While college athletics has been a mutating industry since its dawn (Alabama was once in the SoCon), our current iteration is now dead. The concept of a Power 5 is no longer after USC and UCLA’s decision to flee to the Big Ten. Perhaps that’s for the best since the idea of enough elite football programs to fulfill five separate conferences was already being stitched together with twine and duct tape. Now there is a certainty, the Trojans and Bruins departure for the Pac-12 means something has to give.¬†
For Syracuse, conference hop-scotch has loomed over the school since the early 2000s. When BC, Miami and Virginia Tech bolted for the ACC, it left the Big East scrambling. There were hard feelings in ’03 from SU toward the traitors. The league absorbed Louisville, Cincinnati, USF and UConn, hoping to stabilize. It did to a certain degree, but the envy of the schools that had a seat at the ACC table remained. When the second chance to jump with Pitt and Louisville occurred a little over a decade ago, SU seized the chance. But the ACC now has serious concerns after this week’s news.
The conference these two L.A. programs leave behind is now destabilized to an unsalvagable degree. After the Big 12 gobbled up Houston, BYU, UCF and Cincinnati last year, there simply are no more “next tier” programs to make up for the loss. Boise State and Nevada? Fresno State¬†and San Diego State? Those duos cannot keep the legs under an already wobbly conference. This means the ACC, Big 12 and what’s left of the Pac-12 will likely eat itself. Perhaps the ACC and the Big 12 start divvying up the rest of the Pac-12. Maybe the ACC gets picked apart by the SEC, leaving just dregs of the conference to bond with the Pac-12 and create its own life raft. But with the OU, UT, USC, and UCLA defections the Power 5 condenses to a Power 4 at best.¬†
The best-case scenario for the schools remaining from the ill-fated “alliance” of the Pac-12, ACC and Big 12, is simply a redistribution to four power leagues. This would keep all 65 current power schools in a top tier that funnels into a playoff. If you divide these 65 (the Power 5 plus Notre Dame), into a quadrant of 16-team power leagues, everyone keeps their seat at the table. But what if the SEC and Big Ten decide to play ball by themselves, creating an NFC and AFC of college football? Let’s hypothetically say each expanded to monster 24-team leagues. Perhaps the SEC grabs Clemson, FSU, Miami and UNC. The Big Ten may add Pitt,¬†Oklahoma State, Oregon, and Washington. This carving of the power programs would mean nearly 20 schools without a seat when the music stops.
What happens to the schools without a tether to big media markets and/or high-performing football programs? Do Iowa State, Kansas State, Washington State, and Wake Forest (along with 14 other schools) get shunned into a Group of 5 league? UConn can tell you all about what happens¬†when your football team is relegated to a second-tier conference. They went from playing in the Fiesta Bowl as a Big East squad, to middling in the AAC, and ultimately leaving the football program on the curb like a plaid couch to allow its¬†hoops programs to flourish again.
The Pac-12’s demise was set in motion by the failed Pac-12 Networks. Commissioner Larry Scott neglected the league’s media rights like a plant left without water to wither away in the hot sun. The Pac-12’s annual television revenue was such a farce compared to other conferences that the money became impossible to ignore in the Big Ten. While the Pac-12 didn’t have perennial playoff powers, it did have an incredible seven of the top 30 media markets in the country: L.A. (2), the Bay Area (6), Phoenix (11), Seattle (12), Denver (16), Portland (21) and Salt Lake City (30). How do you blow a television deal that delivers those audiences?
But Scott’s uninspired leadership and the relative Pac-12 apathy toward football created a vacuum¬†where UCLA and USC felt the need to leap. This now means the remaining¬†schools in the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12 are looking over their shoulders and making their own distress calls. The end is near for the Power 5, the L.A. schools just guaranteed that.¬†