Every day there seems to be another piece of information dropping about potential conference realignment moves. This week, Bleacher Report released an article that the Big Ten was ‘No Longer as Interested’ in adding Oregon and other Pac 12 schools. While this could potentially soften Colorado, Washington, and Oregon’s stance on the Big 12, the Pac 12 could remain together and extend invitations to San Deigo State University, Boise State University, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the University of Hawaii. This scenario would benefit the Big 12 and the sport’s overall health since it would keep every power five alive, albeit weakened. However, if this hypothetical turn into a reality, the Big 12 could look to expand east, especially in this recent round of realignment when the unimaginable turns into a reality overnight.
Before the Big 12 extended invitations for their first round of expansion, there was much speculation that the University of Memphis would join Cincinnati, UCF, and Houston in leaving the American Atheltic Conference. However, with Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark’s enticing comments at media day earlier this summer, Memphis might soon have the opportunity to become a conference member.
“We are open for business,” Yormark said. “Everything we do must create momentum for these negotiations.”
Of course, the commissioner is referencing the Big 12’s media rights deal, which ends in 2025. If the Pac 12 does stay together, Memphis would immediately move into the top four schools on the Big 12’s wish list, especially when looking at their football program over the past few years. The Tigers have been on par with Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF, all incoming Big 12 teams, over the past decade. The University even won the American Athletic Conference in 2019, defeating Cincinnati. While it may take Memphis a few years to join the Big 12 and compete for a conference title, the program would certainly benefit from joining a power five conference as well as give the Big 12 more leverage while negotiating a new television contract.
While it may be a surprise to see Louisville and the Big 12 in the same sentence, there is a scenario where teams could leave the ACC. Immediately after USC and UCLA accepted invitations to the Big Ten, many reports emerged suggesting the SEC could counter this move by adding Clemson, Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, or Virginia Tech. This major shift in the landscape would leave the ACC in shambles and force other universities, such as Louisville, to look for a new conference to call home.
The Big 12 would be a natural fit for Louisville, who could revive the Keg of Nails rivalry with Cincinnati. Although the two schools have not met in almost a decade, the competition is historical, dating back to 1929. However, this is not the only rivalry the Cardinals would have to endure by switching conferences. Luckily for Mountaineers fans, due to the proximity between the two schools and the rest of the conference, West Virginia would also have a new Big 12 rival.
However, this move would take several years to plan, with the ACC’s grant of rights tying universities to the conference until 2036. In addition, a $120 million exit fee is required if a school decides to leave. The grant of rights also stipulates that the University will forfeit its media revenues to the ACC until the contract expires. So, while administrations may find loopholes and negotiations could consequently take place, it will be several years before Louisville decides to switch conferences. However, if it does make financial sense, in the next five years, the Cardinals could move to the Big 12.
Similar to Louisville, this move would not become a reality until closer to 2030 due to financial ramifications. However, Pittsburgh does seem like an ideal fit in the Big 12 compared to the ACC. The Panthers elevated their play last season and earned an ACC championship. Even if it was a down year for the conference, an ACC title is still a tremendous accomplishment for the Panthers. If Pittsburgh’s success continues and the SEC pursues the national brands Clemson, Florida State, Miami, and North Carolina or Virginia Tech, the Panthers could look for a change of scenery.
This move would also rejuvenate one of the most underrated rivalries in college football; The Backyard Brawl. West Virginia and Pittsburgh first faced off in 1895, resulting in an eight-to-nothing victory for the Mountaineers. Although Pittsburgh does lead the all-time series, West Virginia is on a three-game winning streak. The rivalry has not taken place since 2011, but in just under a month, the matchup will be in the national spotlight as College Gameday will be in Pittsburgh on September first.
With Cincinnati joining next summer, the Big 12 could explore adding Louisville and Pittsburgh to maintain a dominant presence in the central Appalachian region. While these ACC would immediately strengthen the conference, they might not be the only former Big East teams to look for a change in scenery.
The University of South Florida has moved conferences quite a few times in the past two decades. From Conference USA to The Big East in 2005 and then to the American, the Bulls built their program up from the bottom. One final move to the Big 12 would provide the Bulls with stability and a long-term home.
It is entirely possible the Pac-12 stays together and the ACC goes untouched for several years due to their grant of rights. If the Big 12 believes they need to expand sooner rather than later to stay viable, especially with UCF set to join the conference next season, USF could be a prime candidate for the second round of expansion. This addition would also bring another rivalry, the “War on I4,” to the Big 12. Although the Knights have dominated the series lately, UCF has just a game advantage over USF all time.
While the Bulls need to prove they can compete on the field with Big 12 teams before any movement occurs, the conference might want to establish a bigger footprint in Florida. Especially with the 13th biggest television market untouched in college football, Tampa Bay- St. Petersburg, the Bulls would also make financial sense to add. If the ACC and Pac 12 remain intact and the Bull’s play on the field improves, USF could be a member of the Big 12 sooner rather than later.
Another American Atheltic Conference member the Big 12 may monitor in this new round of realignment, the Green Wave, is another program that may be in the fold if the Pac 12 adds universities and the ACC remains untouched for several years. Like USF, Tulane needs to display a consistent product on the gridiron before the Big 12 extends an invitation. However, their play is certainly not reflective of their record. Last year, the Green Wave stormed into Norman and took Oklahoma to the two-minute warning. While this would have trusted Tulane into the national spotlight, the Green Wave failed to convert a fourth down, ending the upset.
However, in this new wave of expansion, it is not only about how a team plays on the field; it is about the television market size, especially with UCLA and USC moving to the Big Ten. While LSU does have a massive following in Louisiana, the Big 12 may want to claim their position in the state and have a team directly in New Orleans. According to Medium, Tulane also came in 66th for the most-watched football programs in 2021, which may turn some heads in Irving, Texas. The Green Wave ranked above other potential Big 12 schools in SMU, Arizona, South Florida, and incoming Big 12 team Houston.
While no one truly knows how the landscape of college football will change in the next decade, if the dominos fall in their favor, the Green Wave might soon find a new home in the Big 12.
Photo by Ian Maule, Tulsa World