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The Future of College Football: My thoughts on Realignment

I love college football. I love everything about it, the rivalrys, the atmosphere at games, the bands, the tailgating, it's all the best in sports. There's nothing else like it. Recently the game has seen monumental changes in the form of conference realignment, tv deals, and a playoff system. Most people seem to hate realignment, but I like it. I didn't think I would. When the aggies left the Big 12 I lamented over the death of a classic rivalry game, and thought they wouldn't be able to handle the SEC schedule and defenses. Then they hired Sumlin, and I wondered if the storied SEC defenses were ready for a Big 12 offense. Turns out Bama wasn't. Then again neither was ou. I watched a lot more college football this year than I normally do, and I normally watch a lot. After years of watching the same tired matchups, I got to watch exciting new matchups, like Tamu vs LSU, Florida, and Bama. It was one of the more fun college football seasons for me in recent memory. If you're wondering why a Longhorn fan is watching an aggie game, it's because one of my best friends is an aggie. We have a good natured rivalry with our teams, and have a lot of fun spending Saturdays together watching college football and drinking a few beers. So naturally we watch each other's games. And I can admit the ags had a great season. They'll have 2 first round draft picks and they have the Heisman winner coming back for his Sophmore year. Much better than my Horns, although we had a nice bowl win.

Traditional rivalries are great. I believe they should be preserved. But that shouldn't get in the way of new rivalries being formed. You think the Tide won't roll into Kyle Field next season with revenge on their mind? New rivalries and matchups are exciting and can only help the sports' popularity. So where are we headed?

The general consensus is we are heading for four 16 team Super-Conferences, forming a seperate division of FBS Football, or a complete breakaway from the NCAA alltogether. I'm not neccessarily convinced that the realignment wheel will stop spinning in so neat of a final alignment, but there is definitely a movement toward a consolidation of power between the "haves" versus the "have nots". So who will the Big 4 be? We know the SEC, PAC, and B1G are ceartainties, so who will be the 4th? If the alliance in the 'Champions Bowl" with the SEC means anything, I believe the Big 12 has won this fight. The SEC shares their footprint with the ACC and plays them in rivalry games every season, but they still chose the Big 12. So what are the final goals for the big 4 conferences plus the ACC, Notre Dame, and the Big East and Mountain West?

The B1G: The Big 10 is looking at expansion in terms of who expands their TV Market footprint (ie: homes who will purchase the B1G Network). To this end they expanded first with Nebraska, a purely football decision, adding more marquee matchups to their programming slate, and then with Rutger's and Maryland, which added huge new TV markets for the conference with a lot of B1G alumni in those areas. The other criteria they have is academics. With the exception of Nebraska, which was AAU at the time they joined, all the schools in the B1G are AAU schools. This criteria is VERY important to the B1G when considering new members. So who meets these criteria?

1. Georgia Tech - The Yellowjackets are an AAU school, with a good football program, in a huge new TV market not currently controlled.

2. Virginia - Another TV Market not currently in the B1G footprint, and AAU school.

3. Duke and North Carolina - Believed by many to be a package deal, both are AAU schools and although not strong in football, are at the top of the food chain in basketball. Also in a TV market not controlled by the B1G.

4. Pittsburgh - A longshot because they already control the Pennsylvania market. But they are an AAU school.

5. Boston College - Another longshot because of lack of AAU status, they do however boast a huge tv market.

The PAC-12: The PAC is another Conference that loves their academic standards. The problem that the PAC has is they are geographically isolated. There are no more AAU schools available to them in the west coast area. But not all of their members have AAU status. Currently Oregon St., Washington St., Arizona St., and Utah are not AAU members. Their most recent additions being Colorado and Utah, 1 AAU, and 1 not, shows they are willing to look beyond the AAU. So does the PAC want to expand? They don't need to, as any further additions risk watering down the product. "Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said Friday that the conference is at an "optimal size" and is unlikely to expand anytime in the "foreseeable future.""I think, that 12 is the optimal number for us and allows us to balance very much the geography that we have in six states, rivalries, our teams want to play each other very often, and for a lot of reasons this is where we want to be for the foreseeable future." It doesn't appear as if they want to expand. But if they do decide they need to, who should the PAC look at as potential new members?

1. Hawaii - What could be more Pacific than Hawaii? They have a beautiful campus, a good football program, that could be grown into a great program with more money, better facilities, and a top coach, and a good academic reputaion. They also boast a 50,000 seat capacity stadium, which is important for ticket sales. Outside of San Diego State, who plays in an NFL Stadium, they have the largest stadium by far of any possible additions, and are on par with the majority of stadiums in the PAC.

2. Boise State - The popular choice among fans, Boise's strength is their football program. They have proven they can play with the "big boys" by winning against them when a team is brave enough to play them. They may not be up to par academically, their stadium is fairly small, and they don't boast a huge new tv market, but they have a national following of fans, becoming everybody's favorite underdog. Plus the smurf-turf is awesome. One thing to not overlook, is Boise State is already in the PAC in wrestling.

3. UNLV - For years they have been a non-factor in realignment talks because of their proximity to legal gambling in Sin City. But Vegas has changed, from Sin City, to a much more family friendly tourist location. They have a small stadium, but big TV market.

4. San Diego State - Not really a "football" school, they do play in Qualcomm Stadium, so ticket sales wouldn't be a problem. They could expand the PAC farther into Southern Cali with the large San Diego TV market, although most would argue that they already control the state of California.

5. Colorado State, New Mexico, Wyoming, Fresno State, Nevada, are all extreme longshots and not yet up to PAC standards.

6. A darkhorse candidate could be the University of Houston. This is a huge TV market, and would open up the state of Texas to recruiting (although I don't believe this is really a huge factor anymore, as with the rise of the internet and social networking sites like twitter, along with nationally televised games, and games streaming online, and on smart phones and tablets, the world is a lot smaller now. A kid has seen his favorite schools play ball on tv every weekend. He can chat with students there on twitter and look up their traditions and see pictures of the campus online. Kids from Texas know what Oregon's program is like.).

The SEC - The evil empire which currently dominates the college football landscape, has no need to expand, but will if they feel they need more content for the future SEC Network they are working on. Academics play very little role in their decision making, however they do boast 4 AAU schools with the additions of Tamu and Mizzou. The SEC wants to expand into new TV markets they don't currently control, and expand the amount of content for the SEC Network. To this end they will more than likely target:

1. Duke and UNC - see above. They would boost the academic (the SEC would boast 6 AAU schools) and Basketball reputation of the conference while giving them access to a new market, and adding content for the network in marquee basketball matchups.

2. Va Tech and NC State - Would give them 2 new football programs to play with, plus 2 new markets they don't control.

3. Any other school in the south would be a longshot at best.

The ACC and Big East - I believe the ACC will survive, by basically becoming the old Big East, and the Big East survives by becoming the old Conference USA. Conference USA will cease to exist unless they poach from another conference lower on the food chain. The other option here is a merger by the remaining Big East and ACC teams into a single conference with the Big East name going with the Catholic 7 basketball schools. I see this second scenario as far more likely. ACC fans believe their conference is strong in it's current configuration and won't be picked apart by the other conferences. They believe the ACC will be the 4th Super-Conference and the Big 12 will fold with Texas and ou going to the PAC or SEC. The Texas to the PAC theory is popular among aggies, but will never happen, and I believe aggie fans would riot if Texas were to be invited to the SEC. The ACC schools and all the other conferences are holding their breaths, waiting to see the outcome of the ACC/Maryland lawsuits. If they get out without having to pay the $50 million exit fee, expect teams to start fleeing the ACC like a sinking ship.

The BIG XII - My conference. The home of the Texas Longhorns. I mention this to get the inevitable "homer" accusations out of the way. I admit my bias freely. I do not believe Texas will leave the Big 12 as so many ags seem to. They have no reason to. They are the alpha dog in the Big 12. They also have the LHN which is paying them ludicrous sums of money. The Big 12 has a great TV deal with ESPN and Fox, on top of which each school controls their own Third Tier Rights to do with as they please, whether that be their own network, or a seperate deal with another network. The extra money this provides makes this deal much more valuable to schools looking to join the Big 12. This deal is better than the ACC's deal where all three tiers of their rights are controlled by ESPN. This combined with the Grant of Rights agreement between the schools, and the Champions Bowl which will be co-owned by the Big 12 and SEC, means the Big 12 is going nowhere. Sorry ACC. That means you are the buffet table and the Big 4 Conferences are lining up for dinner (the Big East and MWC are the salad bar). Now, there is one problem. In order to not make less money per school in an expanded conference, the added schools must add value to the TV Deal to offset the additional mouth to feed. The obvious names here are Notre Dame and Florida State. While I doubt that ND will ever join a conference, the one that makes the most sense if they want to keep their TV deal with NBC is the B12. Here is my wishlist.

1. Florida State - The obvious first choice on my wishlist. The Seminoles would be an awsome get for the Big 12. They have the traditions and atmosphere, and are one of the most storied programs in college football. I would love to see Texas play at Florida State. With the Warchant, and the flaming spear planted at midfield, there are few atmosphere's quite like it. They would definitely earn their keep, so to speak, bringing enough to the table to offset their addition.

2. Clemson - A great football school with rich traditions like Running Down the Hill, and rubbing Howard's Rock, and a great stadium, the "other" Death Valley, and atmosphere. This would be a great place to watch a Big 12 football game. They don't neccessarily move the needle as far as TV markets, but the content of Big 12 football would be greatly enhanced.

3. Louisville - An up and coming football program with a great coach, and a top notch basketball program make Louisville a very attractive addition, one that I thought we should have invited when we took WVU. This would give WVU a close rival and a bridge to the rest of the Big 12. Basketball can't be counted out in these dicussions, as the Catholic 7 have now proven with their TV deal.

4. Notre Dame - Never happen, but a guy can dream. I've stood on thier field in their stadium during a game, and it is a one of a kind atmosphere. And the money they bring to the table is unquestioned.

5. Tech, Virginia or Georgia - I would prefer Ga Tech, as they are closer to Texas, they are in a major tv market, and they have great academics. Va Tech is more of a football school, but their culture might fit better in the SEC. Either school however would be a great addition.

6. Miami - The "U". Need I say more? I would love for my Horns to take their talents to South Beach, and return the favor from the Cotton Bowl in '91.

7. North Carolina and Duke - as stated above, great academics and basketball. Ok football. Don't believe they want to leave the ACC, since they are it's alpha dogs, but they may be faced with an offer they can't refuse. Would love to have them, but it's a longshot.

8. NC State - The Wolfpack are a pretty good football program, with room to grow. Would give us the state of North Carolina and those tv markets. They are a good academic school as well, though not AAU. If they don't go to the SEC with Va Tech, they would be a welcome addition to the Big 12.

9. Cincinatti - A good all around football and basketball program, would be natural rival for WVU, and brings a major TV market.

10. Pittsburgh - A decent football program, they would be added mainly to renew their rivalry with WVU, or if no other teams were left available.

The Big 12 could add up to 6 teams. Any 6 of those above would be my wish. I don't see the Big 12 looking west to teams such as Boise St. or BYU. BYU is better off as an independant, although the Big 12 could make it work with them. If for some reason the Big 12 were to look west, the options would be the same as the Pac's, although in a different order, as I doubt Hawaii would be an option.

Now in sports, when something is working, everybody else tries to copy it. That is what I believe the Big 12 should do. We should build a conference that overlaps the SEC footprint and expands upon it. So here is my dream Big 12 (16) Conference (aka the South By Southwest Conference)

Big 12 West

Texas

Texas Tech

Baylor

TCU

ou

Oklahoma State

Kansas

Kansas State

Big 12 East

Florida State

Clemson

Georgia Tech

Miami

Louisville

West Virginia

Iowa State

Cincinatti

A 16 team alignment would require a 9 game conference slate. The way I would schedule would give you a divisional 7 game schedule plus a rotating 2 game cross division schedule where every team plays every other team once every 4 years. In other words, in Year 1: teams 1 and 2 in the West would play teams 1 and 2 in the East, the next season team 1 & 2 in the West would play teams 3 & 4 in the East, then teams 5 & 6 the next year, and 7 & 8 the next, arriving back at teams 1 & 2 after 4 seasons (the average time of a college players time on campus). Of your 2 matchups each season, one would be home and the other away. Starting in season 5 the home and away teams would swap through the next rotation. You would then have 3 out of conference games. These should be played against other Big 4 Conference schools, no more FCS teams, or if FCS teams are still allowed, cause they need the payday playing a major school brings, you should only be allowed 1. I think a Tiered setup would be best. Your tier 3 team could be a team from one of the conferences left outside the Big 4, like the MWC, or an FCS team. Your tier 2 team could be a middle to lower "name" school from one of the Big 4 conferences. Your tier 1 matchup would be either a cross conference rivalry game, such as Clemson vs South Carolina, or Florida St. vs Florida, or even Texas vs a&m could be brought back, or a game against a top team outside of your conference. People would tune in in droves to watch a Texas vs LSU game or Texas a&m vs Oregon. Then you would have your conference championship game. Followed by the playoffs. I will get into my thoughts on the playoffs in my next piece.

Be excellent to each other.

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