The real winner in college conferences realignments might be… the airlines?

Student-athletes and athletic directors are about to set frequent flier mile records

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Who’s ready for regular-season price gouging?
Who’s ready for regular-season price gouging?
Photo: Getty Images

The smart ones are making sure that the staff at their schools have their frequent flier numbers on file. The geniuses are trying to secure NIL deals with the airlines.

A week after UCLA and USC shocked the sports world by announcing that they were headed across the country to join the Big Ten, it has become inevitable that regional conferences will soon turn national. Jemele Hill says it’s an example of college football “cannibalizing itself.” Front Office Sports is reporting that the ACC and Pac-12 are discussing a “loose partnership” where they would play a “championship game” in Las Vegas, and that part of the reason UCLA jumped to the Big Ten is that it saved other sports from getting cut as the Bruins athletic department accumulated over $100 million in debt over the past three fiscal years.


That’s a lot of upcoming cross-country travel, and the airline industry is probably licking its chops.

Rutgers has to send its rowing team to Los Angeles now.

Have you ever looked up flights when a huge fight in Vegas was announced or tried to make a last-minute trip to the Super Bowl, Final Four, or a national championship game? If you have, you know that airlines jack up the prices when they know boatloads of people are willing to pay whatever to see their teams play. And now teams and some fan bases will be traveling across the country just for regular-season games.


We already know that the cross-country expansion of the Big Ten is all about money. It’s the same reason why Texas and Oklahoma left the Big 12 for the SEC. Because while the NCAA Tournament is the NCAA’s biggest money maker, schools and conferences make their money off football.

For instance, here is the Power 5 conferences’ total revenue for fiscal 2019.

  • Big 12 — $439 million
  • ACC — $455.4 million
  • SEC — $721 million
  • Big 10 — $781.5 million
  • PAC-12 — $530.4 million

In total, the Power Five pulled in more than $2.9 billion in combined revenue for their 2019 fiscal year. And that was just the old money. For the fiscal year of 2020-2021, the SEC brought in $777.8 million which is $120.1 million more than the conference made in 2019-2020.


That’s a lot of cheese. But with the way that conferences are becoming less regional — there will be an eventually mad dash to join the Big Ten or SEC to make even more — it means the travel budgets at these schools will always be on the rise.

“And that’s when the big bucks start rolling in.” 

Who knew that Louie Anderson’s character in “Coming To America” was foreshadowing how airline executives would be looking at conference reshuffling. The amount of traveling that’s about to ensue for all the sports that are played in the new Big Ten and the ridiculous amount of miles that will be traveled in the future as other conferences expand must have the folks at Delta, Southwest, Jet Blue, American, and United scrambling to figure out projections.


Sorry Frontier and Spirit, but you know why you all weren’t mentioned.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a team or conference eventually struck a deal with an airline to get a steadier rate. And I also wouldn’t be surprised if an airline turned down the deal so that they could jack up the price.


And please, don’t feel bad for any of these conferences or athletic departments that may be getting ready to spend ridiculous amounts of money on plane tickets. Because in the end, these are the same people that made these moves to generate more money that they aren’t properly sharing with student-athletes.