There were a lot of questions that the NCAA and the college football world at large had to answer heading into the 2021 season. After a largely botched and hurriedly put together campaign in 2020 thanks to the pandemic and a lackluster response by those in charge — looking at you, Kevin Warren — this offseason provided a chance to remedy some of the previous issues. We expected to have questions about how schools would handle COVID-19 cases, what fan capacity allowances would look like, and other things of that nature.
While that is all obviously still important, the actual story of the offseason has instead been college football realignment, led by Oklahoma and Texas jumping ship from the Big 12 to the SEC. A shocking development, this decision is a curious one for a number of reasons.
The clear sole reason for this move is money, as is the case for almost any change in American sports at large, but it is still an odd one for both schools involved. For Oklahoma, they will be leaving a conference that they have dominated for years. The Sooners have been named Big 12 champs in each of the past six seasons, which has earned them four appearances in the College Football Playoff — three of which they lost to SEC schools and one they lost to Clemson. Texas, on the other hand, hasn’t won the Big 12 since 2009, and now moves into a much tougher conference in the SEC.
Now, the expectation is that the CFP will be expanding to 12 teams in the near future, and so if/when that becomes the case, teams like Oklahoma and Texas will still have a chance earning an at-large bid. However, the level of competition they are going to face is only increasing. The Long Horns already weren’t able to make the playoff against lesser opponents in the Big 12, so how are they going to expect to make it competing against the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, LSU and Texas A&M? The same goes for the Sooners, who were able to beat up on lowly Big 12 competition, but have been dominated by the SEC in the CFP.
Both of those teams are looking at having three or four more potential losses on their resume each year, and even though they’ll get more respect by playing in a tougher conference, it’s still unlikely that an 8-4 team would make the postseason — even in a 12-team field. However, Oklahoma and Texas are in luck, because I don't think any of this really matters. The SEC has started a movement, and it’s one that I think has been a long time coming. The Power 5 is dying, and it will soon be replaced by one big College Football SuperConference.
College football is the greatest example of the rich getting richer. Each and every year, the top programs in the country haul in all of the top talent. Take a look at the top five teams in the recruiting rankings in any given offseason, and you will see Alabama, Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State among that group almost every single time. Kids want to go where they have the best chance to win a national title and earn the greatest amount of exposure for their professional careers, and so the talent gap between the top and bottom of the FBS just continues to widen.
Even within the individual Power 5 conferences the gap between the top of the league and the bottom is stark. Illinois will never be able to realistically compete with Ohio State. Vanderbilt will never come close to beating Alabama. Duke isn’t going to be knocking off Clemson with regularity any time soon. College football has become wildly unbalanced, and that is the reason why we see the same few teams in the College Football Playoff every season. If you aren't a fan of those three or four elite programs, it has gotten a bit stale, and that is the reason I think we are heading for massive realignment.
What the SEC is doing by acquiring Oklahoma and Texas is just the first step to what I think will become one big College Football SuperConference. There is no reason for teams like Ohio State and Rutgers to compete within the same sphere every season. Nobody in their right mind thinks that those two teams are on equal footing, as is the case when the Buckeyes play most Big Ten opponents that aren’t Penn State, Michigan or Wisconsin. Instead, it would be drastically more entertaining to watch Ohio State play Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas and other teams of that nature that are on a much more level playing field.
The ideal league would be comprised of 14-16 teams, all of which are the biggest brands the sport has to offer. Those teams would become almost an entirely separate entity from the FBS, allowing the rest of the Division I schools to compete for their own title among a much larger group of similarly-matched programs. The College Football Playoff would be comprised of the top four teams from that league, and there could be a separate postseason competition for those who remain in DI. It would be much more fair than a 12-team playoff under the current format, which would still in all likelihood result in the same three or four teams at the end anyway.
An example of this new SuperConference could look like this (with room for debate):
- Ohio State
- Notre Dame
- Penn State
- UNC (?)
- Texas A&M
These teams would play all 12 games within the SuperConference, and the four that survive that gauntlet would compete for a national title at year’s end. The rest of FBS would have their own 12-team playoff, finally allowing for some good programs that can’t quite match up with the Alabama’s and Ohio State’s of the world to get an opportunity to fairly compete for a ring. It would be a win-win for everyone, as the top programs get to battle on a much more level playing field and the rest of the world stops getting buried by these college football behemoths.
There are a ton of questions and issues that would have to be ironed out for all of this to work, but I think it would create a far superior product and is a road that we have already began to head down. The addition of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC is just the tipping point for what could be a complete overhaul of college football as we know it — and that reality is not as far away as you might think.