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College Football Realignment News: Notre Dame on Deck; Pac-12, Big 12 could merge; SEC vs. Big Ten Playoff?

The shock is wearing off… isn’t it? Or maybe preparing Trojans and Bruins for Big Noon games (9am PT!) still takes a little getting used to.

The 4th of July weekend is upon us, so we’re expecting the realignment to take a few days off. We need it. USC and UCLA need it. They need the time to buy parkas, hire tutors for five-hour plane trips, and develop a taste for cheese curds. Such is the enduring impact of two West Coast icons en route to the Big Ten.

Now it’s time to think about the next steps.

Notre Dame is a topic of conversation until it decides it isn’t. His constant dancing with conference membership dates back almost a century. The Pac-12 is already known for aggressively pursuing expansion. The Big 12 hasn’t revealed a plan, if there is one. It could stick with the 12 operational in 2025 or, as industry insiders suggest, pick up as many Pac-12 schools as makes financial sense and potentially send the Pac-12 to the dustbin of history.

Then there’s the ACC, which is looking increasingly vulnerable for the time being. If all this sounds reckless, we should be used to it by now. The shock should wear off…right?

Here’s the latest from the realignment trenches….

Nothing happens until Notre Dame decides

Pac-12 presidents and athletic directors met by phone Friday, but does Pac-12 have a position of strength? Until Notre Dame decides his future, there probably won’t be. Sources told CBS Sports the Big Ten was done “for now” until the Fighting Irish decide whether to attempt to attend the conference.

To entice Notre Dame into jumping into the Big Ten, a source suggested inviting Stanford as a “rivalry partner” of sorts. The two schools have met 24 times over the past 25 years, with the streak only interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

In this scenario, Notre Dame would have at least five traditional rivals (Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Stanford, USC) as Big Ten conference partners. With an attractive conference schedule plus three annual non-conference games, the Irish could easily continue their ‘shamrock streak’ of one-off games across the country.

The Big Ten could stop there at 18 or go further depending on the SEC’s intentions. There is growing concern that a combination of Clemson, Florida State and Miami could migrate to the SEC. This assumes that one of the three brings proportional (equal value) to the teams already in the league. That’s $80 million to $100 million annually in media rights fees.

Breaching the ACC grant of rights could require a substantial eight-figure exit fee, provided the contract is not successfully challenged in court. However, such a penalty could be funded over a period of years while the new schools reap an annual boon.

Does that force the Big Ten to take a close look at North Carolina and Virginia? Both were on then-Commissioner Jim Delany’s radar years ago before the league finally added Maryland and Rutgers.

With or without Notre Dame, an industry source doubted it would make sense for the Big Ten to invite Oregon and/or Washington. This source went so far as to call the two schools “tweeners,” not big enough to justify annual media rights fees of $80 million to $100 million, but clearly better than other Pac-12 schools.

Think Oregon and Washington, which are more attractive to the Big 12 if the Pac-12 doesn’t stick together. Speaking of…

The look down

Regardless of Notre Dame’s decision, the next step in the realignment could be a raid on the Big 12 or Pac-12 by the other conference.

An industry source said Pac-12 (excluding USC and UCLA) and Big 12 (excluding Texas and Oklahoma) compared to “Mountain West or AAC-plus.”

Trying to poach teams from the other league is the obvious answer to improving these labels and the associated rights fees. A raid might not change the math of finance much, but it would mean the survival of one conference and the eventual dissolution of the other.

One industry source described the Big 12’s options as if the realignment were a buffet.

  • Take the Arizona Schools (add the Phoenix Market)
  • Take the Arizona and mountain schools (Colorado and Utah)
  • Try an almost complete merger with the Pac-12 by adding the Arizona Schools, Mountain Schools, Oregon, and Washington

The Big 12 need to act fast. On the West Coast, a source said there have been a series of calls among Pac-12 administrators about issues of loyalty and cohesion… but nothing like “a blood oath.” Why should everyone look after their own interests?

“You can’t trust anyone,” a Pac-12 source said of the major college soccer climate. “It’s over.”

The option of mutual destruction

There is an option that will ensure the annihilation of both conferences together but stability for the survivors: Get the top schools in the Big 12 and Pac-12 to agree that forming a new conference is in their best interest .

It could look something like this:

There’s some spice if Utah and BYU could get back together in a conference. The Pac-12 schools gain recruiting access to Texas and expand their reach into the Central Time Zone. Big 12 schools gain recruiting access to California and add media markets of Phoenix, Denver and Seattle.

This hybrid conference could look better than anything that could form one league by taking a few teams from the other. And if the idea is to get earnings as close to the SEC and Big Ten as possible, this might be the best lineup.

Of course, this would also mean abandoning the following programs: Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oregon State, Washington State, West Virginia.

The power of two

As I said Thursdayalone, the 32 combined teams in the Big Ten and SEC could stage a credible playoff once they have their (for now) final configurations, both set by 2025.

Media rights insiders who recently spoke to CBS Sports added some depth, suggesting the idea was not only considered, but may be a big reason the Big Ten made its bold move.

  • Take the top four finishers from each conference and place them in a field of eight teams.
  • Quarterfinals and semifinals will be played in bowl games (as proposed in last year’s 12-team playoff group).

Using the CFP’s first eight years as a reference, only five teams that qualified for the field would not get a chance to return: Cincinnati, Clemson, Florida State, Notre Dame and Washington.

If Clemson and FSU joined the SEC — and if Notre Dame joined the Big Ten — only Cincinnati and Washington would be the outliers. Would there be much headwind at all?

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