(Photo of Vince Tyra: Marty Pearl - Special to Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The wheels of conference realignment are turning yet again.
On Wednesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Texas and Oklahoma - the two founding members of the Big 12 Conference - had reached out to the Southeastern Conference regarding joining the league. By Friday, those wheels had spun into hyperdrive, as 247Sports reported that both schools would indeed leave the Big 12 for the SEC.
Conference realignment is nothing new to college athletics. In fact, we are less than a decade from the early/mid-2010's realignments that altered the makeup of every Power Five conference, saw the creation of the American Athletic Conference from the remnants of the old Big East Conference, and affects numerous other FBS and FCS conferences.
But the Texas and Oklahoma-shaped dominoes could trigger a chain reaction unlike any that collegiate athletics has seen before.
"If you’re looking for the lever that could flip college athletics irrevocably in the direction of a new model and new shape, this would qualify," said Sports Illustrated's Pat Forde. "Everything could be on the table, from the long-theorized four Super Leagues to a power-conference breakaway from the NCAA. This could massively alter the entire enterprise, at a time when upheaval already is underway and the NCAA has never had less authority."
Louisville is no stranger to realignment. During the last major conference shakeups in the previous decade, the Cardinals found themselves in a different conference for three straight years: the last season of the old Big East in 2012-13, followed by the inaugural year of the American, then finally the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But, at least from a national perspective, there is a lot more at stake. Billions of dollars in television revenue deals are on the line, as well as the future of several programs, potentially conferences, and perhaps the NCAA itself.
So what does the latest round of conference realignment mean for the Cardinals? Directly, not much, or at least it appears to be the case at this time. It's everything around it that has the greatest potential to change, and even impact how Louisville operates.
With Texas and Oklahoma bolting for a new home, the Big 12 will likely struggle to stay afloat after losing their top two money makers. A complete collapse of the conference, would very much be on the table at this point.
The conference has already debated drastic measures to maintain survival, such as a merger with the Pac-12 to create a 20-school super conference. Even if this highly unlikely scenario does not come to pass, other more plausible routes to super conferences are a tad more feasible.
If the Big 12 does indeed collapse, the remaining eight programs will be ripe for the picking. The ACC and Pac-12 could find themselves in an intense bidding war for the leftovers, as both are in dire need of new television contracts, with conference expansion allowing them to renegotiate with ESPN on their respective networks. Plus, don't forget about the Big Ten, whose current television deal nets each program $55.6 million - between $21.6 and $28 million more than the ACC.
As silly as it may sound, don't count out the American to make moves, either. According to The Athletic, the AAC plans to "act as an aggressor" if the Big 12 does fall, and try to poach the remaining programs. Think this sounds implausible? Nicole Auerbach puts it like this:
"Imagine a western division that includes Baylor, Oklahoma State, TCU and/or Iowa State. Toss those teams into a league with Cincinnati, UCF and SMU, and you’d have some really, really good football."
A potential fit for the ACC, one which Louisville fans have been clamoring for since UT and OU got the wheels of conference realignment rolling again, would be West Virginia. The Cardinals have the prior history there from the old Big East days, and you could see a revival of the WVU-Pitt Backyard Brawl rivalry game. Other candidates could be Cincinnati and UCF, but the American is on relatively stable ground. For now.
Even if the ACC does not add any new members, or lose any for that matter, change seems inevitable. New commissioner Jim Phillips told ESPN on Thursday that the league is looking into going back to a division-less model, and that they plan to ask the NCAA that divisions no longer be required for conferences with 12 or more teams to hold a championship game.
Regardless of who joins what conference, the wheels are going to get rolling sooner rather than later. Not long after the news broke of Texas and Oklahoma's impending departure, Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma State all reportedly reached out to the Big Ten.
Louisville will likely not be directly impacted by the impending realignment, with the key word being "likely". That being said, the Cardinals will still feel the effects in one way or another, particularly if it involves ACC expansion or reduction.
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