Yesterday, in the wake of the latest conference realignment rumors, I had a good discussion on Twitter with cocknfire and some others about what the Superconference Armageddon might look like. I thought enough about it to put together a list of basic assumptions of what I think is likely to happen if the current conference system goes away.
I post this merely for discussion's sake, and I don't have any idea of a timeline for when this might happen. Also, keep in mind that I was wrong about more things than I was right about last summer. I could easily be wrong about most of the stuff here.
The template is four 16-team conferences.
I don't know whose idea it was originally, but the prevailing wisdom is that we'll end up with four 16-team conferences. People much smarter and better connected than I am are convinced of it, so I'll go along with it. The Superconference Armageddon will be complete when we have four conferences of 16 teams apiece.
Current members of the SEC, Pac-12, Big Ten and ACC are safe.
Those four leagues are the ones that will end up forming the four superconferences, so their current membership is safe. For the purposes of this post, I will call the post-expansion leagues the SEC16, Pac-16, Big 16, and PABC (Post-Apocalyptic Basketball Conference).
The pool of possible superconference members is limited to current BCS conference members.
I can't imagine any of the superconferences dipping into the non-BCS ranks to add to their ranks if for no other reason than pride. Who wants to be the superconference that had to add a CUSA team? No one, that's who. Sorry, Boise State, UCF, and ECU.
Notre Dame will remain independent, and Texas will join it.
If Notre Dame wanted to be in a conference, it would have become the Big Ten's 12th team. I don't think it does, and its non-football schools will be able to stay in the non-football Big East that will survive after the football teams leave for the superconferences.
Texas turned its nose up at the SEC last summer, and operating its own network keeps it from being able to join the Pac-16 or Big 16 (who have conference-wide networks). I can't see Texas joining the PABC or giving up on the Longhorn Network, so independence is all that's left.
The superconference cascade might not all happen at once.
The value proposition for a 12-team conference is clear: holding a conference championship game. Going above 12 is a bit more hazy, especially if you don't operate a television network. Larry Scott and Jim Delany have said publicly that they will continue looking at expansion in the future, but Mike Slive and John Swofford have not.
I make no comment on how likely this is, but imagine this going down. Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and the two Oklahoma schools go to the Pac-12. Texas goes independent. The Big Ten adds Missouri, Syracuse, UConn, and Rutgers. What's there to force the SEC to raid the ACC and/or the ACC to annex the rest of the Big East? Why can't the Big East add the two Kansas schools plus one more football school to survive? The SEC and ACC could take a wait-and-see approach on the 16-team football conference concept.
Now, I don't think that's likely because...
Texas A&M will wind up in the SEC16.
I've seen enough from their fans and a few of their leaders that, if/when the Big 12 explodes, Texas A&M's first choice is to go to the SEC. Who else will join the Aggies is anyone's guess, but they're probably in. Only meddling from the Texas State Legislature could prevent it from happening.
State legislatures will play a part, but only if their universities have leverage.
Speaking of, state legislatures played a big part in two of the last three rounds of realignment, so there's no reason to think they won't have a role in the Superconference Armageddon. The catch is, their powers will decrease if everything happens at once.
Virginia's might successfully keep UVA and VT tied at the hip. Oklahoma's might succeed in making OU and OSU a package deal. Could Kansas' make KU and K-State a package deal? That's iffy, given that it might result in both schools being left out in the worst-case scenario. Could Iowa's force the Big Ten to take Iowa State? Absolutely not. Iowa won't leave the Big Ten under any circumstances, so Iowa lawmakers have no leverage to try to support the Cyclones. I have no idea what Texas' will do. For everyone who says it will do one thing, you can find someone who says the opposite.
You don't have to run the fastest, you just can't be among the three slowest.
Four times 16 is 64. If you take all of the current BCS conference members plus TCU (joins the Big East in 2012) and subtract an independent Texas, you get 66. That means only two schools currently in BCS conferences will be left out in the cold. If Notre Dame wants in the Big 16, then three get left out. Again though, I expect the Irish to remain independent.
So if everyone but two or three teams is safe, then most schools have nothing to worry about. If you can do something well, whether football or basketball, then you'll have a home in a superconference.
Iowa State, Baylor, Kansas State are in trouble.
Iowa State is the most obvious team for that two- to three-team cut. It's in the middle of nowhere, has little fan support, and doesn't excel in the revenue sports. Baylor is in a similar situation, only instead of being in the middle of nowhere, its presence in the either Pac-16 or SEC16 is redundant thanks to other Texas-based schools. Kansas State is like Iowa State geographically, though it's better in the revenue sports. Those are my best guesses for the three that might get cut, with K-State surviving a two-school cut.
If Baylor's sugar daddies in the Texas State Legislature come through again and KSU successfully rides KU's coattails into the PABC, who else might get cut? Rutgers is a good guess, especially if its administration decides big time sports are just too expensive for it. South Florida would be my other guess. Its presence in either the SEC or PABC would be redundant thanks to UF, FSU, and Miami. Plus, it's nothing special in football (yet), and its basketball program is awful. However if the SEC takes FSU, then USF would almost certainly have a home in the PABC. Just don't expect the Florida legislature to stand up for the Bulls; half the time I'm not sure it's aware that it has universities other than UF and FSU to look after.
TCU also might be in danger, merely on some kind of FIFO principle, but it's probably too good at football at this point to justify leaving it out in favor of schools like Baylor, Rutgers, and Iowa State.
The superconferences won't break away from the NCAA right away, and they probably won't ever.
The next step everyone seems to expect after the Superconference Armageddon is that the four big leagues will break off from the NCAA. I'm certain that won't happen right away, because everyone will be too busy assimilating new drones to form a new tier of college athletics.
In fact, I'm not certain that will happen at all. Staying in the NCAA means keeping all the current benefits, most importantly for tax purposes and not paying athletes salaries. Besides, the NCAA doesn't get a cut of the football regular season or postseason money as it is. Breaking off from the NCAA doesn't increase revenue above staying in it, and it potentially opens a legal Pandora's box.
The only thing that preserves superconference stability is a lack of alternatives.
I really don't think 16-team football leagues are a good idea, and I know there will be a lot of hurt feelings among some schools. Guess what? Once the superconferences form, there really won't be any good alternatives. They'll soak up all the big TV money, so no one can get out without sacrificing more dollars than they can afford to do without.
I am probably wrong on a lot of counts.
This is the assumption I think I'm safest on. Plus, we all know what happens when you assume.