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Creating 16 Team Super Conferences For Football

UPDATE: Since conference realignment news and analysis is outdated within hours of putting it up, this post is certainly outdated. However, since it continues to get hits, I wanted to link over to my current thoughts: click here.

I’ve spent the last 24 hours moving teams around on a spreadsheet trying to make four 16-team super conferences for football. There are a lot of things you have to take into consideration when making such a list: geography, academics, culture, history, rivalries, and television market. Each addition must give the conference a compelling reason why they should divide their revenue pie into smaller slices.

To make such a list, you have to first decide what will prompt the much speculate move to four 16-team super conferences. I think it will happen because Texas decides to become an independent or because another team, like Texas A&M, leaves the Big 12. Either way, the Big 12 will crumble and other conferences will feast on what’s left.

It’s my belief that the end of the Big 12 signals the end of the Big East. The SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 will gobble up the best teams from the Big 12 quickly. The ACC will struggle to keep up. Most of the conferences will have to look outside the Big 12 to get to 16 teams, so they’ll pick apart the next weakest conference, the Big East. However, I don’t believe the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 or ACC will raid one another.

In the end, I decided there won’t be four 16-team super conferences. There will be two with 16 teams and two with 14 teams. The leftovers will either form their own league or look to other conferences like the Mountain West. Regardless of which of those scenarios happen, I’m not sure if they’d make the cut as BCS automatic-qualifiers.

I’ll give you my chart and then my reasoning:

SEC Big Ten Pac-12 ACC
Alabama Indiana Washington Virginia Tech
Auburn Michigan State Arizona State Clemson
Florida Purdue Oregon North Carolina
Georgia Michigan   USC North Carolina State
Arkansas Ohio State UCLA Georgia Tech
South Carolina Nebraska Cal Miami
Vanderbilt Norrthwestern Stanford Virginia  
Mississippi State Penn State Arizona   Duke
Ole Miss Illinois Colorado Maryland
LSU Iowa Oregon State Boston College
Kentucky Minnesota Utah Wake Forest
Tennessee Wisconsin Washington State Florida State
Texas A&M Rutgers  TCU Pitt
Missouri Syracuse Texas Tech West Virginia
Oklahoma UCONN    
Oklahoma State Kansas    

I started with the belief that Texas, BYU and Notre Dame will remain independent. Next, I decided Texas A&M would be the first acquisition. Texas A&M fans are already lobbying for a move to the SEC. With them I think you get Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. That leaves the SEC with one slot to fill, and I think they fill it with Missouri, who the Big Ten already snubbed.

The Big Ten is left with nowhere to go but the Big East to grab schools that make sense to them both in terms of being worthy of splitting the pie with and fitting in academically and culturally. By adding Rutgers, Syracuse and UCONN, the Big Ten essentially creates a triangle around the NYC market. They add Kansas to even out their numbers with a school that’s academically palatable.

After much debate, I decided it doesn’t make sense for the Pac-12 or ACC to go to 16 teams. They’ll each only add two. The Pac-12 will add TCU and Texas Tech to get into the Texas market, both for media penetration and to get the conference into Texas for recruiting. There are no other schools it makes sense for them to add. Remember, anyone they add will have to bring enough to the table to make it worth splitting the pie into smaller pieces. I stand by my statements yesterday that Boise State doesn’t offer enough. They don’t offer a large media market or fertile recruiting ground. It doesn’t matter how many times Boise State has been on ESPN (the WAC’s tv contract was with ESPN, so of course ESPN put Boise State on tv). That doesn’t put money in the Pac-12’s collective pockets. ESPN is already going to air Pac-12 games every week because of their television contract with the conference. Does the Pac-12 care which of its two teams ESPN features on Saturday night? Nope. They still receive the same amount. Adding Boise State is unlikely to bring in enough additional money from a new television contract to merit splitting the entire revenue pie into smaller slices. USC is always going to have an audience, regardless of whether they’re having a winning season, because they’re a national brand with a history. Boise State cannot say the same.

The ACC will make additions in an attempt to stay relevant with the other three conferences, but because of their strict academic standards it’ll be tough. They’ll add Pitt because it makes sense geographically and academically and brings a solid media market. Then they’ll be forced to add one more school to round out at 14 schools. West Virginia is the addition, in my opinion, because of the rivalry with Pitt and geographic location. West Virginia doesn’t fit in perfectly in terms of academics or culture, but it’s the best the ACC will be able to do. Other possible targets would have been Louisville and Cincinnati, but the academics at both will keep them out of the ACC. Although Cincinnati would bring a considerable media market, the ACC would never be willing to overlook its academics.

This leaves quite a few teams out in the cold, including teams that are currently in AQ conferences. I believe those teams will either look to conferences like the Mountain West or form their own conference, which may or may not be AQ worthy. Here’s what a new conference could look like with those overlooked and some others from non-AQ conferences:

Iowa State
Kansas State
Louisville
Memphis
Baylor
Southern Miss
Houston
UCF
USF
East Carolina
Cincinnati
Tulane

If you’ve read this site for long, you know I like what Louisville and UCF are doing. Unfortunately, I don’t think they fit into any of the four super conferences. Despite the fact that Louisville has a fabulous basketball program and amazing facilities, that won’t get them into a football super conference. I just don’t think they’re strong enough academically to get an invite from the ACC.

I’d love to see other people’s lists for 16 team super conferences. I think if you sit down and really think through all the factors, you’ll find it difficult to accomplish.

About Kristi Dosh

Kristi A. Dosh is the founder of BusinessofCollegeSports.com and has served as a sports business analyst and contributor for outlets such as Forbes, ESPN, SportsBusiness Journal, Bleacher Report, SB Nation and more. She is also the author of a book on the business of college football, Saturday Millionaires. Kristi is a sought-after consultant and speaker on topics related to the business of college sports and a former practicing attorney. Click to learn more
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