The future of college football is a mishmash of potentially groundbreaking developments that could shake up the sport as we know it. First, name, image and likeness (NIL) legislation passed, then the talks of expanding the College Football Playoff bracket to 12 teams came about, and now serious talks of a conference realignment have taken the forefront of every college football fan's cranium.
Here's what we know.
Reports broke last week that Oklahoma and Texas were considering leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, a move that would further entrench the SEC at the top of the college football hierarchy and leave the Big 12 on life support. The programs made their first step toward leaving the Big 12, releasing a joint statement Monday to notify the conference that they do not intend to extend their media rights deals once they expire in the summer of 2025.
Oklahoma and Texas may not wait four years to abandon the Big 12, as they could leave as soon as 2022 while facing major penalties. Each school would owe around $76 million to withdraw early and buy out their Grant of Rights agreements with the league.
The two Big 12 powerhouses would also have to give the conference at least an 18-month notice of their intentions to withdraw from the conference.
OU and Texas formally requested an invitation for membership in the SEC Tuesday, which would begin July 1, 2025. SEC members met Thursday to discuss adding the two Big 12 powerhouses, according to USA Today and have since voted 14-0 to extend an invitation to Texas and Oklahoma to join the conference.
Our Dylan Reubenking and Reid Tingley broke down how the Pac-12 could get involved and how this bizarre situation may play out.
Let's face it: The Big 12 would be in shambles if its two most successful programs jumped ship. There are still some quality football programs remaining, but the conference cannot stand on its own with only eight schools, and it likely won't have a pitch convincing enough to draw top programs from mid-major leagues to come to the Big 12.
The word of the week for college football fans and media has been "superconference." If and when Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC to form a 16-team mammoth of a conference, the term would be appropriate for a league that would own 12 of the 28 College Football Playoff participants and already owns four of the seven national titles since the dawn of the CFP era.
But the SEC may not be the only superconference to form. The remaining programs from the Big 12 may jump off the sinking ship to a Power 5 conference, or even a Group of 5 conference.
Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff told ESPN this week that the league is "not actively seeking to poach any teams from any conference, but we'd be foolish not to listen if schools call us."
What schools would call the Pac-12? TCU, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech are probably the most likely, with others expected to call the Big Ten or the ACC. Obviously, a Pac-12 expansion would eliminate the idea that schools within a somewhat close geographic proximity make up a conference.
Here's where things could get juicy. If the SEC becomes a superconference, expect other conferences to try to compete.
Buckeye Scoop was one of the first to report that multiple Pac-12 schools, including Oregon and USC, have been in contact with the Big Ten about potentially joining the conference. Adding the Pac-12 schools, as well as potentially Kansas and Iowa State, would seismically shift the state of college football into a state of superconferences pitted against superconferences.
Now, these are just rumors. But would Oregon actually leave the Pac-12 for the Big Ten? And if so, why?
For starters, the Big Ten led all conferences in revenue in 2020, according to USA Today's Steve Berkowitz, paying each member approximately $54.3 million while the Pac-12 paid each school about $33.6 million.
Oregon leaving for the Big Ten would give their athletic programs significantly more money, and the move would likely boost their recruiting pitch as the Ducks would compete against superior teams. Not that the program is failing at recruiting, but if the Ducks can have success in a stronger conference rather than dominating the Pac-12 year after year, they could boost into the highest tier of the college football hierarchy with Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson.
Don't forget that Texas and Oklahoma going to the SEC doesn't just impact college football. Men's and women's basketball would look much different, and the SEC in softball would be absolutely loaded.
I expect Oklahoma and Texas to pay up and head to the SEC before 2025, and I think the Big 12 may dismantle from there. I predict that the Pac-12 will expand to 16 teams, picking up at least two Big 12 schools and perhaps an AAC or Mountain West school as well.
I don't expect the rumors of 32-to-64-team superconferences to take form any time soon, but don't count it out. Enjoy the last years of Power 5 and Group of 5 conferences while you can because the landscape of college football could look dramatically different in a few years.
Assuming that Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC does happen, I think the future for Oregon has four most likely possibilities.
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1. The Pac-12 could maintain its current form. This would keep stability for Oregon in terms of scheduling and opponents but put the conference and reputation of all its members at risk.
The SEC already had opened a sizable gap, but this latest move would basically kill any remaining hope for conference equality. The Ducks’ Pac-12 association is already a hurdle in recruiting, and without a serious improvement to the product, the reputation issue will only grow.
2. The Pac-12 could pursue expansion into the Pac-16, entering the era of four superconferences. This has been a popular speculation amongst college football pundits, but I don’t think it’s very realistic, at least not long term.
Here’s why: The four superconference model operates under an assumption that there are 64 (or more) programs in college football that are designed to compete at a championship level. I just don’t think that’s true anymore.
But suspending my disbelief for a moment, what would a Pac-16 look like?
Option A would’ve been to add Texas and Oklahoma as the conference attempted to do during their last round of expansion. If there’s any chance to re-engage that effort in the 11th hour, then you have to try, but it seems like that option is dead now.
Option B is the small-ball approach. You don’t add any of the major powerhouses or blue bloods, and instead, make strategic additions that tap into new markets. Those teams would be some combination of TCU, Houston, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, UNLV, or others.
Personally, I don’t think this route is enough to save the conference's reputation. Ultimately, it’s a short-term fix that won’t stop the larger dynamics shifting in the sport. That’s why I think the final two options are more likely in the long term.
3. A merger with the Big Ten. The Pac-12 has some natural, cultural, and academic ties there, plus the history of the Rose Bowl. This plan would raise the profile of Oregon as a legitimate power in the sport, and it would pose a threat to the complete dominance of the SEC.
Unfortunately, some programs probably wouldn’t make the cut. I think Oregon and USC are the two obvious ones and Washington and UCLA would be likely additions. After that, I don’t think anyone else can be entirely confident in their inclusion.
4. The SEC engulfs all of the major programs and becomes the sport's governing body. This is the sort of doomsday scenario, depending on how you look at it because it basically reorganizes college football in the mold of professional American sports.
This is all speculation, but how it happens is the SEC adds Oklahoma and Texas now. Next, they go after Clemson, Florida State, and Miami from the ACC. From there the SEC would really only need the final domino, in this case Ohio State, to fall in order for them to claim a complete monopoly over the top tier of the sport.
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