The NCAA football conference realignment has caused mayhem in the world of college sports.
As college football continues to become more competitive, programs and schools are changing in order to keep up. With new National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) rules and bigger programs, college football conferences have become less about location and more about money and publicity. As the media gets more involved and a strong social media presence becomes a necessity to grow, teams are finding new competition and growth in the new conferences. These changes are reshaping the college football landscape and cementing new legacies and rivalries throughout the country.
This new wave of realignment started in 2021 with the announcement that the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma were leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Both teams had a contract in the Big 12 until 2025, but they agreed to move to the SEC one year early. They will join the already large conference in July of 2024, expanding it to 16 teams. 2024 is also the first year of a new deal between the SEC and ESPN which gives all rights to SEC football and men’s basketball games to ESPN. This deal is worth three billion dollars, giving the conference 300 million annually for 10 years. “Texas and Oklahoma not only preferred to avoid playing the new Big 12 members, they wanted to join the SEC for year 1 of its new TV deal with ESPN,” commented Adam Silverstein of CBS.
The Big 12 has added many new teams after Texas and Oklahoma announced their departure. This only pushed the two universities away more as they didn’t want to play the new schools for less money. The conference added four new teams: Brigham Young University, University of Cincinnati, University of Central Florida, and University of Houston, which all start this year. These teams have significantly less publicity and program money than teams like Texas and Oklahoma, who would be playing these new teams for less media attention, resulting in the two big schools receiving less money. These two teams are causing many changes that are reverberating through the world of college football and are just the beginning of the chaos that is conference realignment.
After the announcement from Texas and Oklahoma, the college football world was quiet up until last year, when PAC-12 members University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and University of Southern California (USC) announced they would be moving to the Big 10. This started the greatest movement the conferences have seen in a while. USC and UCLA moving out of the PAC-12 left big schools like the University of Oregon, University of Colorado and University of Washington with a choice to make. These historically excellent programs were now left in a depleted and weak PAC-12. The Colorado Buffaloes changed the PAC-12 forever and shocked the college football world when they hired Deion Sanders to be their new head coach. Social media, journalists, and TV stations went wild as the signing of Coach “Prime” propelled CU out of the dumps and into the spotlight of every sports media platform. This caused them to be the target of TV deals, and eventually launched their move to the Big 12 in 2024 along with University of Arizona, Arizona State University and University of Utah. This left the PAC-12 with just four teams, making the decision for Oregon and Washington to leave the PAC-12 inevitable. A couple weeks later, both programs announced they would join UCLA and USC in moving to the Big 10.
This historic and wild college football off season has definitely made its mark and will reshape how conferences and college football are played for decades in the future. As in any sport, money talks, and these moves are setting up the universities for years of prosperity. Questions still remain when it comes to athletes and how smaller revenue generating sports like baseball, soccer, and swimming will be impacted by the new conference changes. But for now, the chaos is creating a whole new landscape for college sports.