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Midweek Musings: What Will Conferences Look Like in 2030?

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I’m getting a weird sense of deja vu

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 03 Oklahoma State at Kansas Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So, y’all might not believe this, but almost exactly 3 years ago, I wrote an article about conference realignment. I’m like Nostradamus, what can I say?

Let’s revisit that article, and see a) which predictions I got right, b) what could change given some of the recent moves of Oklahoma and Texas, and c) take a stab at how any remaining realignments could shake out.

Well, How Right Was I?

Off the bat, I said that ACC was protected by its grant of rights, and that the Big Ten and SEC make too much money to easily be exploited. I also said that the Pac-12 is way too far out west to be very viable for the east-coast conferences to exploit, leaving the Big 12 as the best candidate for demolition.

And wouldn’t ya know it, I was right! The Big 12 appears to be in the process of imploding. After the departure of Texas and Oklahoma, other rumors are swirling, including Kansas to the Big Ten, and West Virginia to the ACC. Point for me!

Next, I tried to prognosticate which teams would end up where. That’s obviously still in flux, but let’s go over those four candidate schools already mentioned.

  • Oklahoma - I predicted they’d head to the Big Ten, but they’re off to the SEC (0-1)
  • Texas - I called the SEC, and ayup, that’s where they’re headed (1-1)
  • Kansas - Predicted the B1G, rumors are pointing to the B1G (2-1)
  • West Virginia - Predicted the SEC, but signs are pointing to the ACC (2-2)

So overall, not too bad! Got half of my predictions right, assuming Kansas and WVU play out the way I think they will.

Like I said, Nostradamus.

What Could Change from My Original Predictions?

So, looking at how the Big 12 appears to be falling apart, and some of the interest from the B1G, the ACC, the AAC, and yes, even the SEC, here are a few more candidates that I think could be snatched up before being left to drift, homeless.

  • Iowa State - They don’t bring a new market to the B1G, sure, but with Oklahoma off the table, the Big Ten is going to be looking for another member to get to a nice, round 16 teams. The Cyclones are an AAU school, and are contiguous to the current footprint, and so could easily end up being in the B1G.
  • Notre Dame - These guys are the wild card for both the ACC and Big Ten. The Domers already have a quasi-membership with the ACC for football, but are in league with the Big 10 for hockey. ND is not an AAU school, and they don’t bring any new markets. Add in the fact that more than once the B1G has courted the Irish and been left jilted, and I’m thinking the ACC is the more likely landing spot.
  • Baylor/TCU/OK State/Kansas State - These four teams could be in an awfully tough spot. They’re not exactly conveniently located to any conference, and it would seem the ACC, SEC, and Big Ten are full. The Pac-12 is the most likely choice at this point, but when you add in teams like BYU and Boise State, someone is going to get left out.
  • Missouri - This is perhaps the most out-of-the-box idea, but the last time around, Mizzou really wanted to join the Big Ten. Ultimately the Tigers ended up in the SEC, but given just how northwest they are, they feel more like a midwest/B1G school than others. Given that the SEC has said it’s still pursuing other schools, could the Tigers go looking for a new home?

So What Will the Conferences Look Like?

Here’s where I tell you exactly how it will play out from here. Some of this is “known” insofar as those first four teams seem pretty much done, some of it is “fairly likely” given various conference requirements and affiliations, and some of it is “yeah sure why not, this’d be fun.” I’m going to cap all conferences at 16-teams because that makes the math nice and easy, but realistically, 20+ super-conferences could be on the horizon.

New conference members will be in bold.

Big Ten

I’m going to assume Kansas is the easy slam dunk here. I’m going to get a bit crazy and say that Mizzou jumps ship and heads to the north, rather than be an “also-ran” in the SEC.

  • East - Maryland, Michigan State, Penn State, Rutgers
  • North - Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue
  • West - Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, Wisconsin
  • South - Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska

SEC

The SEC has already started the dominoes falling, and has expressed interest in other schools. This leads to Mizzou feeling a bit disenfranchised, and they bail, giving the SEC one more spot to fill, satisfying their lust for expansion. The Texas legislature has gotten what it wants with the reunification of Texas and TAMU, but the Oklahoma legislature is a bit miffed that OU left the Cowboys behind. Well, with the departure of Missouri, Oklahoma State has a new home now too.

  • East - Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina
  • North - Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
  • West - Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M
  • South - Florida, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State

ACC

The Big Ten and SEC jumped on the wagon early, and so the ACC is next picking through what’s left. Lucky for them, a super obvious team like West Virginia is just hanging out, and they already have a nice tie-in with Notre Dame. ND, if you’ll recall, would not be eligible for a first-round bye in the proposed 12-team playoff format, as they would not currently be eligible as a conference champ. After years, the Domers bite the bullet and join a conference in full.

  • East - Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech
  • North - Boston College, Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia
  • West - Louisville, NC State, Notre Dame, Wake Forest
  • South - Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami

Pac-12

That leaves us with the Pac-12, who is basically stuck picking up the scraps. The conference has hinted at the fact that they’re not too keen on private, religious schools, so I think BYU and TCU are no-goes. Boise State is already in a conference as well, and hasn’t been nearly as dominant of late, so I think the Broncos get left out as well. Bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west, Canada to the north, and Mexico to the south, the Pac-12 has no choice but to expand to the east, and scoops up the remaining Big 12 teams.

  • East - Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas Tech
  • North - Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State
  • West - Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC
  • South - Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah

This leaves current Power 5 team TCU without a home at the big kids’ table, along with some of the other big-ish name teams like Boise State, BYU, and UCF. Most likely the AAC scoops up TCU, and perhaps adds in the other bigger name schools, in an attempt to make a fifth 16-team conference.

Regardless, I think the AAC would still be left out and be considered Group of 5, and ultimately I think the newly dubbed P4 conferences form their own set of playoffs, relegating the AAC, Sun Belt, MAC, etc. to a weird quasi-land between the P4 and the FCS.

What say you? Do some of these realignments make sense? Which ones would you realistically change around? Just how wrong (or right) am I?