College football realignment news: Notre Dame on deck; Pac-12, Big 12 could merge; SEC vs. Big Ten tiebreaker?

The shock is wearing off… right? Or maybe the Trojans and Bruins’ preparation for Big Noon games (9am PT!) is still going to take some getting used to.

The 4th of July weekend is upon us, so we’re going to assume the realignment will take a couple of days off. We need it. USC and UCLA need it. They need time to shop for parkas, hire tutors for five-hour plane rides, and develop a taste for cheese curds. Such is the lingering impact of the two West Coast icons making their way to the Big Ten.

Now is the time to consider the next steps.

Notre Dame is a topic of conversation until you decide it isn’t. His ongoing dance with the conference membership dates back nearly a century. The Pac-12 is already on the record as aggressively seeking expansion. The Big 12 hasn’t revealed a plan, if any. He could remain in the 12 ready to go in 2025, or as industry insiders suggest, select as many Pac-12 schools as he’s financially savvy and possibly consign the Pac-12 to the dustbin of history.

Then there is the ACC, which until further notice, looks increasingly vulnerable. If this all sounds ruthless, we should be used to it by now. The shock should be wearing off… right?

Here’s the latest from the realignment trenches…

Nothing happens until Notre Dame decides

The Pac-12 presidents and athletic directors met by phone Friday, but does the Pac-12 have any position of strength? Until Notre Dame decides on its future, there probably won’t be any. Sources told CBS Sports that the Big Ten was done “for now” until the Fighting Irish determine if they want to try and join the conference.

To entice Notre Dame to jump into the Big Ten, a source suggested that Stanford could be invited as a kind of “rivalry” partner. The two schools have met 24 times in the last 25 years with the series interrupted only by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

In that scenario, Notre Dame would have at least five traditional rivals (Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Stanford, USC) as Big Ten conference partners. With an attractive conference schedule plus three annual non-conference games, the Irish could easily continue their “Shamrock Series” of unique games across the country.

The Big Ten could stop there at 18 or go beyond, depending on the SEC’s intentions. There is a growing feeling that some combination of Clemson, Florida State and Miami could migrate to the SEC. That assumes that any of the three would contribute pro rata (equal value) to the teams that are already in the league. That’s $80 million-$100 million annually in media rights fees.

Breaking ACC’s rights grant could require a significant eight-figure exit fee, assuming the contract isn’t successfully challenged in court. However, such a sanction could be funded over a period of years while the new schools reap annual windfalls.

Does that force the Big Ten to take a hard look at countries like North Carolina and Virginia? Both were on then-commissioner Jim Delany’s radar years ago before the league finally added Maryland and Rutgers.

Notre Dame or not, an industry source doubted the Big Ten would have the courage to invite Oregon and/or Washington. That source went so far as to call the two schools “tweens,” not big enough to justify annual media rights fees of $80 million to $100 million, but clearly better than other Pac-12 schools.

Think of Oregon and Washington more attractive to the Big 12 if the Pac-12 don’t stick together. Speaking of which…

the look down

Regardless of Notre Dame’s decision, the next step in the realignment may be a Big 12 or Pac-12 foray by the other conference.

An industry source said the Pac-12 (without USC and UCLA) and Big 12 (without Texas and Oklahoma) were compared to “Mountain West or AAC-plus.”

Trying to steal teams from the other league is the obvious answer to improving those tags and the rights fees that go with them. A raid may not change the financial math much, but it would mean the survival of one conference and the possible dissolution of the other.

An industry source described the Big 12’s options as if the realignment were a buffet.

  • Take Arizona Schools (add Phoenix Market)
  • Take Arizona and Mountain Schools (Colorado and Utah)
  • Attempt a nearly complete merger with the Pac-12 by adding Arizona schools, Mountain schools, Oregon, and Washington

The Big 12 must act fast. On the West Coast, one source said there have been a number of calls between Pac-12 managers about loyalty and tenure … but nothing like “a blood oath.” Why should everyone be looking out for their own interests?

“You can’t trust anyone,” a Pac-12 source said of the college football climate. “It’s over.”

The Mutual Destruction Option

There is an option that would ensure the joint extermination of both conferences but guarantee stability for the survivors: have the top schools in the Big 12 and Pac-12 agree that forming a new conference is in their best interest.

It could look something like this:

There is some flavor if Utah and BYU could reconnect in a conference. Pac-12 schools gain recruiting access to Texas and extend their reach into the Central Time Zone. The Big 12 schools gain recruiting access to California while adding the Phoenix, Denver and Seattle media markets.

That hybrid conference might look better than anything one league could put together by taking a couple of teams from the other. And if the idea is to get as close to the SEC and Big Ten in revenue as possible, it might be the best lineup.

Of course, it would also mean that the following programs would be left out: Kansas, State of Kansas, State of Iowa, State of Oregon, State of Washington, West Virginia.

power two

As mentioned on Thursdaythe combined 32 teams in the Big Ten and SEC could stage a credible playoff on their own when they have their final setups (for now) worked out in 2025.

Media rights insiders who recently spoke with CBS Sports added some depth that suggests the idea has not only been considered, but is perhaps one of the main reasons the Big Ten made their bold move.

  • Take the top four finishers from each conference and put them into a field of eight teams.
  • The quarterfinals and semifinals are played in bowl games (as was proposed in last year’s 12-team playoff bracket).

Using the first eight years of the CFP as a benchmark, only five teams that qualified for the field would not get a chance to return: Cincinnati, Clemson, Florida State, Notre Dame and Washington.

If Clemson and FSU joined the SEC, and if Notre Dame joined the Big Ten, only Cincinnati and Washington would be the outliers. Would there even be much recoil?

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