Last week’s Midweek Musings brought up the notion that despite some recent lopsidedness, the Big Ten ultimately got the East and West divisions correct. This led to some further discussion about the conference in general, and ultimately what the next - and perhaps final - round of conference expansion and realignment might look like. I’m here to offer you my own take on what I think conferences will look like by the year 2030.
First and foremost, we’re going to be talking strictly about schools currently in a Power 5 (P5) conference - the ACC, Big Ten, Big Twelve, Pac-12, and SEC conferences. There may be some merit to certain Group of 5 (G5) teams - teams from the AAC, C-USA, MAC, MWC, and Sun Belt conferences - such as Boise State, but ultimately there are too many teams in the P5 to factor in extra G5 teams. Perhaps if promotion and relegation were also put in place they could be included, but for now, just P5 teams.
Please also note - and this may cause some controversy - due to the fact that it is not a full member of any particular conference, Notre Dame will be excluded from this exercise. That may not be realistic, as I imagine the domers would find a way to force their way into the discussion, but for this experiment, they’re on the outside looking in.
So, shall we get down to it?
Which Conferences are Safe, and Which are Not?
There are currently five P5 conferences, comprising 64 teams in total. This sets itself up nicely, in my opinion, to be broken down to four super-conferences of 16 teams each. Each of those 16 conferences would then be split up into four 4-team pods for scheduling purposes. But each of those conferences is going to want to keep itself intact. So which conferences are safe, and which are vulnerable?
Well, the ACC currently has all of its members protected by a grant of rights, meaning for the time being, no one is leaving that conference. The Big Ten and SEC make entirely too much money to be considered vulnerable. And the Pac-12 is so far flung that not many other conferences would consider poaching their teams. That leaves us with the Big 12.
The Big 12 has been struggling since Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, and Texas A&M all left. Add on to that the fact that all four of the “safe” conferences are within a reasonable distance of the Big 12 states, and it appears that that conference will be picked apart by the others, and ultimately dissolve - or sink down to the G5 level.
So, assuming that the Big 12 gets plundered, which teams go where?
What Do the New Conferences Look Like?
Let’s suppose that Jim Delaney leads the charge, plucking his choice of teams before it’s too late. The two big things for the B1G are membership in the AAU, and being contiguous to existing teams. For that reason, the first choice is Kansas. Next, and this is going to ruffle some state legislators’ feathers, but Oklahoma finally decides to ditch OSU and joins the Big Ten. Here’s your new-look Big Ten:
- East - Maryland, Michigan State, Rutgers, Penn State
- North - Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue
- West - Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, Wisconsin
- South - Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma
The SEC wants to maintain itself as the premier conference in the country, and they do just that by taking one of the top two teams in the Big 12 - Texas - reuniting the Longhorns and the Aggies. After that, they look for another proximity-based school and opt for West Virginia. Here’s the updated SEC:
- East - Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina
- North - Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, West Virginia
- West - Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M
- South - Florida, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State
Here’s where things start to get a little tricky. As mentioned previously, the Pac-12 is the farthest away from everyone else. With this in mind, they’ll opt for the closest teams remaining, and pick up Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech. They’d also take Iowa State, as a bit of an odd duck off by itself. Here’s the Pac-12:
- East - Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech
- North - Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State
- West - Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC
- South - Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah
This leaves us with the ACC. As mentioned earlier, a lot of the closer teams have already been taken, so some of the mid-range teams will be fought over between the ACC and the Pac-12. TCU and Baylor get scooped up by the ACC after Texas leaves for the SEC, and hte ACC has its full complement of teams:
- East - Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech
- North - Boston College, Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse
- West - Baylor, NC State, TCU, Wake Forest
- South - Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami
With this setup, each conference has 16 members, split up into four pods of four teams each. Every conference would be subjected to the same scheduling setup:
- Every team plays the other teams in its pod, alternating home and away (3 conference games)
- Every team plays one other pod, splitting home and away games (4 conference games, 7 total). The other three pods will rotate on a 3-year basis. This ensures that every player on every team will get to play every opponent in their conference at least once in their collegiate career.
- You play one team from each of the remaining two pods based on where you finished the previous year (2 conference games, 9 total). If you won your pod last year, you play the #1 teams from the remaining pods. If you finished last, you play the #4 teams.
- Every team will be required to play one P5 team, and two G5 teams. No more FCS games allowed. Everyone plays 10 P5 opponents every year, and two other FBS teams.
Conference Champions and Playoffs
Here’s where it gets really fun. At the completion of the regular season, every pod in the country will have a winner. The pod winners play against each other to determine who will go to the conference championship game. The postseason works itself out like this:
- Week After Regular Season - #4 pod winner at #1 pod winner, and #3 pod winner at #2 pod winner. 16 teams vying for the playoffs, with the higher rated pod winners hosting conference semifinal games.
- Conference Championships - Two winning pods from the previous week meet at their conference’s neutral site championship game. 8 teams remaining.
- College Football Semifinals - Rotating bowl games to determine who will play for the national championship. 4 teams remain.
- College Football Championship - Culmination of the college season, with the top 2 teams playing to win it all.
So there you have it. My brainchild on how conferences could change over the next 10-15 years, and how they might set themselves up to implement equal scheduling parameters, and result in a 16-team playoff.
What does everyone think?