June 24, 2024

College Football is Coming, NCAA Conference Realignment is Here

Viewers should prepare for college football to look a little different this year. Recent changes in college sports have shifted power dynamics among the previously-known Power Five conferences: the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC. This transformation is largely due to different payment structures and value disparity in TV rights deals. As a result, many teams left their original conferences to join others.

The Pac-12 has now dwindled to just two teams, and the Big 12 lost Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC. While the ACC hasn't lost teams yet, their top schools are frustrated with revenue discrepancies and have filed lawsuits. Although there is talk of a super league in college sports, no significant progress has been made toward this concept. The SEC and Big Ten will continue to dominate for now, while the other conferences scramble to rebuild and resolve their issues amidst NCAA conference realignment.

ncaa conference realignment

Pac-12 Topples to Pac-2

The Pac-12 has experienced the most tragic downfall of all the conferences, now reduced to just Oregon State University and Washington State University. The decline began two years ago when USC and UCLA agreed to join the Big Ten, setting off a chain reaction. Oregon and Washington also moved to the Big Ten, while Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah joined the Big 12, and California and Stanford went to the ACC. Losing the Los Angeles schools and that major media market stalled the Pac-12’s media rights negotiations, leading to a wait-and-see approach that pushed out multiple schools and drastically lowered the value of the deals offered to the conference.

Now, with two schools that have not been relevant in football or basketball for years, the Pac-12 is working with the Mountain West conference on a football scheduling alliance for this season and is considering a future merger. OSU and WSU will pay the Mountain West to play their teams this year but won't be eligible for any conference championship. The next step likely involves OSU and WSU joining the Mountain West, signaling the end of the Pac-12.

Big 12 Gets Bigger

The Big 12 conference took a step back when it lost its two most-followed teams, Oklahoma and Texas, to the SEC due to NCAA conference realignment. Despite this setback, the Big 12 added Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Utah, BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston to form a 16-team conference. These additions came from the Pac-12 and Group of 5 conferences.

In the past year, the Big 12 successfully renegotiated its TV rights contract with ESPN and Fox, securing $2.6B over the next 13 years. This deal allows the conference to surpass the ACC and Pac-12 in yearly team revenue, with each team receiving nearly $32M. By 2026, all the new teams are set to evenly share revenue with the rest of the conference, a process that typically takes much longer.

Looking ahead, Big 12 leaders are considering private equity investment by a Luxembourg-based firm of up to $1B for a 15-20% stake. Although losing their top teams was a significant blow, the new TV deal and potential investment positions the Big 12 to remain competitive. They are now the clear third conference in per-team revenue after the Big Ten and SEC.

ncaa conference realignment

ACC Shake-up

The ACC faces an uncertain future despite recent additions of California, Stanford, and SMU. These new teams won’t receive full revenue sharing until their 10th season. To integrate them, the ACC has removed divisions, increased in-conference games, and introduced provisions for West Coast travel. Over the next seven years, each team will play home and away games against every conference team, with the top two teams competing for the football championship. 

The conference’s biggest weaknesses remain its TV rights deal and revenue sharing. Since signing a 20-year deal with ESPN in 2016, the ACC has lagged behind other conferences in revenue, earning only $17M per team annually. This has frustrated top football programs like Clemson and FSU, who argue it hinders their competitiveness. Tensions escalated when FSU missed the College Football Playoff, prompting the school to seek an exit from their grant of rights agreement and sue the ACC, which countersued. Clemson followed with legal action three months later.

If either FSU or Clemson breaks their grant of rights, it could trigger a mass exodus and weaken the ACC significantly. These schools have dominated ACC football, and losing them would cripple the conference’s future, especially in securing new media rights deals once the current ESPN contract expires.

ncaa conference realignment

So What’s Next? 

With all the political chaos of NCAA conference realignment, new powerhouse schools may emerge and lower conferences could gain some spotlight. Schools like UCF and SMU, which moved into power conferences, can benefit from more national TV coverage. Conferences like the Mountain West can gain exposure by having OSU and WSU face their schools. With the downfall of the Pac-12 and the rapid movement of its schools, we may see schools becoming more comfortable swapping conferences. Since the ACC reworked its schedule to accommodate new West Coast schools, other conferences might do the same to add new members. Although talks of a super league have occurred, many officials have dismissed the possibility. But for now, as we have seen, anything can happen.

Sources:

  1. https://herosports.com/fbs-college-football-realignment-pac-12-mountain-west-merger-stanford-cal-heading-to-aac-cpcp/
  2. https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/40119917/acc-spring-meetings-2024-clemson-florida-state-lawsuits
  3. https://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/college-football-playoff-finalizes-tv-deal-beginning-in-2026-as-fbs-leaders-settle-on-revenue-distribution/#:~:text=The%20new%20contract%20is%20expected,(%2412%20million%20per%20school).
  4. https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/sports/acc-stanford-cal-2/3308750/
  5. https://businessofcollegesports.com/current-college-sports-television-contracts/
  6. https://www.si.com/college/oregon/football/oregon-football-big-ten-conference-sec-conference-college-football-super-league-greg-sanky-rejects 
  7. https://www.sportingnews.com/us/ncaa-football/news/pac-12-teams-landing-spots-oregon-washington-football-2024/a12390637a0a4d3cd81fb1a0 
  8. https://www.freep.com/story/sports/college/university-michigan/2024/01/08/what-happened-pac-12-washington-oregon-usc-ucla-joining-big-ten/72088532007/ 
  9. https://www.tennessean.com/story/sports/college/SEC/2023/12/19/alabama-georgia-most-viewed-teams-college-football-season-2023-nielsen-ratings/71975148007/ 
  10. https://www.espn.com/college-football/story/_/id/38794541/big-12-unveils-16-team-conference-football-matchups-2027 
  11. https://www.cbssports.com/college-football/news/big-12-considering-private-equity-investment-of-up-to-1-billion-for-as-much-as-20-of-conference/ 
  12. https://theacc.com/news/2023/10/30/acc-announces-future-conference-football-schedule-model.aspx 

Stay in the loop.

Enter your email to sign up for the Athelo Group newsletter.
menuchevron-down