Texas and Oklahoma are planning to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, and all of college football has gone into a frenzy. We are now on the precipice of the SEC not just being the best conference in the country, but the only viable conference for big names in the sport. To stop that from happening, something bold needs to happen. Something crazy.
People have been throwing around a lot of ideas to stop the SEC from building a college football Death Star. Poach the other Big 12 schools! Get Clemson into the Big 10! All of those are fine ideas that will delay the superweapon but won't destroy it. There is one option that will save us from one mega-conference; form a second mega-conference by merging the Big 10 and the Pac-12.
I know these two conferences don't seem like they have much in common, but they both have historic, blue-blood programs, and like it or not, they need each other to stay relevant in this new superconference world we're heading into.
The best way to pull this off is by doing the following:
Split the conference into two divisions
- The old Pac-12 + Nebraska
- The remaining 13 Big Ten schools
Up the number of conference games to 10
- Eight games against teams in your division (with two being protected games i.e. Michigan-Ohio State)
- Two cross-divisional games - one home, one on the road
I have no idea what this new conference will be called, but to channel a friend who named his childhood Husky, "Husky", I will call it Conference. By splitting Conference into two divisions, you keep the feel of how things have always been. The Big Ten schools will play mostly Big Ten foes, while the old Pac-12 will mostly play old Pac-12 schools.
Conference play is where the magic happens and under this model, it's where more of the randomness that makes college football great can manifest. By having two 13-team divisions, you avoid playing the same teams over and over again. I like Michigan State as much as the next guy, but playing them year in and year out is getting as stale as Mark Dantonio's play-calling.
Each team in Conference will play two cross-divisional matchups - one on the road and one at home. This keeps a team from either side of Conference from having to travel across the country multiple times a year. For Penn State, it means a trip to Seattle to play Washington in September, followed by the Arizona Wildcats visiting Happy Valley in October. Rutgers heads to the Rose Bowl! USC visits the Big House! This sport is supposed to be fun and there's no denying these scenarios would be fun.
With two Conference games for crossovers and two reserved for protected rivalries so The Game and Apple Cup can continue on a yearly basis, we're left with six league games to play familiar foes on a rotating basis. Gone will be the days of Maryland playing Indiana every season, instead, it'd be something like every other season. Keeping things fresh while also maintaining traditions is something conferences have tried to pull off for a long time and this does just that.
At this point, your biggest question is probably: how does this help solve the problem?
My counterpoint is: how does it hurt?
By creating Conference, you guarantee a game that matters to you is on TV from the moment games kickoff to the second #ConferenceAfterDark ends. The reach of Conference would stretch from Los Angeles, to Chicago, to New York*, with plenty of big cities with lots of Conference alumni in between. All of a sudden an Indiana fan in Indianapolis has a reason to stay up and watch a Washington State game or an Oregon fan has a reason to get up at 9am to watch a Penn State game because it could directly impact their chances to win a Conference title.
More eyeballs on games are good. Good for the schools, good for the players, good for the advertisers who pay the schools to not pay the players, and good for Conference.
We're also heading towards college football playoff expansion, with a 12-team format being the most likely scenario. A big fear of Texas and Oklahoma joining the SEC is that they'll stack the deck for the future of the Playoff, loading it with Southeastern Conference schools and all but guaranteeing more titles for the league. That might still be true but a 26-team Conference would at least have a shot of matching them! Like it or not, getting to the Playoff is all that really matters in college football at this point, and the more teams a conference gets to the Playoff, the better that conference looks.
Is this a perfect solution, no. Is it realistic, probably not? Will this conference even be on par with the new SEC, I don't think so! But it checks the most important boxes for both me as a fan and Conference as a business.
For me, it's fun. It will keep things fresh, give me more reasons to watch teams I don't normally watch, and maybe get me out of Chicago in November in favor of Palo Alto once in a while.
For Conference, it makes money. As I said before, you have 26 BIG (not B1G) schools and all of the cities, alumni bases, and fans they encapsulate. Sure there will be some dud games but conferences have dud games all the time. The big games will be massive viewing experiences and that's why this idea can work. There is money to be made here - more money than the Big Ten and Pac-12 can hope to make on their own if the SEC finishes the Death Star.
I can only get Conference so far. If it's going to be a thing (to be clear, it probably won't be!) it would take years to work out all the logistics and the SEC isn't going to wait up. Whatever happens, the college football landscape is shifting, and staying the same isn't going to be an option for much longer.
Now, good luck figuring out Conference's basketball schedule.