a championship and no one else gets affected.”
- Chip Kelly
This seems to be the next natural step a few years down the road where the Vandy’s and Northwesterns get shown the door. But for now, let’s check out the current madness.
I’m always more energized when things are chaotic and while it’s not automatic, I’m generally in favor of changes over saying “consarnit!” and other old man words and grumbling about ruining “the way things used to be”.
Conferences are re-aligning in the name of money? Not a new thing. Hell, look at the conferences 10-20-40 years ago. 16-20 teams AND coast to coast? Okay, that’s strange and new, but the Big 10 maybe stretched it a time zone more than some of those mid-majors. And the WAC was doing 16 teams back in 1996. (It broke up after 1998 but still.)
NIL & the portal? Rock on. I take glee in those grumpy coaches who can’t stand the idea of not having 100% control over the players and their movement. They also shudder at the thought of those greedy kids getting paid anything over a scholarship, room and board even if $0 of it comes from the school. Those same coaches who preach loyalty and the evils of youngsters having cash bail out on contracts left and right to chase salaries up to eight figures PER YEAR and don’t even begin to sniff the irony in that stance. Hell, even given the NIL payouts, the players are still grossly underpaid.
So old bastards everywhere are bemoaning it’s the wild west right now and I love it.
(They actually believe players weren’t paid before. Well, their team’s players anyway - the those cheating bastards from Ohio State and Alabama been gettin’ away with it FOREVER and those goddamned NCAA’s still don’t do shit about it! Hell, yes, I’ll have one more sweetie. But just one at a time. * wink wink * )
But for now, let’s dive into a quick history of conference realignment.
The 100-Yard Lie by Rick Telander
This is an excellent read published back in 1989 which dealt with multiple issues including steroids and illegal payments, but you can skip to the end to read his suggested framework to “fix” college FB. Specifics aside, I do see the ship starting to steer in that direction on its own.
Basically, he called for a 50 team or so college-age developmental league, partially subsidized by the NFL (will never happen but even Telander admits that - he was trying to create a perfect world) in which players are paid and do not attend school but receive a free year of education at their sponsoring university for each year they play to be redeemed at any time of their choosing. The teams retain their university affiliation, names, logos, etc.
The remaining universities would play true college football with limited scholarships, limited practice times in-season only, coaches are on a professor level salary and must teach at least one actual full-time course.
And just to calm the “sky is falling” crowd a little bit, everything people are freaking out about now? They were freaking about the same things in 1989. And probably 1949. Give this book a shot - it’s out of print but still still widely available many places with a quick Google search.
There were many, many more details to the plan but that’s the basics. Also, Telander is a former Northwestern cornerback and grad - a little current events irony if you like that sort of thing, huh.
WAIT, WE WERE TALKING REALIGNMENT
So I decided to show conference landscapes over the last few decades with five random years starting with my first serious childhood interest in college football and leading up to the current - but not first - realignment shit show, I basically want to show why the current sacking of the Pac-12 isn’t near as bananas or even as original as it seems. It just feels that way because there’s always been a haughty and snobbish air around the conference. It’s an attitude perhaps best summarized by the Rose Bowl, easily the stuck-up asshole of bowl games. It did its best to originally try to submarine the Bowl Alliance and BCS and, after actually sitting out, demand preferential treatment in the following years. The Rose Bowl having to take a Cotton Bowl-sized step backwards following these developments brings a smile to my face. (Also, their stadium, beautiful views aside, is a concrete dumpster.)
But major conferences blowing up instead of making moves to survive are nothing new in these decades.
The Miami-led Big East both opened and closed a Power 5-type conference in short order. Lower conferences starting with the new & improved WAC did kick off the supersized deal with multiple time zones - although the Big 10 has truly taken it to a new level by trapping three corners of the USA. Perhaps Florida State could make it four except for the fact they can’t afford to leave ACC without several other schools joining them voting to end the conference, all bluster aside.
The formation of the Big East pretty much ended Division 1 Major Independents except for Notre Dame when every independent began fleeing to conferences as that happened.
Texas basically disintegrated both a conference and one of the four major New Years Day bowls by taking its besties to the Big 8. And then Nebraska bolted for the Big 10 which sent three other members of the original Big 8 fleeing Texas’ attempt to centralize the conference and all its championships in Dallas.
As for the Pac-12? Welp, this is what happens when every other conference is getting record-setting TV deals and the best your commish can come up with is, “Dude - we’re gonna stream on Apple!”
Anyway, here’s a quick history with some comments. As always, please fire away with yours below. I also added some NU pics from each year to check in on where the Huskers stood at those points in time.
(Note: I just tried to use conferences which would fit today’s definition of Power 5 worthy as far as either being in that discussion at the time or sure end up that way today. Same with the Independents. But definitely feel free to argue about both.)
ACC - Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia, Wake Forest
Big 8 - Colorado, Iowa St, Kansas, Kansas St, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St
Big 10 - Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan St, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio St, Purdue, Wisconsin
Pac 8 - Cal, Oregon, Oregon St, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington St, Washington
Southeastern - Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Miss St, Ole MIss, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Southwest - Arkansas, Baylor, Rice, SMU, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech
WAC - Arizona, Arizona St, BYU, Colorado St, New Mexico, Utah, UTEP, Wyoming
Major Independents - Rutgers, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Penn St, Va Tech, West Virginia, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Navy, South Carolina, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Florida State, Army, Air Force, Miami, Louisville, Houston
- The current Power 5 have laid their roots even if the ACC was mostly about hoops at that time. The WAC is included since 4-5 of those schools ended up Power 5 worthy.
- The Southwest Conference thinks everything’s fine in 1975. They have cash to burn and winner goes to a major New Years Day bowl. Pressing fast forward, all but two ended up in a Power 5 and don’t sleep on SMU making that move soon as well.
- The WAC is about to drop but they don’t know it yet. Maybe I’m just hating on them since Arizona State upset the Huskers in the Sun Bowl back in like 1976? So what? Never forget.
- Independents are thriving. When I was nerding through almanacs for teams’ records as a kid, the list took up a couple columns. That would continue for a couple more decades.
- These were the heydays of the Big Four bowls on New Years Day - Rose, Orange, Sugar and Cotton with all but the ACC and WAC sending their champs to one of them.
ACC - Clemson, Duke, + Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia, Wake Forest
Big 8 - Colorado, Iowa ST, Kansas, Kansas St, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St NO CHANGE
Big 10 - Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan St, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio St, Purdue, Wisconsin NO CHANGE
Pac 10 - Arizona, Arizona St, Cal, Oregon, Oregon St, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington St, Washington
Southeastern - Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Miss St, Ole MIss, Tennessee, Vanderbilt NO CHANGE
Southwest - Arkansas, Baylor, Houston, Rice, SMU, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech
Arizona, Arizona St, Air Force, BYU, Colorado St, Hawaii, New Mexico, San Diego St., Utah, UTEP, Wyoming
Major Independents - Rutgers, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Penn St, Va Tech, West Virginia, Boston College,
Georgia Tech, Navy, South Carolina, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Florida State, Army, Air Force, Miami, Louisville, Houston
- As other conferences start making subtle add/subtracts; the Big 8 and Big 10 stand pat. Pac 10 adds Arizona and ASU effectively killing the WAC as contending to be a major conference. ACC adds Ga Tech for basketball and a round number for the ACC tourney.
- The Southwest, despite adding Houston, is approaching implosion.
ACC - Clemson, Duke, +Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia, Wake Forest
Big 12 - +Baylor, Colorado, Iowa ST, Kansas, Kansas St, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, +Texas, +Texas A&M, +Texas Tech
Big East - +Boston College, +Miami, +Pitt, +Rutgers, +Syracuse, +Temple, +Virginia Tech, +West Virginia
Big 10 - Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan St, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio St, +Penn St, Purdue, Wisconsin
Pac 10 - Arizona, Arizona, Cal, Oregon, Oregon St, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington St, Washington NO CHANGE
Southeastern - +Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Miss St, Ole Miss, +South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Southwest - Arkansas, Baylor, Houston, Rice, SMU, TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech
RELEGATED TO MID-MAJOR -
WAC - Arizona, Arizona St, Air Force, BYU, Colorado St, Hawaii , New Mexico, San Diego St., Utah, UTEP, Wyoming
Major Independents -
Rutgers, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Penn St, Va Tech, West Virginia, Boston College, Navy, S Carolina, Cincinnati, Syracuse, Florida State, Army, Miami, Louisville,
- The Independents have raced to join conferences as the TV deals have made not doing so pretty much a financial death sentence. Notre Dame gets its own TV deal which at the time made them the richest school, praise the lawd. Now, not so much.
- The ACC adds Florida St. as the conference announces a major football presence.
- The Big 12 has changed its name after adding the Texas wreckage from the Southwest’s demise. Texas immediately starts chucking its weight and cash around. Later its toothless threat to leave for the Pac 10 with Oklahoma followed by Nebraska then Colorado, Missouri, the aTm actually leaving and then eventually Texas and Okie to the SEC for reals keep the conference in a chaotic state to this day likely costing it spots in two of the early CFP playoffs.
- Eight independents join together to form the new non-basketball power Big East. Miami, Virginia Tech and West Virginia mark it as a major player in football.
- The Southeast adds Arkansas and South Carolina, forms divisions and introduces the conference championship game as college football’s newest moneymaker as well as a way for a conference to eliminate one’s undefeated national title contender from the Bowl Alliance, BCS title game and CFP Playoff.
ACC - +Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, +Miami, North Carolina, NC State, +Pittsburgh, +Syracuse, Virginia, +Va Tech, Wake Forest
Big 12 - Baylor,
Colorado, Iowa ST, Kansas, Kansas St, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, +TCU, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, West Virginia
Big East - Boston College, Miami, Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Virginia Tech, West Virginia
Big 10 - Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan St, Minnesota, +Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio St, Penn St, Purdue, Wisconsin
Pac 12 - Arizona, Arizona St, Cal, +Colorado, Oregon, Oregon St, Stanford, UCLA, USC, +Utah, Washington St, Washington
Southeastern - Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Miss St, +Missouri, Ole MIss, South Carolina, Tennessee, +Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Major Independents - Notre Dame
- The intervening years show the Texas effect as three original Big 8 members and Texas’ largest in-state rival bolt the Big 12. They respond by adding TCU from mid-major land and West Virginia from the Big East to get back to ten. The Big 12 you say…
- Yes, the Big East became the shooting star which fizzled out with the ACC realizing where money is truly made by picking off their five strongest football members (except for West Virginia). Oddly, Clemson will become their perennial title contender and winner, not Miami, which had faded from national title contender to regular bowl team status.
- Nebraska, tired of Texas’ shit and the rest of the league’s inability to see it, bounces to the Big 10. Shortly after, Misery, the aTm and Colorado leave as well. Texas A&M however shows next-level hatred. “Rivalry game? F*CK THAT - We literally want NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU!!” Later, they don’t even try to hide their red ass when the SEC takes the Longhorns in.
- I guess an upside is the SEC won’t be a Texas rubber stamp and penalize other teams for Horns Down.
- The Power Five is now firmly established.
2024 (so far)
ACC - Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, +Louisville,
Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia, Va Tech, Wake Forest
Big 12 - +Arizona, +Arizona St, Baylor, +BYU, +Cincinnati, +Colorado, +Houston, Iowa ST, Kansas, Kansas St,
Oklahoma, Oklahoma St, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech, +UCF, +Utah, West Virginia
Big 10 - Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, +Maryland, Michigan, Michigan St, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio St, +Oregon, Penn St, Purdue, +Rutgers, +UCLA, +USC, +Washington, Wisconsin
Pac 12 -
Arizona, Arizona St, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon St, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington St, Washington
Southeastern - Arkansas, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Miss St, Missouri, +Oklahoma, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Major Independents - Notre Dame
- The real fun is now on. 10 more years has only brought more chaos to the Big 12 including Texas seeing what they wrought and fleeing from a conference full of former mid-majors where they fail to meet expectations. They choose instead to join the SEC where that continued failure will be much more glaring. So probably will be their shock at the rest of the SEC failing to bow before their cash and silly demands.
- Oklahoma, the better program, pulls Texas’ jeans pocket out and holds it as they toddle behind following the money.
- The Big 10 grabs the top four Pac-12 programs, the last two after a rumor came out they didn’t want to be seen as the ones who killed the Pac-12. As they slow cooked Pac-12 meat and slathered on some Gates extra spicy. In any case, they are now part of the Power 2 with the SEC.
- They also previously added Rutgers and Maryland but no one cared.
- The Big 12, after snagging 4 more mid-majors, drags Utah, 2 mediocre Arizonas and 1-2 years of what they hope are TV networks wanting to televise Deion on the sideline.
- The SEC stands pat. They may be content to do so until D1 drops to 50-60 teams and just forms divisions, has a 32 team playoff and makes the regular season as truly boring and insignificant as the NFL when it comes to cheering for the least shitty potential wild card teams in the final weeks.
- To be honest, that’s already about to happen. A 12-team playoff, while inevitable, will make conference title games a danger to the highest ranked team only as far as their seeding since their elimination will no longer be a threat. Meaningful regular season games will not exist within the top 5 or 6 any longer.
- There are still many ways this can play out but the Pac-4 will likely disperse to the mid-majors unless they can talk the ACC or Big 12 taking them while they agree to no payouts until like 2064. Of course, the ACC may be willing to do the deal to make it tougher for Florida St to get the votes to end the league.
By the way? I’ve decided to add a loyalty title!!! Who’s been with their same conference from the beginning to the end of this survey? As it turns out, the current Power 5 was alive and well in 1975. (I know, the Pac-8/10/12 is all but dead, but since it’s not official just yet…)
So let’s rock. How many of 1975’s members are still in their original conference? Drumroll please from Buddy Rich:
(You don’t need to watch the full 1⁄2 hour, haha. But as a kid there was something really amazing about watching a 50’ish salt & pepper hair dude with Secretariat’s teeth, toddle out and do drum solos that rock drummers for decades would call their inspiration. Watch just a little - trust me.)
Anyway, here’s the percentage of teams with their conference in 1975 who remain in that same conference today.
ACC - 6/7 - 86%
Big 8 - 4/8 - 25%
Big 10 - 10/10 - 100%
Pac 8 - 4/8 - 50%
Southeastern - 10/10 - 100%
- Crazy thought #1 - Hmmm. The two conferences with all of their original members for about the last 40 years? They’re the two conferences sitting on the mountaintop right now while everyone else scrambles. Looks like anyone who ran to those two made good decisions.
- Crazy thought #2? - The 25% Big 8 and Pac 8? One kept clawing to add and keep the conference viable after half the originals left when they were the poster boy for defections around 2010. The other stood pat while slowly being left out of the CFP over and over after USC’s amazing mid-2000’s run - and never took that as a red flag.
- It appears survival instinct beats staying in a holding pattern and believing we’re all in this together, saying Kum-bayh-aahh and dammit, Rose Bowl. THEY NEED US.
- No. They didn’t.
- Props to the ACC. They may not Win In The End (You’re welcome, Teen Wolf fans, and hell yes, it’s the montage from the greatest Nebraska hoops state final ever despite no werewolf), but they’ve at least made the nuclear mode the only way to destroy the conference. Might happen. If it does, Power 3, anyone?
Okay, that’s enough smart-ass remarks and college football Nostradamus impressions, let’s hear yours. Is it the end of the world or just the next step as Trev seems to think until some version of what Telander, Chip and Gundy see coming actually arrives?