Oh, NCAA, what will you ever do? Conference realignment is in full swing and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. If it were up to the SEC, they would just have one conference of all the FBS schools, just so they can claim that they’re the best conference in the universe. Don’t believe me? Ask any fan of the SEC and they’re telling you that line already. The NCAA, obviously, isn’t going to allow that to happen. Even with the NIL deals wreaking havoc on the football teams, the NCAA needs five power conferences in order to maintain their relevancy. Don’t believe me? Well, maybe you shouldn’t just yet, but I’m going to provide my thoughts and opinions on what the NCAA is going to do next in order to keep its power and relevancy alive during this complete reshuffle of conferences.
First, I’m going to start with the Texas and Oklahoma departure from the Big 12 because these departures were the first domino to fall in a long line of shocking moves for conferences. For starters, these two Big 12 powerhouse programs left the Big 12 to join the “Almighty Conference of the Universe” SEC. Why is this a big deal? Well, at first glance you don’t believe this really affects anything other than whatever that ridiculous patch is that’s required on every uniform in every sport, but in all honesty, it affects a lot. The biggest effect of the move is the media deals. And let’s face it, in today’s world, the media package deals are the creme de la creme of all sporting events, but primarily the football world. The Big 12 responded quickly, however. They plucked several teams from the AAC; the two biggest being Houston and Cincinnati. Acting that quickly may have saved that conference from falling completely apart and after the success of TCU and Cincinnati in the last two years, the Big 12 will remain a part of the Power 5 conferences.
Big 12, Big Problem?
However, why is it that the Big 12 will remain in that discussion despite losing their two biggest programs? Well, the NCAA, of course. How, you ask? That’s a great question, that admittedly, you probably didn’t even ask in your head while reading this. This is how: they help manipulate the rankings and push teams that aren’t as strong to appear stronger than they really are. I know, I know, but the AP writers do all the voting during the season and then there’s a playoff committee to decide the playoffs but to think that the NCAA doesn’t have influence over the rankings is living with your head in the sand. For instance, Cincinnati always hovered around the late teens and early 20’s in rankings for the most part. The year that it was announced they were going to join the Big 12? Oh, look at that, they made the playoffs. Now, don’t mistake my point for a disdain for Cincinnati, because Cincinnati had a sensational year that year, went undefeated, and was the first team ever to make the playoffs from a Group of Five conference. Pure coincidence? I think not. The AAC wasn’t even that strong of a conference that year but somehow Cincinnati was ranked in or near the top ten ALL year. The NCAA was able to make Cincinnati appear stronger than they were and give him relevancy, knowing that in two years’ time, they’d be joining the Pac-12.
Of course, this could all be the crazy ramblings of a mad football with a weird conspiracy theory complex. No, not the NFL is rigged kind of conspiracy theory but a much smaller one that makes more sense. So how does the NCAA save the Pac-12 from falling apart, or almost falling apart, like the Big 12, even though they didn’t move as quickly as the Big 12 did? Rankings. Let me explain.
As I mentioned before, the NCAA and all their respective conferences rely on lucrative media rights packages to help make money that is then distributed to all the teams equally. The Pac-12, which was already considered the weakest of the five power conferences, took a huge blow when it was announced that UCLA and USC, their two biggest media markets, would be leaving the conference for the Big 10. Ouch! What to do? Well, the Pac-12 chose to do nothing and sit on the news for a lengthy period of time. So much so, that they JUST announced in the last seven days that San Diego State and SMU were two of their top targets to bring into the conference once UCLA and USC leave. Wait, that’s your master plan? I love the mid-major schools as much as the next guy but SDSU and SMU? Replacing USC and UCLA with SDSU and SMU is the equivalent of going to Walmart and purchasing the Great Value brand “sandwich cookies” because they were out of Oreo’s, and you were really craving that chocolatey deliciousness in milk. No offense to SDSU and SMU because both programs are very strong mid-major programs, but those two schools are not located in media-friendly areas. Plus, two teams aren’t going to cut it; they need to bring in at least four teams in order to build some of their strength back up.
Now, the rankings portion of these mad ramblings. The NCAA already started the process, you just missed it. Washington, Washington State and Oregon State were all ranked this year, and at one point and time, higher than anybody expected them to be or should have been. Hell, Arizona was ranked 25th once during the year before promptly losing and then never being heard from again. This gives the illusion of strength, a strength that both the Pac-12 and NCAA need to remain relevant. Why is that a big deal? Because the departures of UCLA and USC have caused the Pac-12 to scramble to land a media rights package, a deal that wasn’t looking the greatest until “Primetime” joined the inner circle and even then, it’s struggling to come together for them.
Rectifying The Situation
So, how does the NCAA rectify this situation? Well, for starters, they landed a gift in their lap when Deion Sanders joined the conference when he came to Colorado. Sanders will bring a lot of eyes to the team and conference and fans are already coming up with ridiculous predictions for the team in 2023, which means the NCAA will likely lean into that. Travis Hunter, the big-time recruit, and Deion’s son, Shedeur Sanders, both joined him from Jackson State which means there’s a lot of intrigue there. Arizona State landed an amazing head coach in Kenny Dillingham will lead a Mike Norvell-type turnaround for that program. And of course, Oregon and Utah are both really strong teams that are constantly placed in the top ten in voting every year, or in the top 15, anyways. The NCAA will continue to pluck and play with the rest of the conference until one of those other teams becomes relevant enough to place in the top 10. I’m not saying it’s a bad strategy, I’m saying pay attention to the top 25 this year and watch how many times you see a random Pac-12 team ranked.
Lastly, the NCAA could completely move on from the Pac-12, as well. The Sun Belt Conference has slowly become one of the strongest conferences in the country and they could just simply replace the Pac-12 in the Power 5 talks with the Sun Belt. Will they? Unlikely because the Sun Belt operates out of the SEC/ACC territory and that would mean too much East Coast bias. But if I was in charge of the Pac-12, and I’m sure we agree it’s a good thing I’m not after reading this article, I would bring on SDSU, SMU and lure North Dakota State(let them skip the Mountain West, there’s no reason for them to be subjected to that conference) and South Dakota State(same as NDSU) to the conference from the FBS. Because, let’s face it, both those programs are currently better than some of the Pac-12 programs. No offense to those teams.
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