Realignment ends geographical conferences

Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti discussed further expansion to the West Coast at a press conference. The Big Ten has already added Oregon, Washington, USC and UCLA. // Photo courtesy of Darron Cummings Associated Press

Before the 2022 football season, Texas and Oklahoma announced their departure from the Big 12 Conference to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in July 2024. This move surprised most, as super conferences had largely been just talk up to that point. Texas and Oklahoma joined the Big 12 in 1996 and have greatly supported the conference in revenue ever since. With their departure, the Big 12 had to adapt quickly to sustain funds, so they added Brigham Young, Cincinnati, Central Florida and Houston to the league starting in
the 2023 season. 

Following the Texas and Oklahoma departure, actual conference realignment remained relatively quiet while fans frantically theorized about huge conferences of the current juggernauts. 

It appeared that Texas and Oklahoma were the only ones with eyes to make such a move until UCLA and USC made an announcement of their departure from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten. 

This move received a lot of scrutiny on the basis of geographical common sense as Texas and Oklahoma are relatively close to the other SEC schools, being in the south themselves. 

However, all the Big Ten teams are located in the midwest or near there. USC and UCLA are both on the West Coast and in a completely different time zone, so their joining of the Big Ten alarmed most for the future of college sports as the move was clearly only for financial benefit. 

Unfortunately, USC and UCLA’s move inspired others of the west coast to realign as well. Washington and Oregon then announced their moving to the Big Ten from the Pac-12, putting four west coast teams into a league full of midwest opponents. However, the Pac-12 was now without their top four revenue generating teams and had no action plan to combat this. With no signs of action from the Pac-12, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah jumped ship for the Big 12, leaving just four teams in the Pac-12. 

All this movement now leaves the Big 12 with 16 teams, the SEC with 16, the Big Ten with 18, the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) with 15 and the Pac-12 with four. However, these numbers are still subject to change as rumors emerge of teams departing their respective conferences. The president of Florida State made a threat to leave the ACC due to not receiving enough revenue from the conference for how much the school brings to it. This threat scared most fans, as Florida State would never leave the ACC without other teams leaving alongside them.  Clemson, North Carolina and Miami are estimated to be the other primary targets for
conferences to acquire. 

With conferences becoming far larger than before, quantitatively and geographically, the future of college sports comes into question. College sports have always been about the money, but on a far more discrete level than they are becoming. Football is the biggest fund generator for all schools, and most realignments have been made with that in mind. However, if these moves fail, it could mean the end of some non-revenue programs at schools. For example, with Oregon’s move to the Big Ten, the Oregon athletic department has to fly their softball, volleyball and track teams to the Midwest almost weekly. 

This is a cost that will surely add up on the program, and if their revenue generation for the Big Ten is not enough, the school could lose money. 

A lot of these programs are at risk in the eyes of fans, especially the fans of schools that did not make the big moves. Former President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice have even gotten involved, lobbying for Southern Methodist University (SMU) and Stanford to join the ACC. Stanford and SMU are both on the outskirts of these big moves, and without a move to a major conference, the schools are in danger of losing large portions of their athletic departments. 

The ACC originally voted not to accept the pair to the conference, but since the former President and Secretary of State’s involvement, a re-vote has been called. 

With some of the highest revenue-generating teams of the ACC threatening to leave, Tech is in danger of needing to adjust. Head football coach Brent Key expressed that he was “worried about Georgia Tech and the ACC,” when asked about it in a press conference. 

Many Tech fans share Key’s sentiment, as the program is not in the best position to make a bid for one of the new super conferences. It is in Tech’s best interest that the ACC remain intact and not succumb to the major changes going on outside of the conference. 

Despite all this, one thing is sure: conference realignment is here, and it is not going anywhere.