This, of course, expands the league to 18 teams and doubles the number of West Coast time zone teams to 4. It can also be viewed as an aftershock of the thunderous disruption that was USC and UCLA joining the B1G. It certainly sends the message that this isn’t over.
I’m not sure if it demoralizes the traditionalists at all because USC/UCLA was a pretty devastating blow to that community, but if you’re in that boat with me, I need to remind you of something: the people that run college football don’t care what you want or what you value beyond what you contribute to the valuation of a broadcast rights contract.
When the final Big Ten West title race wraps up this fall, it will be a good time for the Midwesterners who are still out here clinging to their antiquated notions of what college football should be to let go of these ideas. As a firm believer in the Old Bowl System and a fan for whom long-standing geographic rivalries mean a great deal, I know it’s over for us.
That’s why I’m glad that the Big Ten pulled the trigger on these latest two acquisitions. I have finally embraced realignment accelerationism!
Four years ago I saw a realignment situation developing with the Big XII’s media contract expiring in 2024. I believed it would be the Big Ten that scooped up Texas and Oklahoma, but instead the SEC did the deed. Nevertheless, I laid out one possible scenario where the superpowers would separate and basically form a Super League that would take with it all the legacy conference branding and bowl game branding and other intellectual property and apply it in a new repackaged Diet NFL format. I hinted at a Part 2 that I never quite got around to, but that whole prediction was just one guess at the form college football might eventually take.
Right now though, nobody knows what the endgame is. Even the power brokers making all this happen don’t really have an endgame in mind: the networks just know that Oregon and Washington make the Big Ten Football brand more valuable and destabilize what is currently a rival football conference. How will all the other sports work logistically? Well, someone will figure it out. What matters is the value of the Big Ten Football portfolio, especially when compared to other competing portfolios.
I’ve seen a lot of very cute reactions to this news from fans who are trying to adapt to this new meta. What will the protected rivalries be? Can we make new rivalries from throwing these new ingredients in the bowl? Are we going to play Iowa again before 2028? How many West Coast fans will come and tailgate? Will I really have to watch Big Ten After Dark for the rest of my days?
These are all questions that assume the 18-team Big Ten is going to be our new future instead of some transient state that may not ever exist in real life. The 16-team Big Ten has come and gone without a single game played!
For now, only the upcoming season is knowable. Who knows how long that will be the case? Oregon has never played Rutgers. It’s not unreasonable to say that the Big Ten will add more teams before the new OreGers series can play a home-and-home!
The SEC won’t take this lying down, and the ACC is already dealing with insurgents. American Capitalism lets you have a choice between two different brands. It’s now clear that college football is doing the same. We’re just waiting for the SEC to respond.
I think the Big Ten shouldn’t even bother waiting for the SEC’s move. Add some more teams! Scoop up as many as you can. Do it tomorrow! College football’s transition to a made-for-TV corporate-controlled product has only ever accelerated. Let’s get silly! Pedal to the metal.
Nobody, not even the TV executives making these decisions, have any clue what the endgame is as far as what are conferences, who plays whom and for what manner of championships. The endgame is for each network to have the largest possible number for conference broadcast rights valuations. That is not an optimization problem that can be solved while there are multiple networks and multiple conferences.
I don’t like the Conference Churn era, so I want to speed through it as fast as we can.
What lies beyond is unknown. Network executives will not stop meddling until broadcasting college football stops being profitable, but it might slow to a crawl once there are only two corporate rivals left in the top tier. I would imagine that means the Fox-backed Big Ten and the ESPN-backed SEC as conferences in a tier of their own, and everyone that’s not in those conferences in various “non-power” tiers. This feels inevitable, and then we’ll have some stability until most fans finally get priced out of watching the games on TV, when it will all drop very suddenly. By this time though, I’m sure we’ll have much bigger problems going on in our daily lives.
So I guess I’m an accelerationist because that’s the only way to get to anything that’s reasonably consistent year over year, because even the upcoming Two Superconference Era will eventually fall victim to a TV rights bubble bursting (especially as logistics grow ever more expensive).
Once we’re left with nothing, maybe some of the large Midwestern public universities would be interested in starting up some interscholastic sporting competitions among their neighbors?