When Texas and Oklahoma elected to depart the Big 12 for the SEC, the college football world turned upside down. Who knew that was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the conference realignment saga?
The Sooners and Longhorns will join the conference where "it just means more" no later than 2025. By then, USC and UCLA will already be a year into adjusting to winter weekends as members of the Big Ten.
Will anyone else be calling a certain conference it's new home by then? To answer that, it all comes down to timing and luck.
The luck of the Irish to be exact.
Notre Dame holds all the cards in the next major move for realignment. Sure, the Big 12 is doing its homework on up to six programs from the now-fleeting Pac-12. Yes, other schools will be testing the waters to see if they qualify for a shot at joining the two "super conferences" of tomorrow.
Those moves will be a thing of the past mere hours after the announcement. Not Norte Dame. Giving up its independence as an Independent would change the course of college football as the consumer knows it.
The Big Ten wants Notre Dame. Multiple sources have confirmed to LonghornsCountry.com that the Irish are the hopeful next domino to fall in the conference's plan for expansion. Both Oregon and Washington have reportedly reached out about following the two L.A.-based programs to the conference, but commissioner Kevin Warren is looking bigger.
Is there a bigger free agent than the Irish? No, not in simply college football. In all aspects. The institution has been offered deals in the past and left money on the table to retain its independence and hand select its schedule.
It'll take a pretty penny for Notre Dame to say goodbye to its former ways, but it's possible. And don't think Warren is the only one paying attention to what's happening in South Bend. Greg Sankey and the SEC are also on pins and needles waiting for the answer.
It's a stretch to say the SEC would be all-in on Notre Dame, but stranger things have happened. Who had on their Bingo card that two programs out west would hit travel the minimum of 1,500 miles to face a future conference opponent?
Are pigs flying? Did the devil admit his home froze over?
College Football Playoff expansion could be coming. 'When' is the question. For now, it will be at least after 2026 on the current deal. By then, the Big Ten and SEC could have other plans, one of which would be starting a two-league version of the CFP to decide a national champion.
No conference, no chance for a Notre Dame title. Is that enough for the Irish to conform to the norm?
The Fighting Irish could be the 17th, 20th or even 30th program to join the Big Ten. Warren will approve the application. The unanimous votes given to UCLA and USC will be a thing of the past with how fast the conference votes Notre Dame as the newest member of the only conference on pace to compete with the SEC.
Sankey knows this too. What happens in return? Phone calls are made to the ACC to match the production of revenue that comes with the Irish joining the Big Ten.
Clemson would be the favorite to head to SEC. Miami and Florida State, two programs with a rich football history and looking to return to glory, would be close behind. Maybe Virginia, Virginia Tech or North Carolina State follow suit after?
Say all the trio heads to the SEC. Warren reacts and makes more calls. Duke and North Carolina could be the favorites to be poached next due to their rivalry and the basketball atmosphere that comes with the schools.
Every move Warren makes, Sankey will try to counter. The same goes for Warren with Sankey's choices. Four new programs join the SEC? Four more likely head to the Big Ten.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
For now, the Big 12 is doing everything in its power to remain relevant by becoming the third 16-team conference. Should Oregon and Washington pull its name from the Big Ten waiting list, the conference that seemed on life support last July now would become the first to feature 18 teams or more.
If Notre Dame says no to a Big Ten deal, does that change Warren's stance on the Ducks and Huskies? Keep in mind while the Trojans and Bruins have the revenue, the "other" power programs of the Pac-12 have appearances in the CFP.
Say Warren stays pat and only four teams go to the Big 12. Does the ACC make a jump to the west coast for "more competitive" football? Would programs like Stanford, Washington and Oregon be interested in noon kickoffs that feel like 9 a.m. at home?
Notre Dame doesn't need a conference for the time being. Its athletic department shovels in money near the same playing field as Alabama, Texas, Ohio State and others. It brings in more than over half of the Big Ten programs during a season despite standing alone. The same could be said for the SEC.
But, say the Big Ten wins the Notre Dame sweepstakes. Oregon and Washington likely settle for the Big 12. Stanford might be a package deal with the Irish due to its long-standing rivalry. There are now two conferences with 18 teams. Soon after, expect the SEC to poach a pair of ACC schools to counteract the move by the Big Ten.
Three conferences now hit the mark of the term "super", thus ending the way fans remember the sport from their childhood. At least in terms of geographical location and per usual kickoff times.
For now, expect the Big 12 to be the only conference active in adding more teams. The SEC seems content with the arrival of two teams that carried its conference's reputation since the early 2000s. It's a 'thanks but no thanks' in the Big Ten for the time being.
For those expecting more college football realignment, Notre Dame is the answer to when it unfolds. For super conferences to finally reach their peak, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is only achieved when the Irish make their final decision.
And expect the waiting game to go for as long as possible.
You can follow Cole Thompson on Twitter at @MrColeThompson
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