College Conference Expansion, Realignment Scenarios. What Each League Should Do, What Will Happen?

Really? You want to make sense of all the expansion and realignment in college sports?

Good luck with that.

Even the most connected of college football insiders are trying to put together the shredded papers to create a clear picture as all the rumors, reports, and tidbits fly around. So read this at your own risk – there’s a solid chance this all blows up five minutes from now.

I’m prepared for everything below to soon look totally ridiculous because nothing appears to be off the table.

The Big 12 getting Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF was obvious, but seriously, Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC? Last summer that seemed insane, and then it hit like a ton of bricks. That was nothing compared to the failure of imagination – and the shock – of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten.

And how about the Sun Belt being the most proactive league of the bunch with Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss being snagged from Conference USA?

So be warned, while everything below is rooted in reality to some extent … nah. It’s all changing by the moment.

With all that said, what’s going on in realignment? What are the best and worst case scenarios for all the conference expansion options, what’s a crazy idea that might work for each one, and what’s about to happen – maybe?

Let’s do this.

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ACC Expansion

What’s Going On? Nothing at the moment, but the rumors are flying. The SEC is supposedly interested, and the Big Ten isn’t saying anything – but would LOVE North Carolina. Even so, everything appears to be fine … for now.

Best Case Scenario: The ACC vastly improves its long-term media deal, ends its friends with benefits relationship with Notre Dame and puts a ring on it, and gives some thought to West Virginia joining the fun.

Worst Case Scenario: ESPN – or some crafty lawyer – figures out how to blow up the horrible grant of rights deal that locks the schools into their football media deal until 2036, and the SEC and Big Ten have have an epic battle to see who can get North Carolina, and Clemson, Florida State, and Miami.

10 Most Attractive Group of Five School for Expansion

Crazy Idea That Won’t Work, But … READ … THE … ROOM. What did the Big Ten just do? It raided the Pac-12 to go coast-to-coast with its footprint. Who might be out there right now for the taking? Cal and Stanford.

Again, it’s crazy, but academically those two are rock stars, they make it very, very attractive for Notre Dame to join the fun, and even though college football interest is, well, fickle in the Bay Area, it’s still a monster market to totally own.

What Will Probably Happen: The ACC will stay in place as is, but that won’t keep everyone from trying to figure out how to steal the star schools.

It’ll be in discussions with the Big 12 and Pac-12 to try forming an alliance to combat the Big Ten and SEC menaces. In the meantime, it’ll look to improve the current media deal and won’t just sit by and wait for the inevitable defections from schools desperate to leave for more revenue.

Conference Expansion: What’s Going On?
ACC | AAC | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Ind
MAC | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt

American Athletic Conference Expansion NEXT

American Athletic Conference Expansion

What’s Going On? The conference is losing Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF to the Big 12 next year, and it’s bringing aboard Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA from Conference USA in 2023.

Best Case Scenario: The remaining strong members – Memphis, SMU, and USF – are locked in for longer term deals, and it keeps on adding parts by going to the Mountain West, or anywhere else. More on that in a moment.

Worst Case Scenario: The Big 12 decides it wants to keep on going and steal Memphis and SMU, and someone figures out that USF is a massive school in a big media market.

Crazy Idea That Won’t Work, But … Go push the footprint by going after the Mountain West. At least give it a shot with Colorado State, Air Force, and Boise State.

What Will Probably Happen: The expansion talk likely stalls for a bit and the conference should be okay for now. Temple, Tulane, and USF make sense in a slew of ways – good-sized schools in good media markets – for other leagues, but the Power Five is going after the bigger fish.

Conference Expansion: What’s Going On?
ACC | AAC | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Ind
MAC | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt

Big Ten Expansion NEXT

Big Ten Expansion

What’s Going On? The Big Ten will add USC and UCLA in 2024. There’s a strong wind blowing that Oregon and Washington are in play, but the Big Ten says it’s not looking to do anything else at the moment. Notre Dame is in the discussion, but that’s harder than it might seem.

Best Case Scenario: The Big Ten flexes its muscles and keeps on going. Oregon and Washington are in, Notre Dame joins the fun, and the conference pays whatever it takes to get North Carolina.

Worst Case Scenario: The SEC gets to the prime ACC powerhouses before the Big Ten, and if that doesn’t work, it wakes up in time to realize they can and should make Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and Arizona State something they can’t refuse.

Crazy Idea That Won’t Work, But … Go make Texas realize it’s really a Big Ten school and that life in the SEC won’t be any fun.

Now that the Big Ten has USC and UCLA, not landing Texas seems even more of a misfire than it did when the SEC announced it landed the richest program in college sports. The Big Ten can be very persuasive.

What Will Probably Happen: The Big Ten will say it’s not expanding and is just fine at 16, and then it might just bring on two Pac-12 schools to make everything just a little easier on USC and UCLA.

Remember, the Big Ten is all about big schools, big markets, world-class universities, and expanding areas for the Big Ten Network. Arizona State, Colorado, Missouri – there’s nothing off the table at this point.

Conference Expansion: What’s Going On?
ACC | AAC | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Ind
MAC | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt

Big 12 Expansion NEXT

Big 12 Expansion

What’s Going On? It’s still alive. Rumors of the Big 12’s demise after the loss of Texas and Oklahoma were premature. Now it’s bringing aboard BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF to go along with – most likely – Texas and Oklahoma for one more season before they leave for the SEC to create a 14-team conference in 2023.

Best Case Scenario: It finds a way to take over Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah from the Pac-12, and it wakes up and realizes USF locks down a big Florida market to go along with UCF.

Worst Case Scenario: The Pac-12 gets its sh-tuff together and goes and gets Kansas, Oklahoma State, and takes on BYU before the fun gets started. The ACC decides it actually wants Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF and makes a last ditch pitch.

Big 12 Predictions For Every Game

Crazy Idea That Won’t Work, But … Make Texas and Oklahoma realize they’re already home. Make the conference stronger with some of the Pac-12 programs, and sweeten everything up to keep the two anchor tenants in the mall. Whatever it takes, find a way to keep these two.

What Will Probably Happen: The Big 12 might have to get ready to play more defense than it thinks. For all the talk about acquiring Pac-12 schools, there’s just as big a possibility that the reverse happens – and/or the Big Ten decides Kansas works.

This is a ruthless situation, but the Big 12 will try to create a tie with the Pac-12 and/or ACC – all while thinking about trying to figure out how to expand with some of their schools.

Conference Expansion: What’s Going On?
ACC | AAC | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Ind
MAC | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt

Conference USA Expansion NEXT

Conference USA Expansion

What’s Going On? It’s losing Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB, and UTSA to the American Athletic Conference next year, and it lost the fight to keep Marshall, Old Dominion, Southern Miss – all three bolted for the Sun Belt for this season.

For 2023, Conference USA is adding Jacksonville State, Liberty, New Mexico State, and Sam Houston State.

Best Case Scenario: Conference USA is somehow able to form a partnership with the Sun Belt or the MAC, it doesn’t lose any more schools, and the new programs coming in bring a big school energy that makes everything fun.

Worst Case Scenario: Conference USA loses FIU, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and WKU to the Sun Belt or the MAC in the near future, and/or the other conferences pull away and get so strong that this is the new WAC.

Crazy Idea That Won’t Work, But … Align with the Mountain West. It seems too obvious that the top Mountain West schools will get picked off, and coming up with a national conference product – you know, like a conference for the USA – that goes from Miami to Hawaii would be interesting.

What Will Probably Happen: It’s going to be a rough run. It’s just a question of time before other conferences – watch out for the MAC – are able to offer the top remaining schools something strong, and Conference USA will struggle to make a splash.

Conference Expansion: What’s Going On?
ACC | AAC | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Ind
MAC | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt

Independents Expansion NEXT

Independents Expansion

What’s Going On? BYU is off to the Big 12 next year, Liberty and New Mexico State will go to Conference USA, and Notre Dame is going to … that’s the big question.

Best Case Scenario: It doesn’t matter because they’re independent schools, but overall, it would be a plus for Army if it could make its way into the American Athletic Conference, and UConn and UMass might need to play well with others in the MAC or Conference USA – even though UConn bolted from the AAC a few years ago and UMass left the MAC after 2015.

Independent Predictions For Every Game

Worst Case Scenario: There’s a shot the big conferences go more to in-league games and squeeze out the paycheck options for the smaller independents.

Crazy Idea That Won’t Work, But … Army makes a big push to be a part of the Big 12. The league landed a national brand in BYU, and getting Army could create a fun weekly buzz for the conference that’s missing a whole lot of brand name is sizzle.

What Will Probably Happen: Outside of Notre Dame, it’s going to be tough to remain an independent. The media deals and alliances – even for the lower conferences – are going to be too strong to overcome.

Conference Expansion: What’s Going On?
ACC | AAC | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Ind
MAC | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt

MAC Expansion NEXT

MAC Expansion

What’s Going On? A whole lot of nothing, but that might need to change soon. There aren’t any brands that make sense for the other Group of Five conferences, so the hope is …

Best Case Scenario: All 12 schools stay in place, the conference is able to land Army for a big name who’ll bring the attention, and a few parts from Conference USA – WKU, Middle Tennessee, and Louisiana Tech might work – strengthen the position.

Worst Case Scenario: The Big Ten and SEC become too strong, and the other three Power Five conferences figure out how to combine forces. The MAC doesn’t become the WAC, but it struggles to stay up in the FCS status all while losing their desperately needed paycheck dates.

Crazy Idea That Won’t Work, But … Create an alliance with the Big Ten. No, the MAC doesn’t become a minor league farm system – even though that’s really what it might be like in a new college football era – but it comes up with a deal that its teams are on various Big Ten schedules to collect road game paychecks.

What Will Probably Happen: The MAC should be okay for a while. There’s a shot Conference USA or the Sun Belt make a pitch – Northern Illinois, Toledo, Western Michigan, and Buffalo are big schools – but for now everything seems to be calm.

Conference Expansion: What’s Going On?
ACC | AAC | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Ind
MAC | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt

Mountain West Expansion NEXT

Mountain West Expansion

What’s Going On? Welcome to the calm before the storm. There are enough schools in place to keep the Mountain West going if a few of the stars are gone, but these are shaky times for a league that appears ripe for the picking by a desperate Pac-12.

Best Case Scenario: The Mountain West figures out a stronger media deal, the lack of Tier 1 research/AAU status for most of the league’s most attractive schools matter to the Pac-12 and Big 12, and everything stays in place. A few more additions are made just in case.

Worst Case Scenario: Fresno State, San Diego State, and UNLV are off to the Pac-12 in 3 … 2 …

Boise State is in the Big 12 or the Pac-12 – probably the Big 12 – and Colorado State get the big pitch from the Big 12, too.

Mountain West Predictions For Every Game

Crazy Idea That Won’t Work, But … If the Big Ten and Big 12 steal – let’s say – Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, and Washington, be ready to pounce with an attractive media deal for Oregon State and Washington State to give them an option out of the mortally wounded Pac-12.

Of course, OSU and Wazzu want the Power Five life, but if the Pac-12 is just a shell of its former self, give it a shot.

What Will Probably Happen: The Mountain West survived after losing BYU, TCU, and Utah, and it’s going to stay alive no matter what’s coming. However, it might be rough depending on who quickly the Pac-12 can get its ducks in a row.

Conference Expansion: What’s Going On?
ACC | AAC | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Ind
MAC | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt

Pac-12 Expansion NEXT

Pac-12 Expansion

What’s Going On? All hands on deck. The crazy part about losing USC and UCLA to the Big Ten is that those two haven’t done a whole lot in the championship race lately – there’s only one Pac-12 football championship between them over the last 13 years – but losing both Los Angeles schools is obviously devastating.

Now it’s all about figuring out how to put a fence around the remaining schools while acquiring enough decent new markets to take a little of the sting out of what just happened.

Best Case Scenario: All of the remaining schools in the 2024 version of the Pac-10 stay home. The powers-that-be create a solid new media deal that makes everyone happy, there’s a real alliance with at least one of the other Power Five conferences, and a few new additions make everyone relax a wee bit.

Worst Case Scenario: Oregon and Washington really are gone to the Big Ten, Arizona and Arizona State really are gone to the Big 12, and Colorado is off to the Big Ten or Big 12. The league becomes a sad shadow of its former self.

Crazy Idea That Won’t Work, But … What’s the one almost literal Hail Mary that could ease the pain of losing USC and UCLA? Notre Dame.

The relationship with the Big Ten has SO many egos and moving parts, the ACC hasn’t been able to get this done, and the SEC … nah. Notre Dame fits the Pac-12 in a whole lot of ways. Make that happen, get a few schools from the Mountain West, and this might be salvaged.

What Will Probably Happen: How fast can the Pac-12 move to fix this? Crank up the media deal NOW – that’s in the works – try becoming besties with the Big 12 and/or ACC in some sort of real alignment that keeps everyone from hitting on each other’s members, and if it can chill on the Tier 1 research status, San Diego State and UNLV make sense market-wise, and …

It’s panic time. It’s all about the media deal. Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and Arizona State need to know they’re not on a leaking raft.

Conference Expansion: What’s Going On?
ACC | AAC | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Ind
MAC | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt

SEC Expansion NEXT

SEC Expansion

What’s Going On? The SEC got all this going by shocking the college sports world landing Texas and Oklahoma last year. Those two are supposed to come aboard in 2024, but the league would love to get them earlier. The rumors are flying that Clemson, Florida State, and Miami might be on the table, but … nah, at least not yet.

Best Case Scenario: The Big Ten really doesn’t have something else funky up its sleeve – like Oregon and Washington, and it can’t close Notre Dame – and ESPN is able to rework the ACC’s media deal. The SEC lands North Carolina and Virginia, and okay, it grabs Clemson, Florida State, and Miami, just because.

Worst Case Scenario: There’s no reworking the ACC media deals, the Big Ten gets even stronger with more giant acquisitions, and in a strange twist, all of a sudden Texas and/or Oklahoma start to get chilly feet and make this a bit bumpy before joining.

Crazy Idea That Won’t Work, But … Oregon and Washington. NOW. If the Big Ten can go get USC and UCLA, why can’t the SEC expand to get new markets with the two big schools from the Pacific Northwest? And why, can’t Arizona and Arizona State work, and what about Utah, or Colorado, or Kansas?

What Will Probably Happen: The SEC will keep working on the ACC, but it’ll be more than fine for now with 16 teams with Texas and Oklahoma joining the fun. With that said, there’s no way it’s going to sit still after the Big Ten just took over Los Angeles and now totally dominates the nation’s top media markets.

Conference Expansion: What’s Going On?
ACC | AAC | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Ind
MAC | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt

Sun Belt Expansion NEXT

Sun Belt Expansion

What’s Going On? One of the biggest movers and shakers in the expansion and realignment game, the Sun Belt won a big fight to get Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss from Conference USA, and it added James Madison from the FCS.

Best Case Scenario: The league gets even stronger with a few more moves. It pries away FIU, Middle Tennessee, and WKU from Conference USA, locks in the current members, and the league’s branding goes up a whole other level.

Worst Case Scenario: The Sun Belt needle doesn’t move with the new acquisitions. Worse yet, the American Athletic Conference starts sniffing around and the rumors start flying that a Marshall or Appalachian State or Coastal Carolina or Louisiana might do just fine.

Crazy Idea That Won’t Work, But … It forms an alliance with the American Athletic Conference and/or the Mountain West. The MAC could be right there for the deal, and Conference USA would LOVE to be a part of anything, but coming up with a plan to work with the AAC and Mountain West would be the big play for even more legitimacy.

What Will Probably Happen: The Sun Belt will keep on working. The league did an amazing job of proactively having everything in place to make a huge move to get a whole lot stronger, and it’s going to keep pushing.

Conference Expansion: What’s Going On?
ACC | AAC | Big Ten | Big 12 | C-USA | Ind
MAC | Mountain West | Pac-12 | SEC | Sun Belt

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