What Big 12 expansion means for SEC, college football
Better late than never?
Maybe. But if you’re expecting the proposed expansion of the Big 12 to reshape college football’s pecking order or challenge the SEC’s superiority, you’re about five years too late.
BYU, South Florida, Memphis, Houston, East Carolina, Cincinnati? Fine programs all, but hardly a threat to Alabama.
Those schools — and a few others — are among the best of what’s left of programs hoping for that payday phone call from a Power 5 conference.
With agreement rights locked up for decades and exit costs soaring, the Big 12 won’t be able to poach from another Power 5, like the SEC did when it grabbed Texas A&M and Missouri. Or the Big Ten did when it lured Maryland away from the ACC, which in turn scooped up Syracuse and Louisville.
Notre Dame would be great for the Big 12’s brand, but the ACC’s new deal with ESPN means it owns the Irish until 2036, even if the football program technically isn’t part of the conference. Yet, anyway.
The time to act was six years ago, when everybody went school shopping and the landscape changed forever. But the Big 12 took a conservative approach — hard to imagine, the way they play football and do business in Texas — and it cost them. Dearly. They lost teams and, more important, opportunity.
They watched the first College Football Playoff, despite fielding quality teams worthy of competing. Only an off-year in the Pac-12 opened a spot for Oklahoma last year, but if you remember, there was a serious debate about whether the ACC deserved two teams if UNC knocked off Clemson in the conference championship. Fortunately for the Big 12, the Tigers took care of the Tar Heels and the committee never had to make that choice.
But that’s the Big 12’s annual predicament, one likely to reappear this fall, and it seems as though league ADs finally grown tired of sweating it out.
The Big 12 took the first step toward solving that dilemma by voting to add a championship game for the 2017 season.
Now, it’s thinking bigger.
By adding teams — two, possibly four — they will fall in line with the other Power 5s. They’ll likely produce a 12-1 conference champion each year, and fans will debate their overall strength of schedule, just like they do to the ACC and Big Ten.
The quality of those new, extra members won’t matter as much as the fact that they’re part of a Power 5. In that regard, expansion makes total sense. It always has. It just took the Big 12 five years to reach that conclusion.
Expansion won’t improve the Big 12’s product, but it will improve its playoff case. Make no mistake, this is all about getting to the College Football Playoff, which is essentially a license to print money.
Dennis Dodd, of CBS Sports, wrote it best when describing the Big 12’s obvious motivation: “The partners don’t matter; the math does. … The best route, mathematically, for the Big 12 to survive and thrive seems to be adding teams — any teams.”
The impact on the SEC is math-related, as well.
While there have always been five power conferences (and Notre Dame) bidding for four playoff spots, the reality was that the voters didn’t look at the Big 12 as an equal. Therefore, the SEC champion was all but guaranteed a spot in the Final Four.
With expansion and a legitimate conference champion, the Big 12 will be on an a far more level playing field. Somebody’s 12-1 conference champion could be left at home in 2017 and beyond. And the SEC’s dream of sending two teams to the playoff seems all the more remote.
Those new teams? Individually, they will make the Big 12 bigger, not better.
But collectively they will make the Big 12 a bigger playoff threat than it has been.
That’s the only concern the SEC should have with the Big 12 finally joining the expansion party.
Chris Wright is Executive Editor at SaturdayDownSouth.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.