The revelation that Texas and Oklahoma are moving to the SEC is the first shot fired in perhaps a string of events that will shift the landscape of college football before the next round of TV contracts are signed.
The absolute worst scenario for San Diego State involves the Power 5 consolidating into the four conferences of 16 teams each (+Notre Dame) and then shutting out all current Group of 5 teams in a future playoff system. The best case scenario involves SDSU joining the Pac 12. Let’s discuss.
Scenario 1: The Power 4
In this scenario, Texas and Oklahoma moving to the SEC (with 16 teams) makes the Big 12 untenable as a conference and the remaining teams scramble to find a home. West Virginia likely ends up in the ACC, effectively setting them at 16 teams if de facto member Notre Dame is included. The Big 10 picks up Kansas due to its basketball program and then perhaps steals Colorado from the Pac 12 which would renew the Colorado-Nebraska rivalry. That leaves the Pac 12 with five openings to be filled by the remaining six teams in the Big 12.
The clean version of this involves the final Big 12 team heading to the ACC and Notre Dame staying independent.
If the Pac 12 decides to go this way, the new Power 4’s next step may be to shut the remaining FBS teams out of any playoffs. However, if the Pac 12 (or the remaining Big 12 teams) declines, then all heck breaks loose and SDSU has a shot at moving up to the promised land of high TV revenue football.
Scenario 2: The American Conference Replaces the Big 12
In this scenario the 11 team American Athletic Conference adds five of the six left over Big 12 schools to create a 16-team league that essentially replaces the Big 12. Doing so would reunite SMU and Houston with their former Southwest Conference mates TCU, Texas Tech, and Baylor.
This scenario doesn’t make sense because the fanbases in the Big 12 are so much stronger than the average AAC school, and the Big 12 TV contract is an order of magnitude larger – and that’s with carve outs already in place for Texas and Oklahoma, the remaining Big 12 teams also pick up $75 million per team that leaves, and the conference would lose out on all of the NCAA basketball tournament residuals. If anything, the Big 12 will backfill with upper tier G5 teams.
However, in this scenario SDSU remains in a Mountain West conference that is now clearly the 6th best conference in the land – which is a good place to be if the Top 6 conference champs get automatic bids into a 12-team playoff.
Scenario 3: The Big 12 Fills Its Holes
The Big 12 would be down to 6 or 8 teams and would likely try to expand to 12 in an attempt to capture markets for future TV revenues. In a previous article, it was clear that after the new Aztec stadium is built, SDSU and BYU would be the two strongest G5 programs available. Other candidates that would be attractive are AAC teams such as SMU, Houston, Memphis, Cincinnati, and Central Florida.
Imagine a Big 12 with SDSU, BYU, Memphis, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF that is good at both football and especially basketball.
Another dream scenario would be if the Big 12 sniped Arizona and Arizona State from the Pac 12 – leaving the Pac 12 room to backfill with SDSU and BYU (or Boise State/UNLV if there are still issues with BYU’s religious status).
More likely than not, SDSU gets into a higher tier conference under this scenario. But there’s a chance they could get shut out if the Big 12 decides to look east instead of west.
Scenario 4: Pac 12 Protects Its Territory
The best scenario for SDSU is to find a way into the Pac 12 and perhaps the threat of the Big 12 moving into its West Coast market might trigger the Pac 12 into adding teams to secure its position. Again, the top two candidates for expanding to 14 in this scenario are SDSU and BYU. The Pac 12 could select another two teams to get to 16 based on perhaps market size (UNLV), backfilling a lost area (Colorado State to replace Colorado), or overall program strength (Fresno State/ Boise State).
Scenario 5: Big 10 Snipes Pac 12
While this is an unlikely scenario due to geographical concerns, the Big 10 and Pac 12 are like minded conferences with a shared history through the Rose Bowl. There are also rumors Fox Sports wants this to happen. One could easily envision the top two universities wrt ratings, USC and Oregon, in the Big 10 to bring that conference’s total number of teams to 16.
This would also be a dream scenario for SDSU as it would open up spots in the Pac 12 and SDSU is clearly in the best position to fill one of them.
A larger raid of the Pac 12 could include 4 to 7 teams; in order: USC, Oregon, UCLA, Washington, Colorado, California, Stanford. This would lead to 5-8 stranded Pac 12 teams. They could all join forces with the 6 to 8 stranded Big 12 conference – leading to the dissolution of one P5 conference, or they could each pick off MWC and AAC teams to backfill their ranks.
Another possibility includes SDSU joining a “Best of Rest” conference that includes BYU, the strongest Mountain West and strongest AAC teams around. This scenario seems somewhat unlikely since the increased TV revenue would be minor compared to the increased hassles associated with non-football sports travelling across the entire US on a regular basis.
SDSU could also stay in the Mountain West Conference and makes the best of it. This scenario seems like the third best realistic option after getting into the Big 12 or Pac 12 – especially if the 12-team playoff scheme passes. With the increased revenue streams from the new stadium (and new revenues from a remodeled Viejas Arena), SDSU will be the Top Dog in the MWC and will have a great chance at getting into the playoffs every year – something that wouldn’t happen as regularly if they were in a Power 5 conference.
Preparation Meets Opportunity
As a fan trying to read tea leaves dropped from the Football Gods from afar (read: I’m probably wrong), it seems to me that Scenario 3 is going to happen with SDSU joining the six remaining Big 12 teams by January. Here’s why:
1. SDSU has done the work. It will be one of the two premiere G5 schools the minute the new stadium opens in 2022.
2. The Big 12 seems to be the primary target conference for SDSU going all the way back to Rocky Long. They must know something we don’t.
3. The remaining Big 12 schools have too much TV revenue potential to drop down to a G5 conference.
4. The schools in the Big 12 don’t seem to be the right fit for the Pac 12 – which is the only remaining P5 conference with slots available for expansion.
We shall see. So far the media hasn’t picked up on SDSU’s potential and maybe the Big 12 won’t either.
Perhaps the Pac 12 wants to gobble up the remaining Big 12 teams which would lock college football into a 64 team P4 structure. If that happens, then let’s hope the proposed 12 team playoff expansion with 6 autobids is put into place to keep the G5 viable and upper tier G5 schools more relevant (read: more realistic access to playoffs) than the lower tier P4 schools.