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Full disclosure: I’ve been nauseous the entire time I’ve been working on this column. But it’s true. The SEC does, for all intents and purposes, look to be building a superconference — one that Ohio State could certainly be part of in short order.
When we think back to an earlier, simpler time, the OG superconference was thought to feature a nice, even 16 teams — which would mean a simple addition of two to a 14-team conference like the SEC. Now, the rumor mill is swirling with thoughts of a 20-team superconference; one that, in addition to a couple powers from the Big Ten, would also poach Clemson and Florida State from the ACC. And would mean every other conference is, in effect, irrelevant.
Ridiculous, right? The SEC has a brand and style all its own. I mean, just think of the obnoxious fans who flock to stadiums every weekend —
Actually, Ohio State might just fit right in.
Conference realignment has been non-geographically-based for years. With moves to more powerfully perceived conferences — LOL to that time West Virginia moved to the Big 12 — teams are ditching old rivalries and traditions in favor of larger media rights deals and recruiting grounds.
Texas and Oklahoma moving is also indicative of a trend toward seeking a tougher conference schedule to remain competitive. Oklahoma has had an edge when it comes to the College Football Playoff but, as we saw this past year, it’s oh so easy for the committee to leave out a Big 12 champion who looks a little iffy against an easy conference schedule.
Ohio State has felt a similar disadvantage at various times, including in 2018 when the Big Ten champs got left out of the Playoff. While the snub is more distant, being left out of the field is certainly a motivator for moving to a conference that never seems to get left out.
What does such a realignment mean for Power Five conferences at large? Well some, even those with storied histories, are destined to dissolve.
With the apparent move of Oklahoma and Texas out of the Big 12 (will they change the name back to the Big 8 for old time’s sake?) and to the SEC, the Big 12 will be effectively dead in the water. The conference will likely backfill with teams from Group of Five schools, further solidifying its position as the bottom of the barrel of the Power Five.
The Big Ten, too, would need to expand to remain competitive. We were all mortified when Rutgers and Maryland joined the conference in 2014, but that expansion meant that the Big Ten had a leg up on a shrinking Big 12 by getting to 14 teams. It also gave them an advantage over a Pac-12, which expanded by adding teams from the Mountain West (and the Big 12), rather than poaching from other major conferences like the Big Ten managed to.
As a result, even the Pac-12 is at risk of irrelevance.
If Ohio State moves, they’ll probably bring a buddy. Michigan is the obvious answer, but Penn State is a more likely competitor because, well, they’re more competitive. Bringing a fellow Big Ten team over means preserving some semblance of tradition, which makes the idea of such a move somewhat more palatable.
Perhaps this move to a superconference means Notre Dame will finally settle down. It’s one thing to be an independent in a field of five major conferences. It’s another to delude yourself to believe you’ll still be relevant when on the outside looking in on a superconference — or would have any shot at a postseason.
On that note, branding certainly comes into play, with the most valuable brands in college football jockeying for position in an increasingly consolidated space. Just as Notre Dame would be a lone independent on the outside looking in, the Buckeyes don’t want to get caught unawares while the rest of the blue chip programs in college football consolidate.
We’ve seen how this played out in the Big 12. Texas is one of the most valuable brands in college football. Texas obviously struggles in a Big 12 that does not have such valuable media deals and subsequent revenue allocated to its programs. Combined with regularly being left out of the Playoff, and Texas in particular losing out on recruits to the SEC and Ohio State, and the Longhorns are certainly looking to boost their brand equity with a move to the SEC.
However, that sort of logic doesn’t necessarily apply to Ohio State. That’s because, when it comes down to it, the Big Ten remains the most lucrative conference in college football. It would be silly for a school to move out of a position with extremely powerful media rights — including for men’s basketball (a much more powerful sport for the Big Ten) which extends the conference’s sport schedule beyond football season in a valuable way.
There’s also the consideration of what realignment means for other sports. It’s not uncommon for non-revenue sports especially to be part of alternative conferences, but that’s usually when a sport is not sponsored by a conference (e.g., women’s ice hockey). It’s hard to envision Ohio State men’s and women’s basketball being allowed to compete in the more competitive Big Ten if the Buckeyes jump ship to the SEC. When it comes to spring sports, the Buckeyes can kiss any hope of baseball dominance goodbye
Yes, the SEC certainly has a different identity than the Big Ten. However, the other thing we must consider is that a superconference won’t be the SEC in the way we think about the SEC today with all the newcomers joining the conference. Plus, Ohio State could still beat up on Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Tennessee.
As gross as it is to consider a move to the SEC, a lot of chips would have to fall to make such a move favorable. Ohio State is well-positioned as the perennial power in the Big Ten. As a program that wins more conference championships than it loses, the Buckeyes are all-but guaranteed a Playoff spot in most years. When the Playoff expands, that guarantee becomes even more palpable. That would go away with a move to the SEC, where facing Alabama in conference play might preclude a shot at the Playoffs.
Further, when it comes to implications for recruiting, Ohio State already cleans up pretty well in Texas, and has poached its fair share of recruits from Georgia, Florida and other SEC territories.
In the future, conferences may just become meaningless in a few short seasons. Instead, we’ll have a superconference that will be a default for the Playoff. Heck, maybe the superconference’s regular season will end up the proxy for the Playoff and we’ll end up without much of a postseason at all.
But no one wants that.