Maybe it’s just me, but I’m seeing a weird bit of symmetry framing what looks like the structural change that will permanently affect college football as we know it: on one end, NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma; on the other, the departure of Oklahoma (and Texas) for the SEC.
It’s all about the money, of course. The lawsuit ended the NCAA’s complete control over televised broadcast rights. The conference realignment move is simply a culmination of where college athletics is at now as a result of the lawsuit.
As Jay Bilas ($$) put it,
… College sports are a multibillion-dollar entertainment industry. The most profitable conferences are media rights consortia that are each the equivalent of the NFL and NBA in revenue generation, profitability and in the way they are run. While the industry claims that college sports isn’t about money, it absolutely is about money. Going forward, conferences like the SEC and Big Ten will be the dominant forces, not the NCAA. And those conferences will do what is in their best interests to be dominant players in the marketplace in this cutthroat business. That is called competition.
College sports are not the minor leagues for the pros. Minor leagues do not have multibillion-dollar media rights deals and pay coaches and administrators millions. College sports are major league in every way.
The fan and fan interest is being catered to in college sports, and all decisions are made because of fan interest and behavior. [Emphasis added.]
That last point is huge. We’re in a new era now. All that CFP debate over best versus deserving is irrelevant. What matters now is how to structure things to attract the greatest viewership. (And, yes, there is irony in how conferences have ditched the passion of traditional rivalries in the name of realignment.)
That’s why Texas and Oklahoma left. That’s why Greg Sankey welcomed them with open arms.
If you want to be a college football have now, you’d better have a compelling product to serve. The SEC and the Big Ten do presently. The other P5 conferences, not so much. And Sankey’s kneecapping pretty much insures they don’t have many attractive options available to change that.
Take, for example, this Twitter thread on why Pac-12 expansion by means of the tattered remains of the Big 12 is unattractive. None of the orphaned programs have the football viewership or the revenues to make them a net plus in a conference switch. (Why would you want to bring in a program that dilutes your members’ existing revenue streams?) The only program left in the Big 12 that moves any needle is Kansas basketball, and here’s the problem with that:
There are many programs that would generate a happy outcome. Notre Dame would be a winner, but the Irish are stubbornly clinging to their independence and, in any event, are tied to the ACC for a while if they want to join a conference. Clemson and FSU? Maybe yes to the former, but not so much the latter. Really the best option a Pac-12 has in the immediate future is to make its existing set up a more attractive product for the market, something that Larry Scott was a complete flop in achieving. Good luck with that, fellas.
This is the world that Oklahoma has fashioned. As long as it’s about the money, which is what it’s been about for thirty years, basically, college football is never going back. The administrators on the losing side aren’t happy about it, but that’s their reward for failing to take the steps necessary to keep their conferences financially relevant.