Is This The Future of College Football?: Potential Conference Realignment, Playoff Changes

College football has evolved dramatically in just the past twenty years. It went from having its national champion be voted on by the Associated Press as recent as 1997 when Michigan won a “share” of the national championship with Nebraska, to the Bowl Championship Series from 1998-2013, to the present College Football Playoff method.

With these drastic changes in the past twenty years, what will college football look like in the next twenty years?

Power 4 Conferences

The ACC, Big Ten, Pac 12, and SEC will become the “Power 4 Conferences” and the Big 12 will no longer exist. Each conference will add members to get to 16 teams each to make a Power 64.

ACC: With Notre Dame likely to join sooner or later, it will be a race against the other conferences to grab schools like West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and TCU. I think West Virginia makes perfect sense and the Mountaineers join.

Big Ten: There are multiple scenarios that could potentially play out. For the sake of competition, divisional stability, and financial revenue for the conference, Oklahoma and Texas are the only schools that make complete sense as the final two members of the Big Ten.

However, it seems as if Oklahoma is more likely interested than Texas (Longhorn Network). If Oklahoma joins and Texas declines and instead heads for the SEC (we’ll get to that later), than Oklahoma State will be priority No. 1. Unfortunately for the Big Ten, there are no other legitimate options after Oklahoma State: TCU and Kansas are extremely football-heavy. Kansas State and West Virginia make some sense (geographically), but are not the best fit because of their inconsistency in both football and basketball. The biggest reason Oklahoma State, Kansas State, and West Virginia are not the best fits for the Big Ten’s final expansion is that they are not blue bloods, which is what the top tier of the Big Ten hangs its hat on.

Oklahoma State would be an alright fit if Oklahoma or Texas says no, but not ideal. They have been pretty consistent in both football and basketball, but something about them just does not scream Big Ten. However, I would be satisfied with Texas or Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

A wildcard would be Cincinnati, who is competitive in both football and basketball. They just hired a potential game changing coach in Luke Fickell and made the NCAA basketball tournament now seven years in a row. I could see the Bearcats as a possibility if the two Oklahoma schools and Texas are off the table.

The last move– adding Maryland and Rutgers– was purely for financial and television reasons of adding New York and Washington DC markets to the league. Maryland has been average at best on the football side and Rutgers has been brutal at both football and basketball.

There are only room for two more teams– it is not feasible to kick Maryland and Rutgers to the curb at this time. This move to add the two final pieces to the puzzle must be done for the right reason: football. Both Texas and Oklahoma are blue bloods that the Big Ten covets and would certainly make Big Ten Network flourish more than ever. For Texas, it would give them a saving grace for their failing Longhorn Network. For Oklahoma, it would preserve their rivalry with Texas and help strengthen the Big Ten West. An added bonus would be that both Oklahoma and Texas would get to rekindle their individual rivalries with Nebraska.

The Big Ten can’t afford to wait around for the ACC, Pac 12, and SEC to make their attempt to get Oklahoma and Texas. It is time to make each an offer to join right now before it is too late. If both get swooped up by other conferences or only one joins the Big Ten, there is a good chance that Maryland and Rutgers will have company at the bottom of the barrel.

If the Big Ten can’t entice two prime targets such as Texas and Oklahoma, and wildcards Oklahoma State and Cincinnati, they would be in major trouble unless they would be able to lure schools like Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Colorado, Kentucky, or Tennessee from their current conference, but that is very unlikely.

Unfortunately, Big Ten fans will have to face the reality of an extreme competitive drop off if Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Cincinnati say no. Hopefully it does not get to that point but Temple, USF, UCF, Houston, Navy, Tulsa, Connecticut, Iowa State, Baylor, Western Kentucky, and Middle Tennessee would likely be the next invitees. Yikes.

Pac 12- The Pac 12 has four spots available and seven schools that could fit the bill. Sticking with their North/South divisional format, BYU and Nevada make the most sense to join the North Division and San Diego State and Texas Tech to join the South Division. BYU and Texas Tech seem to be somewhat slam dunks considering the Pac 12’s pacific coast’s region. Sure, Nevada and San Diego State are not clear cut home runs, but I think they make enough sense with their geography and overall success in football and basketball.

Schools like Boise State, Colorado State, and Fresno State just missed the cut. Boise State is obviously just a “football school” but that is about the only sports reason that any of the three make sense over BYU, Nevada, San Diego State, and Texas Tech.

SEC: The addition of Oklahoma State and TCU would realign the divisions in the SEC sending Alabama and Auburn to the east. Things would end up being more balanced with those two in the east and Oklahoma State and TCU joining the mix in the west.

Schools in Limbo: With only 64 teams making up the Power 4, there will be 63 schools will be left without a conference and without a reasonable expectation to be able to compete for a spot in the eight-team playoff every year.

The 63 schools are: Air Force, Akron, Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Army, Ball State, Baylor, Boise State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Connecticut, Eastern Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Fresno State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Hawaii, Houston, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Kent State, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana Monroe, Marshall, Memphis, Miami (Ohio), Middle Tennessee, Navy, New Mexico, New Mexico State, Northern Illinois, North Texas, Ohio, Old Dominion, Rice, San Jose State, SMU, South Alabama, South Florida, Southern Miss, Temple, Texas State, Toledo, Tulane, Tulsa, Troy, UAB, UCF, UL Lafayette, UMASS, UNLV, Utah State, UT San Antonio, UTEP, Western Kentucky, Western Michigan, and Wyoming.

Check out the full conference realignment breakdown:

ACC (+2, Notre Dame/West Virginia)

  • New to the Atlantic: Notre Dame, North Carolina, Pittsburgh
  • New to the Coastal: Clemson, Florida State, West Virginia
Atlantic Coastal
Boston College Clemson
Louisville  Duke
Notre Dame Florida State
Wake Forest Georgia Tech
Syracuse Miami
North Carolina Virginia
North Carolina State Virginia Tech
Pittsburgh West Virginia

 

Big Ten (+2, Oklahoma/Texas)

  • New to the East: Purdue
  • New to the West: Oklahoma and Texas
East West
Indiana Illinois
Maryland Iowa
Michigan Minnesota
Michigan State Nebraska
Ohio State Northwestern
Penn State Oklahoma
Purdue Texas
Rutgers Wisconsin

 

Pac 12 (+4, BYU/Nevada/San Diego State/Texas Tech)

  • New to the North: BYU, Nevada…. Fresno State/Boise State/Colorado State
  • New to the South: San Diego State, Texas Tech
North South
BYU Arizona
California Arizona State
Nevada Colorado
Oregon San Diego State
Oregon State Stanford
Utah Texas Tech
Washington UCLA
Washington State USC

 

SEC (+2, Oklahoma State/TCU)

  • New to the East: Oklahoma State
  • New to the West: TCU
East West
Alabama Arkansas
Auburn LSU
Florida Mississippi State
Georgia Missouri
Kentucky Ole Miss
South Carolina Oklahoma State
Tennessee TCU
Vanderbilt Texas A&M

Schools without a conference (likely Group of Five): Air Force, Akron, Appalachian State, Arkansas State, Army, Ball State, Baylor, Boise State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Colorado State, Connecticut, Eastern Michigan, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Fresno State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Hawaii, Houston, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Kent State, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana Monroe, Marshall, Memphis, Miami (Ohio), Middle Tennessee, Navy, New Mexico, New Mexico State, Northern Illinois, North Texas, Ohio, Old Dominion, Rice, San Jose State, SMU, South Alabama, South Florida, Southern Miss, Temple, Texas State, Toledo, Tulane, Tulsa, Troy, UAB, UCF, UL Lafayette, UMASS, UNLV, Utah State, UT San Antonio, UTEP, Western Kentucky, Western Michigan, and Wyoming.

As for changes to the rest of college football, here’s what else I could see happening:

Playoff to 8 Teams

The first thing that will happen (likely before the Power 4 forms) is the expansion of the playoffs to eight teams. The expansion from four teams to eight will essentially reserve a spot for each conference champion and four wildcards. Theoretically, there would be hope for a non-power 4 team to get in as the eight seed if one of the conference runner-ups is not as worthy. The race for the final four spots will make for an exciting end to the season where teams with one or two losses that would be eliminated from a four-team playoff continue to fight for a spot.

Getting eight teams in the playoff in the current structure of college football means that the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC champions will all get guaranteed spots. The best part of the new eight team format is that it allows teams to recover from early season losses a chance to get into the playoff even though they won’t jump conference champions.

To relate the new format to Michigan fans, it would have benefited them in 2016 when they were ranked No. 6 in the postseason poll. Instead of going to the Orange Bowl, they would have played the No. 3 seed Ohio State Buckeyes in the CFP.

Other match-ups from the 2016 season if the playoff was eight teams would be No. 1 Alabama vs No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 2 Clemson vs No. 7 Oklahoma, and No. 4 Washington vs No. 5 Penn State.

Long story short, more meaningful college football playoffs equals high revenue for college football. I think the playoff expands to eight teams sooner than later.

Recruiting

The Early Signing Period that was approved this spring and is slated to take place this December will only be the start of the shift in recruiting. Moving forward, the option to sign a National Letter of Intent (NLI) will start happening earlier and earlier in the process and therefore help recruiting get cleaner. The best way to fix recruiting is to give prospects the opportunity to sign their NLI at the time of their commitment to a school. Most notably, the opportunity to sign early will clear up what is an offer and what is not.

Verbal Committing will no longer be a thing. Schools will want you to sign your NLI at the time of your “commitment” to officially bind you to them and protect you from being recruited by other schools.

“Flipping” will no longer be a thing. Instead, players who are heavily leaning toward one school that would be considered “verbal commits.” The term “soft commit” could be used as well. These type of players are extremely interested in a particular school, but are just not ready to commit to them. This means the school will continue to recruit their position and the kids will continue to explore all of their options until reaching a decision.

After signing early becomes an option, there needs to be a limit on how young to offer a prospect and a clear definition of what an “offer” truly means. The true definition of “offer” needs to be ‘the formal invitation from a college football head coach to a prospective student athlete to receive a scholarship to attend that school and play football there.’

The structure of offering and the recruiting process needs to change overall.

Offers should not be loosely handed out to freshmen and sophomores. Two main reasons. First, college coaches are becoming less and less likely to stay at a job for five or more years. According to a 2016 study by Business Insider, 77% of college football coaches were at their job for less than six years. In this past year alone, Tom Herman left Houston after two seasons for Texas, PJ Fleck left Western Michigan after four years for Minnesota, Matt Rhule after four years left Temple for Baylor, Lane Kiffin left Alabama (as a coordinator) after three years for Florida Atlantic, and Art Briles and Les Miles were fired. Lack of job stability and lack of the desire to build a program for the long run make it unlikely for coaches to be around for a player’s senior year from the time they receive their verbal commit during their junior year of high school.

Photo Credit: Sea of Blue

Evan Paputa

Evan Paputa

Born and raised in Plymouth, Michigan. Primarily a writer for The D Zone, but will be guest writing for MGoFish in addition.
Evan Paputa