It’s all about cashing those sweet football television checks, and being in a league with networks that appear on your cable bill each month whether you watch them or not. Texas does have the Longhorn Network, but that’s super niche, especially compared to the SEC Network, with the ACC Network and Big Ten Network next in line, followed by the Pac-12’s series of channels, while the Big 12 has nothing.
And since the Big 12 has nothing, the Big 12 is going to die. It’s been happening for a while anyway, and as money rules everything in college sports, it’s going to continue to be that way, a never-ending game of institutional musical chairs, until the end of college sports as an institution.
If the NCAA were truly a governing body, rather than a sophisticated money laundering and court case losing operation, it would step in and say enough of this already. Yes, getting an Oklahoma-Alabama football matchup every year or two, instead of practically never, is fantastic television, but also, we live in a world where Texas Tech and West Virginia are in the same conference, which means someone’s poor volleyball team has to fly five and a half hours, and bus for another hour and a half, just to play a conference game.
That’s what happens when conference alignment decisions are based almost entirely on a sport that plays one game a week for 12 or so weeks, with four-to-six road trips per season. All the other sports are subject to football’s whims.
While we can’t ignore that football drives the bus, we can use the structure of having five power conferences as the framework for a geographic alignment that makes sense and benefits sports across the board.
So, that’s what we’re doing. Welcome to a world where what conference a school is in… is based on where they play. With five conferences of 14 teams each, there can be sensible scheduling for not only football, but all sports. Some traditional rivalries are preserved, others are renewed, and new ones are created. Looking at you, here, Iowa and Missouri, two schools that are 230 miles apart yet have only met in football once since World War I, and that in a bowl game in 2010 in Arizona.
To get to 14 schools for each conference, there are a few additions to the Power 5, but nothing outlandish — all are schools that have had some level of football prominence in recent years.
SEC: Alabama, Auburn, Central Florida, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, LSU, Miami, Mississippi, Mississippi State, South Carolina, South Florida
ACC: Boston College, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, N.C. State, Notre Dame*, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, West Virginia
B1G: Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisville, Memphis, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin
Big XIV: Arkansas, Baylor, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Christian, Texas Tech
Pac-14: Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, BYU, California, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Utah, Washington, Washington State
*if Notre Dame insists on remaining independent, sub in Cincinnati.
The only thing stopping a geographic alignment that makes sense is the lack of someone to make it happen. Until it does, college sports will be stuck in this same recurring cycle of realignments revolving around football TV money, until the whole thing finally comes tumbling down around schools that can’t catch that last ride to Cashville. With a geography-based plan, we can stop the madness, make everyone’s lives easier, and have a system where regional conferences stand to rake in plenty of TV money in their own right, as they don’t have to try to simultaneously appeal to everyone from New Jersey to Nebraska.
The NCAA doesn’t have to worry about chasing down every time an athlete gets an extra dollar now. It’s time to step up and start reshaping college sports for a new era, one where everyone can focus on the sports instead of the shenanigans.