The multiverse is a hypothetical group of multiple universes that comprise everything that exists: the entirety of space, time, matter, energy, information, and the physical laws and constants that describe them. It is a legitimate scientific concept, but it is probably better known in the world of fiction and entertainment. It is about to become a big plot element in the Marvel Universe, and sci-fi properties like Star Trek have long used it as a plot device, the idea being that every choice we make can lead to an infinite number of parallel universes that all differ based on possible choices. In one universe, you get breakfast at Chick Fil A and arrive to work on time. In another, you go to McDonald’s, the line is long & slow, you are late to work and get dinged on your review.
The universe shattering news of the past week was the revelation that Texas & Oklahoma had been in discussions with the Southeastern Conference about leaving the Big 12 and joining the SEC. A rumor at first, it has been all but confirmed by involved parties to be a reality. This would undoubtedly be the biggest move in the conference realignment dance that we have ever seen. Texas A&M & Missouri to the SEC, Miami & Virginia Tech to the ACC, Maryland & Rutgers to the Big Ten – merely the appetizers to the main course. This is one of those seminal moments in college sports, specifically college football. Where this goes from here will change the landscape of the sport forever. Which way does it go? How far does it go? Are we talking an adjustment to a new alignment, or is the whole system going to be dumped on its ear? Let’s look at a few of the universes that could shake out from this moment in time. (continued below)
Universe #1: The Power Four
This is the outcome that many people have been discussing for almost a decade now. The Power Five consolidates into four 16-team super conferences. There was a time that it was obvious the Big 12 was the most likely conference to be pilfered and broken up, but then it seemed that things had stabilized, and we were lulled into a false sense of comfort. It seemed Texas was happy with the Longhorn Network, and Oklahoma was happy being the big dog in the yard. The reports now are that the only thing left to finish UT’s & OU’s move to the SEC are formalities and legal negotiations. Kansas has reached out to the Big Ten about joining their conference. That sounds like a joke to some, because football dominates the other sports, but the Big Ten probably sees a value in Kansas that most wouldn’t (more on that later). There are other reports that the PAC may be interested in absorbing some or all of the remaining Big 12 teams. The rumors of the PAC taking B12 teams goes way back – there was a time when it looked like UT & OU might go west.
In this universe, the Big 12, by choice or by the will of others, is finished, and the remaining players – SEC, B10, ACC & PAC – become the new royalty of college football with 16-team super conferences. Sadly, we may not see all the Big 12 schools find a power home. The SEC would be at 16. The ACC would love to add Notre Dame, and maybe their shift from prioritizing academics over athletics – which brought Louisville into the fold – will lead to West Virginia joining the conference. Personally, I would love to see the Backyard Brawl reborn, not to mention annual tilts with Virginia Tech and Louisville. The Big Ten might be interested in Kansas. They might look at Iowa State, or Kansas State, or they honestly may look at bigger market options like Cincinnati. They might be bolder and go after an ACC team. The PAC may absorb a lot of teams, or their new commissioner may say “Hold up, maybe we should walk before we run.” If so, Kansas State or Iowa State might end up talking to the American Athletic or the Mountain West.
Universe #2: The Power Four + the new Big 12
In this universe, the Big Ten tells Kansas “Meh…thanks. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” The PAC-12 says “Don’t spread this around, but we really don’t have our house in order, we’re not ready to add a bunch of teams right now.” The eight remaining members of the Big 12 decide to stick it out. After all, if the 12-team CFP model that has recently been proposed sticks, the top four seeds must be conference champions. The SEC champ is a lock, and logic dictates that the Big Ten, ACC and PAC champs have an advantage to grab those spots, but we have seen 2-3 loss conference champions before. If the Big 12 were to add UCF, Houston, Cincinnati and Memphis, they would be in the shotgun seat that the AAC has occupied for a few seasons, as the most likely G5 conference to crash the party. They would not be considered in the same class as the Power Four. Think more of the way the Big East was thought of in the BCS era – not equal from top to bottom, but the top could be very good.
Universe #3: The Power Two
This is where things get real, especially for ACC and PAC fans that don’t want to accept reality. The SEC doesn’t have the motto “It just means more” for any reason. They have serious guts. They wouldn’t have gone down this route if they didn’t have plans to come out on top. Think Circe: “In the Game of Thrones, you either win, or you die.” The rumors have already started: the SEC has reached out to Clemson and Florida State from the ACC, and to Ohio State and Michigan from the Big Ten. In this universe, they want to make a mega conference. The Big Ten currently is the most lucrative conference in college sports today. There is no such thing as a small Big Ten school – they are all huge universities with big alumni bases. Even if their teams aren’t annual contenders, they still can bring a ton of money. They aren’t going to lay down – they are going to fight. The Big Ten has long been rumored to have interest in UNC, Georgia Tech & Virginia. Those names may not move you from an on-field point of view, but from a financial perspective? They would help keep the Big Ten on a solid financial foundation, expand their footprint and take them into some decent recruiting areas.
Additionally, the Big Ten, via the Rose Bowl, has had a long, positive relationship with the PAC. If both conferences were to go after USC, UCLA or the Pacific Northwest schools, there would be a sentimental lean towards the Big Ten. Not to mention that the B10 has a pretty good television deal with Fox Sports, the main competitor of ESPN, who has the SEC Network contract. If the B10 proves impenetrable to SEC overtures, and they pull the schools they have looked at for the last decade or so, they may produce a football product that compares on the field, but they will have the savings account to go to battle with the SEC. The PAC and the ACC will be the victims left in their wake. No pun intended, but the Wakes, Dukes, Stanfords and Cals of the world will be left behind. NFC vs AFC? Very easy: it will be the SEC vs the Big Ten. Each will play their own playoff, and the two champs will face off in college football’s Super Bowl. This is also the point where Notre Dame has to make a decision: stay independent and sacrifice a chance to win a championship, or join either conference and sacrifice independence.
Part II – Coming Soon