The Uncertain Future of College Football Realignment
By Devin Kelley
A University or college football team is essentially a business. With the sheer amount of money and profitability within college football, it is obvious that schools are looking to put themselves in the best position to grow and ensure long-term success. One way to ensure this vision is to be in the conference with the most publicity, viewership, and sponsorship deals available. Each conference is marketable in its own ways, but there are a certain few that rank much higher than others in terms of value. This is what college football teams are currently taking into consideration when deciding what conference to remain in or transfer to, if given that option.
Keeping all of the factors above in mind, we can see why schools are considering conference realignment. This is uncharted territory for college football as rule changes from the NCAA have allowed athletes to profit off their name, image, and likeness. This landmark decision, in turn, has completely upended the business of college sports for athletes, schools, and agents. This makes it difficult for most to define what a modern day partnership looks like. Schools are trying to keep up with the changing times and this is probably why teams like Texas and Oklahoma have decided to leave the Big 12 conference and transfer to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) because the conference will pay its schools more money. We have also seen USC and UCLA decide to jump ship on the PAC-12 and join the Big Ten conference, leaving fans wondering what's next for their school.
Recently, the SEC announced that ESPN and ABC will be taking over the Saturday afternoon football broadcast package. Beginning with the 2024-25 season, ESPN and ABC will pay the SEC in the low $300 million range annually. At this point, any team offered to join the SEC conference would surely be interested in joining. If the SEC is backed by an ESPN and ABC duo deal, it is almost guaranteed that teams and the conference will grow immensely throughout the coming seasons. This adds much more leverage to schools when recruiting high school players because they can afford to give athletes more - incentivizing a player to commit.
According to USA Today, the gross revenue for the Power 5 of college football goes as follows: the Big Ten: $768.9 million, SEC: $728.8, Pac-12: $533.8 million, ACC: $496.7 million, and Big 12: $409.2 million. The Big Ten and the SEC have a huge advantage over the next 3 Power Five Conferences. If these conferences continue to grow at the rate they are, some experts believe there will be the possibility of seeing the emergence of a new ‘super conference’ with the Big Ten and the SEC being a part of that.
Similar to how the SEC is recruiting more schools that they think will bring more profitability and growth to their conference, the Big Ten is also doing the same. In a major win for the Big Ten, they were able to secure USC and UCLA to join the Big Ten effectively with the 2024 season. With the addition of these two schools, the bidding war has begun for streaming rights with the Big Ten. Apple is reportedly among the number of companies that are interested. This list includes Fox, CBS, ESPN, NBC and Amazon Prime Video. With that many companies interested in buying the streaming rights for the Big Ten, it is safe to say that the Big Ten should not be worried about its future.
On the other hand, other conferences within the Power 5 should be concerned. The Pac-12, ACC and Big 12 are now in survival mode and each move they make from here on out can have drastic effects on the success or failure of their conferences. According to Sports Illustrated, there are talks between the ACC and Pac-12 forming some sort of alliance between the two that would help both leagues remain intact. As realignment begins again, powerhouse teams within the ACC like the Clemson football team and UNC basketball team will weigh all options on what the best is for the future of their programs. With the SEC and the Big Ten poised to grow immensely within the coming years, schools want to be a part of that success. Keeping this in mind and seeing the rise of these conferences, any team who gets offered to join the SEC or the Big Ten would be hard to turn down.
Now that players have to be compensated for their talent and skill on the field, it makes sense that these players playing in the SEC or Big Ten will be paid more generously versus another conference. Players broadcasted on the SEC and the Big Ten networks will likely be playing in front of a much larger audience resulting in more opportunities for these athletes to make deals with companies and agencies, alike. The better players are given a bigger stage to showcase their talents and have a better ability to profit in the better paid conferences. If the better players continue to choose to play in the conference with more money available to them, this will most likely result in a drastic difference in skill level over time when comparing the SEC and the Big Ten to the rest of the teams within Division 1 college football.
Soon more sponsors, partners and agencies will be looking to get involved with the teams and players within the SEC and Big Ten knowing the power, profitability and success within these conferences. With these uncertainties looming in the future within the college football world, schools and teams will weigh out what options are the best for growth and success in the long run. Over the next few months, decisions will be made that will affect the college football landscape for decades to come. Schools are already considering what the best options are for long term growth and success of their athletic programs. It is almost certain that we will see schools engaging in conference realignment in hopes of fulfilling that vision for their respective programs. The only question is: Who will come out on top?