The SEC has already secured its future in college athletics after scooping OU and Texas from the Big 12 to secure a 16-team super-league.
The Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC seem to be on their way toward countering the SEC’s power move, as all three are reportedly in talks about forming an alliance.
That leaves the Big 12 — the final league in the current Power Five hierarchy — on the outside looking in. And as things stand, it doesn’t seem as if that subtle shift will steer off course, potentially leaving the eight teams that are left in the league in its current form (OSU among them) in a vulnerable position. Here’s Dennis Dodd on the latest there:
Compelling because it would mean conference realignment — at least on that level — would basically be over just weeks after it started. The SEC with its 16 teams would be armed with some the biggest brands and rivalries in college athletics. The Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 would be attempting to come as close as possible to that if such an alliance is finalized.
Compelling because that alliance would close a loop around 57 teams, essentially creating a Power Four with the eight remaining Big 12 teams on the outside looking in. It wouldn’t be the breakaway from the NCAA that many believe is coming one day, but it would be darn close considering the legislative, financial and recruiting power of those conferences with the association itself fading from view.
So that’s not great. There were reports of Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby meeting with Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff earlier this month to potentially discuss an alliance or merger between the two. But The Athletic reports those talks were merely exploratory, and seemingly they landed the Big 12 nowhere.
Adding insult to injury, if talks of an alliance come to fruition, it’d deal a significant blow to power-conference left-behinds like OSU and Texas Tech. In theory, each school brings something new to the table if it were to petition, say, the Big Ten or the Pac-12 for membership. But such an alliance would likely mean realignment — and thus adding new members — may not be necessary for survival. Dodd put it more bluntly:
Of course, even the hint of an alliance is a bad sign for the Big 12. It signals that the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 do not believe the Big 12’s eight remaining programs — in any form — bring substantial value to their conferences. Taken a step further, it suggests a reality that could see the Big 12 or American fade away with one likely absorbing the other.
Worse for the Big 12, it portends a nuclear winter for those schools’ athletic budgets. Programs with hundreds of millions tied up in facilities will downsize. Minor sports will be dropped. The impact will affect not only athletics but the universities themselves. Being an autonomous (Power Five) institution is a branding that carries with it the cache that allows schools to hire staff, faculty and be awarded research grants. Even enrollment would likely be impacted.
Dodd added that Kansas could be playing basketball in the Mountain West (!) and that major conference membership specifically for Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor is a real threat in this round of realignment. Additionally, he adds, this new alliance threat suggests the possibility of the Big 12 or the American fading away “with one likely absorbing the other.”
Any way you look at things right now, the SEC’s bloating and the alliance talks of the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC suggest that unlike the last round of realignment, this one could thin out those in power conferences instead of growing. For OSU and the other seven in-the-lurch Big 12 teams, it could spell worst-case scenario with a Power Four structure leaving them all behind.
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