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64 Days Until Kansas Football: Conference Realignment is Back in the Spotlight

The college sports world was rocked today when it leaked that USC and UCLA are leaving the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten starting in 2024.
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For the second offseason in a row, the college sports landscape was rocked by a surprise announcement of two big name brands leaving their conference for greener pastures. Last season, it was Oklahoma and Texas bolting to the SEC. This year, USC and UCLA are joining ... The Big Ten?

The news became official Thursday evening, and in a move that ought to look awfully familiar to Big 12 fans, the Pac-12 released a statement that doesn't actually convey the way most Pac-12 fans must be feeling right now.

For any Big 12 fan that had to live through the reckless speculation of national media folks last year, it has to feel good to have everyone speculate on the likelihood of a different conference exploding.

Of course, the speculation about what the next hit would be started running rampant. Rumors were "reported" that included everything from the ACC and Pac 12 both trying to raid the Big 12 to the Big 12 absorbing most of the remaining Pac 12 schools to pretty much any thing you could think up. Then this tweet hit:

And with that news, the possibilities have increased exponentially. But instead of listing every possible rumor, I thought it would be more helpful to look at the main effects this might have on Kansas and the Big 12. So let's look at the three main scenarios that could have a huge impact on the conference and/or the Jayhawks

Scenario 1: Pac-12 pulls from the Big 12

I'm not sure how likely this actually is, even though most of the talking heads seem to suddenly believe that teams like Houston, Texas Tech and BYU are "perfect" fits for the Pac 12, despite there not being any interest last year. I'm not even sure that the Pac 12 is in a good spot financially in comparison to the Big 12 after the two biggest schools out west leave. But let's just assume that somehow they manage to pull a few schools. What happens at that point?

In that scenario, the most likely schools to leave would be Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Houston and TCU. I could make arguments for a few other schools, but for the sake of this scenario, let's just roll with it. So what happens to the rest of the Big 12? The options probably aren't that great.

They could try to pull more Group of Five teams up to replace the losses. Memphis, Boise State, SMU and any number of Mountain West/Conference USA/American teams could make up those spots, but it's hard to justify that conference remaining in the Power 5 structure. What's more likely than filling out the conference is that the ACC comes calling for a few schools to try and get out of their terrible television contract and try to keep up, and the entire Big 12 folds.

I don't see this scenario as extremely likely, because it requires multiple schools in the newly stabilized Big 12 deciding that they are better off in the destabilized Pac-12 that was struggling to keep up with the rest of the Power 5 before losing its two best schools.

Scenario 2: The Big 12 expands to 16 with Pac-12 schools.

One of the scenarios that have been floating around, with some even going so far as to say that this plan is already in motion, is for the Big 12 to accept applications from Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah to get to 16 schools. This would effectively end the Pac-12 unless they decided to raid the Mountain West to get back to a decent number of members.

I still don't think this is very likely, but it seems to have more legs than the Big 12 getting raided themselves. The Big 12 is actually on pretty stable ground right now. While the SEC and Big Ten are poised to sign ridiculous TV deals that will put them far above everyone else, the Big 12 is expected to at least be on par with the Pac 12 and ACC. Sure the Pac-12 is working on their next TV deal as well, but it's hard to imagine that they can offer any sort of sure thing right now.

And if you look at on-the-field performance, the Big 12 has unquestionably been a better conference top to bottom than the Pac-12 (and arguably the ACC, depending on how much credit they get for Clemson being good without a lot of competition). The Pac-12 Network missteps are still haunting the conference, and it's hard to see how that is more attractive to teams currently in the Big 12.

Scenario 3: Everyone waits until the next Big Ten/SEC move.

This actually seems the most likely to me. One issue with trying to make moves from one Power 5 conference to another right now is that whichever conference looks to add is likely going to try to lock in schools for an extended period of time. And with the Big Ten reportedly looking at other candidates for expansion and a likely SEC response, it's going to be hard for anyone to commit to a new conference when the Big Ten or SEC could come calling in the next season or two.

What seems the most likely is that the Pac-12 either stays at 10 members for the 2024 season or expands with Mountain West teams, and everyone hopes that they are the next one to get a call from the Big Ten or SEC. It's not great for the sport to be held hostage by the whims of two conferences, but with the amount of money involved, there just doesn't really seem to be another good option at this point.

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