It’s not an offseason without talk of conference realignment. The conferences themselves are chipping in this year by talking about everything from the strategic (where does Notre Dame fit in?) to the desperate (Central Florida would just be perfect for the Big East). Talk of Big 10 expansion is heating up, and Joe Paterno – long a proponent of expansion – sees a future with “12, 14 team conferences and maybe even 16 team conferences.”
At that point, the notion of a conference has little to do with traditional alignments or even regional homogeneity. When the idea of a 14-team conference came up, Brian Cook wrote that “the thing about 14 teams is at that point it’s hardly a conference, it’s two conferences with a scheduling agreement and a weird playoff at the end.” It’s a revenue-sharing agreement and an administrative abstraction.
When you look at a conference that way, is the BCS alliance itself just a few steps away from becoming a 64-team league managing its own scheduling, TV deals, and – yes – postseason. Of course it’s not likely that those in charge of the major conferences will give up their fiefdoms that easily, so the alliance of power conferences will remain the guiding force of college football.
In that spirit, why limit this growth to the Big 10? Matt Hinton speculates about the dominoes that might fall if the Big East is raided once again. He writes somewhat tongue-in-cheek about “visions of a land ruled by imperialist super conferences.” The Big 10 might kick things off, but will their move stand alone or cause ripples that realign the other major conferences?
If you’re disposed to favor a playoff, this gravitational attraction of teams into larger and larger units might not be the worst thing. If the BCS conferences realign to, say, four 16-team conferences, the skeleton of an eight-team playoff is taken care of. Each conference would have a championship game of its divisional winners, and you’re left with four conference champions to do with as you please. Because the NCAA has abdicated when it comes to a Division I football championship, the power lies with those conferences to restructure the BCS as the conferences realign.
If the Big 10 does kick off another round of realignment leading to one or more superconferences, the wall between those on either side of the superconferences will continue to grow to the point that those outside of a hypothetical group of 64 superconference teams might as well form their own subdivision within Division I. Hurt most by the realignment will eventually be those left in the shells of conferences like the Big East. Those programs will go from being revenue-sharing partners in a BCS conference to fending for themselves on the wrong side of the superconference velvet rope.
One conference that’s been conspicuously absent from expansion talk has been the ACC. The Big 10 is positioning itself as a possible first superconference. The SEC is strong enough to be one of the players in realignment. You’d figure the Pac 10 would survive in some form. The Big 12 is questionable but has a major player in Texas. Most assume the Big East would be the likely victim of any Big 10 expansion, but what becomes of the ACC in our group of four 16-team superconferences? What would you think of an SEC with Clemson, Georgia Tech, FSU, and Miami?