Ranking the top 10 Power 5 candidates for 'relegation' if conference contraction happened
Go figure that at the start of the decade, all the talk was about Power 5 conferences expanding and now, there’s more momentum for them to reduce than add.
Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel reported that a conference official said that it seems more likely that could happen, though obviously with certain contracts and agreements, kicking out a school isn’t easy.
But let’s say all things equal — or as close to equal as they can be — that relegation could happen. This is, the weakest members of whatever conference could get chopped. I’d say football is the biggest factor in this, though Big 3 revenue sports is the entire conversation.
That would help a school like Vanderbilt, which is obviously coming off an NCAA crown in the College World Series. But for others, there would be some extremely nervous fans if this scenario paid out. Annual TV revenue checks of 8 figures would disappear and suddenly, the path to the Playoff or national relevance would look much more daunting.
So let’s pretend that we’re able to chop Power 5 schools based on stuff they’ve done in the Big 3 sports … but mostly football.
Here are the 10 schools who would be in jeopardy:
I’ve heard this reference about Rutgers joining the Big Ten in 2014 described as “Rutgers was out in the middle of the ocean on a life raft. The Big Ten pulled up next to Rutgers on a cruise ship and welcomed it to come aboard.”
Make all the jokes you want about the Big Ten being a cruise ship, but traditional members of the conference (even Nebraska) got nearly $54 million in revenue shares in 2018. Rutgers isn’t making that much yet — it won’t receive full-share revenue distribution from the Big Ten until 2027 — but are we sure it’ll survive that long in the Power 5?
Besides being arguably the worst Power 5 football program of the Playoff era besides Kansas (20-42, 1 bowl trip), the school hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament in basketball since 1991 (with a 16-76 conference record as a member of the Big Ten), and it hasn’t done so in baseball since 2007.
Yeah, this is an easy first choice, and that’s without mentioning the mess that was the final year of the Kyle Flood era.
Poor Maryland. It gets grouped with Rutgers because it joined the Big Ten at the same time. But there’s a reason they both are associated together. Both have been doormats in the Big Ten East while having national scandals decimate the program since joining the conference (I still cannot believe Maryland tried to bring back D.J. Durkin after it concluded its internal investigation of the damning ESPN report).
But it isn’t just the football mess. Maryland was a fit for the Big Ten because it was supposed to provide all this basketball value. Sure, the Terps have been decent, but they’ve been to 1 Sweet 16 in 5 years. Five other Big Ten teams have done that during that stretch. It’s not like Maryland is competing for national titles or cranking out loads of NBA talent.
Maryland’s basketball tradition and Under Armour connection made it a justifiable addition, but the lack of football success weighs heavily.
Wait, what about basketball? Call me crazy, but as great as Kansas hoops is, looming NCAA violation speculation might make this the perfect time for the Big 12 to move on from the Jayhawks.
And as for football, well, these Playoff-era numbers say it all:
- 9-51 overall
- 3-42 vs. Big 12
- 2 losses to FCS teams
- 0 Power 5 road wins
- 0 bowls
I mean, Kansas has been an FCS team. Sure, the Big 12 has a 9-game conference schedule and it doesn’t have “cupcake week” like the SEC, but every team gets to face Kansas every year.
Then again, maybe that would make Kansas more attractive to keep in the conference.
4. Boston College
It’s not that the Big 3 athletics are laughing stocks, but what value are they really providing? Boston College football hasn’t finished in the Top 25 in the past decade, and it’s been since 2009 that they rose above 7 wins in a season. That’s for a program averaging just over 37,000 fans per home game … and has a lower home average than Rutgers.
In basketball, the program hasn’t been to an NCAA Tournament in 10 years, and it hasn’t won a game there in 12. And in baseball, an occasional NCAA Tournament appearance is all BC has to speak of in the 21st century.
Let’s call it what it is. Boston College is a hockey school — it doesn’t even compete in the ACC in hockey because it’s above that — that has had limited success in football and basketball since joining the ACC in 2005.
Is it Rutgers? No, but is it an easy school to chop out for those big revenue sports? Definitely.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Doesn’t it seem like just yesterday, Rick Pitino was wearing a skin-tight Lamar Jackson jersey and campaigning for him to win another Heisman Trophy?
Coach Rick Pitino is rocking the Lamar Jackson jersey 🔥 pic.twitter.com/C8Q1vqc7b0
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) September 16, 2017
Ah, simpler times.
Since then, Pitino was fired following an FBI investigation into his program that it committed bribery and fraud. Jackson didn’t win the Heisman that year, either. Louisville stumbled to a disappointing season in the final year with Jackson, and then subsequently fell off the face of the Earth last year with a 2-10 season (0-8 in the ACC). That led to the firing of Bobby Petrino and the public inability to steal Jeff Brohm from Purdue.
The ACC brought Louisville on board in 2014, which made sense for both basketball and its rising football program. Since then, all it did was put itself in the center of a national college sports recruiting scandal and become a football doormat.
On the bright side, at least Louisville baseball continues to make College World Series appearances.
Hmm. Where do I start? How about the Tim Beckman player mistreatment scandal that went national right before the start of the 2015 season? What about the complete dysfunction on the football field and on the hardwood in the Playoff era?
We’re talking about a Power 5 school with one of the biggest U.S. cities in its state, yet it has just 1 combined bowl berth/NCAA Tournament appearance since the start of the 2014-15 school year. It hasn’t posted a winning conference record in either sport in that stretch.
And in football, the sport where its head coach (Lovie Smith) is making $5 million, Illinois is 9-27 since his arrival. Still not convinced that things are as bad as they seem in Champaign? Just look at Illinois’ 2020 recruiting class, which is sandwiched between Harvard and Princeton.
Meanwhile, Illinois is pretending like it isn’t stealing by accepting that $54 million Big Ten check when all it does is play in front of 30,000 miserable fans at 11 a.m. every fall Saturday. Yeah, that’s a relegate-able offense.
7. Oregon State
In the “conference of champions,” nobody is further removed from than that motto than Oregon State. Well, outside of baseball. The Beavers won 3 College World Series titles in 13 years, the most recent in 2018. And they earned trips to 2 of the past 3 College World Series.
But in football and basketball, woof.
Oregon State in the Playoff era (the start of the 2014-15 school year) has:
- 0 bowl games
- 6-39 record vs. the Pac-12
- 3 seasons with double-digit losses
- 2 Power 5 road wins
They also had the Gary Andersen era end in bizarre fashion in the middle of the 2017 season.
Just in case that wasn’t enough, the Beavers are a Power 5 hoops program that hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game in 37 years. Outside of Northwestern, I didn’t even know that was possible.
The Rutgers of the West Coast hasn’t even been Group of 5 level in basketball and football lately.
Part of this is just because Colorado was the most recent Pac-12 addition. And part of this is because the Buffs had just 1 winning season since arriving in 2011. Going 34-66 overall isn’t moving the needle, nor is the fact that it hasn’t won a bowl game in 15 years. That 2016 season was really the only time that Colorado had national relevancy for more than a few minutes in recent memory.
In basketball, 1 NCAA Tournament win in the 21st century won’t cut it. In the past 50 years, Colorado hasn’t been better than an 8-seed.
And in baseball … oh, that’s right. They cut their baseball team in 1980 for budgetary reasons so Colorado can’t even use the Oregon State excuse that the sport is worth keeping them at the Power 5 level.
This is about getting a return on the investment.
As great as Arkansas fans are, the team coming off consecutive bowl-less appearances that just got housed by North Texas is an easy target. A team that’s 28-35 with an 11-29 mark in SEC play during the Playoff era hasn’t exactly moved the needle. Hypothetically speaking, it would be much easier to justify cutting Arkansas now as opposed to a couple years from now if Chad Morris has the Hogs out of the basement.
And as proud as Arkansas hoops are, it’s still a team with 2 NCAA Tournament wins in the past decade. It’s not a contender. It would be a tough pill to swallow on the baseball side, but it’s not like the SEC is lacking yearly College World Series participants if Arkansas leaves.
Would this happen? I highly doubt it, but look around the SEC and it would be easier to justify cutting Arkansas than anyone else, including Vanderbilt for the aforementioned baseball dominance. And, well, at least Vandy got a bowl check last year.
You better believe the Big 12 wished it wasn’t associated with Baylor when all of the Art Briles stuff came out. Having a program at the center of a widespread culture of sexual assault within the football team is always a bad look for a conference, no matter how many games that team wins.
Since Briles and his staff were forced out, the once-contending program is still picking up the pieces. Last year, the Bears averaged fewer home fans than the likes of Northwestern, UCF, UNC and TCU.
I mention TCU because some might look at the small, private school that joined the Big 12 in 2012 and wonder if it would make more sense for relegation. I’d say 3 top 10 seasons in the Playoff era that aren’t regarded in complete disgrace help TCU’s case to stick around more than Baylor’s.
Granted, Baylor basketball has been solid under Scott Drew, and Baylor baseball just made its third consecutive NCAA Tournament. Baylor would have been a much easier school to cut ties with a couple years ago in the wake of the Briles fallout, and it’s not like the Big 12 is in any hurry to get smaller.
Perhaps that alone would save Baylor from being exiled to the Mountain West.