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B5Q Roundtable: conference realignment thoughts

With USC and UCLA now coming to the Big Ten, the B5Q staff had some emotions to work through.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Holiday Bowl - USC v Wisconsin Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We are still a bit shocked by what happened this week in the world of college sports realignment. Now that USC and UCLA are officially going to become members of the Big Ten (in 2024) the staff here at B5Q had some thoughts that they needed to get out. Here is Nick, Tyler, J.J. and Bremen with their takes!

On a scale of 9-10 how shocked were you on Thursday when you heard that USC and UCLA were reported to be joining the Big Ten?

Nick: 11. My jaw was on the floor for most of the afternoon on Thursday and I am still in disbelief. I never would’ve thought this was even possible. I had to double check that it wasn’t some parody account who was just trying to stir up emotions. Side note, Twitter was excellent on Thursday. Big sports news always brings out the best/worst takes and reactions.

Bremen: Although it did seem an inevitability considering the chase for the almighty dollar, any major conference shake up seemed like a bit down the road. Like 10-15 years down the road. My friend texted me on Thursday “did you see UCLA and USC might join the Big Ten” and my initial thought was “what kind of message board BS is this?” It clearly wasn’t, and I think that I agree with Nick that my dial turned way up to 11 on this shock.

Tyler: I was pretty shocked. Nine feels right. I can’t say 10 because nothing seems that far fetched in college football these days and some sort of expansion was going to happen and this is likely only a piece of the ever changing puzzle.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 12 Big Ten Tournament - Michigan v Rutgers
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren is certainly leaving his mark on the conference.
Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

J.J.: A solid 9.5 seems about right. On some level, a move of some sort did feel inevitable by the Big Ten once the SEC added Texas and Oklahoma. I think it’s fair to say that the feeling of an arms race between the SEC and Big Ten had been growing for a while. But I had always assumed that meant the Big Ten would snag like Kansas and Iowa State. Southern California is a different story. I suppose this really means we’re about to see an “us all vs y’all” style showdown between the SEC and everyone else.

What does this mean for the future of the conference? Will more teams be joining the Big Ten? Which ones?

Nick: It means that the Big Ten is never going to look the same and neither is college football. Growing up in the midwest, I’ve always loved the brand of the Big Ten. Gritty, tough, blue collar football and basketball. Nothing is ever pretty and we all know that. Throwing in a couple of southern California teams makes speed and athleticism more important. I’m excited to see what programs, especially Wisconsin, look like down the road.

The same could be said about USC and UCLA. How are they going to adjust to the bigger size and strength of linemen or basketball big men? As far as more teams go, it sounds like Notre Dame’s invitation is still very open. This puts more pressure on them to join because of the USC vs Notre Dame rivalry. Plus, they don’t want to be left out if this thing gets as big as people are speculating.

Are we going to have two separate leagues? SEC and Big Ten? Also, give me Oregon. We have some unfinished business with them. Maybe Stanford and Washington are coming too? Or a couple of ACC schools? Or what about Baylor? I think for now, the Big Ten settles on 18 or 20 for 2024 and possibly more after that. I also don’t think the other conferences are just going to sit idly by.

Bremen: I think this shows the sign of intent from the Big Ten office of the need to be one of — to borrow a trademarked phrase from our “friends in Ohio” — THE superpowers in the sport. This move was clearly only set with football in mind, and its ripple effects in other sports and those student athletes in terms of travel schedules and everything clearly were beside the point.

As for additional moves, I think the next thing for any more movement is the Notre Dame question. My sense is that the ACC will be desperate to stay in the mix of still existing in like 20 years, and Notre Dame is their only tether to be a super power. Clemson, FSU and maybe Miami could clearly answer any siren song of the SEC. Meanwhile, if all the other reporting matters, high academic, sports powerhouses like Stanford, Duke or UNC have also been floated about. I’d guess Stanford and Cal are kind of a package deal — as in whatever one does the other does, like with USC/UCLA — but there is so much up in the air I don’t wanna look to stupid on the next wave of expansion talks. However, Notre Dame is the domino that would potentially cause chaos.

Tyler: Unfortunately the college football that we all fell in love with because of tradition and pageantry is gone. We’ll see how it feels going forward. That being said, it had to be done to keep pace with the SEC and I’d rather see the Big Ten be proactive and stay competitive. I don’t believe it’s done either. I think the next piece is Notre Dame. Nothing moves until they do. After that, I think you’ll see some combo of teams out West. I’d think Stanford, Oregon, and Washington are all in play. Additionally, I think Pitt is a school that would be nice to nab out east. Get that Pitt/PSU rivalry back!

J.J.: My current suspicion is we’re probably headed for a 24 team Big Ten. Oregon and Washington seem like locks, both due to current buzz and the fact that they make sense in making USC and UCLA travel less hectic.

Now let’s get crazy.

I think the Big Ten also picks up Cal and Stanford, in part because they’re elite academic boosters and in part because Stanford helps tempt Notre Dame over (assuming ND wouldn’t turn away having three of its biggest rivals in one conference). And the step further here is the reason the Big Ten wants Notre Dame is because if the ACC can’t add ND, then the ACC is free to get raided for more teams. As a result the Big Ten then adds Duke, UNC, and UVa to continue to bolster its academic status as well as basketball. So long story short, I predict a Big 24, with Oregon, Washington, Stanford, Cal, Notre Dame, Duke, UNC, and UVA all joining up.

Do you like this move for the future stability of the conference?

Nick: I really like it. I have no concerns moving forward with regard to the stability of the Big Ten. USC adds another pillar to football. UCLA adds another pillar to basketball. Never mind all the other sports that have had a ton of success at both schools, including volleyball. It would be even more shocking if a current conference team decides they are going to move now. That feels like it would be a massive mistake, unless somehow the SEC finds a way to pull Ohio State away and that sounds crazy to even suggest…

NCAA women’s volleyball championships
The UCLA Bruins won the volleyball national title in 2011 and have a storied history of success in the sport.
Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Bremen: I mean, in terms of the money, in terms of the success of the programs across multiple sports at USC and UCLA and in terms of the fact that it means Big Ten schools will make more money, it makes sense. However, every tradition gets swept by the wayside. Is that inevitable in some ways? Yes. But I personally like college football for its stupid traditions. This makes it more steps closer to the NFL, which is a better sporting product, but something I enjoy less.

Tyler: I like it because it was a necessary move and best for the conference. I think if you’re a Big Ten person you’ve gotta side with what’s best for the conference and this is it.

J.J.: Begrudgingly yes. It’s gross but it’s also what college football is now. I think the alternative would have probably been letting the SEC continue slowly picking off teams until it became college football’s version of the SuperLeague, and now the Big Ten can at least provide a credible challenger.

At some point I always felt since the SEC added Texas and Oklahoma that the Big Ten would have to pony up and bolster itself and thats what they’re doing now. Is it going to start a free-for-all? Probably. But it’s better to start the free-for-all and be a location teams want to be than be a victim of the free-for-all as the SEC handpicks programs one by one.

Also, while obviously all of this is dictated around football, I do think the Big Ten is being wise in adding teams that bolster the conference in Olympic sports as well. For example the Big Ten looks on pace to be the nation’s premier soccer conference once the dust all settles on this. If the Big Ten does end up adding a few ACC or Big 12 schools, its basketball could be the best in the country. Does it move the needle compared to the unique revenue titan that is football? Probably not. But it’s never bad to increase your credibility on a wide range of sports.

Do you like this move as a fan of Wisconsin and the Big Ten writ large?

Nick: This is great for Wisconsin. From a brand standpoint, they’ll only become more and more of a household name from this addition. Despite a couple of down years, I’m confident the program is still very well positioned against almost every Big Ten program. The Pac-12 hasn’t produced a college football playoff team since Washington in 2016 so we don’t need to act like USC is going to come in and roll everyone. And UCLA has one winning season (8-4 in 2021) since Chip Kelly took over the program in 2018. The Badgers have the recruits and developmental program to be in the conversation year in and out. Neither of these schools scare me right now.

And lets not forget, Lincoln Riley inherited that Oklahoma team from Bob Stoops. I am not doubting he’s a good coach and recruiter but it’s one thing to take over a successful football program and a completely other thing to take a flailing program and turn it into a juggernaut. Fans get antsy and coaching turnover can be a vicious cycle. There are more examples of failures in that regard than there are examples of successes. All we have to do is look at Nebraska, Texas, or even Miami. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Bremen: As answered in that last question, I don’t totally love this move. It will clearly benefit Wisconsin in terms of revenue, exposure, blah blah blah blah. I am progressive in most viewpoints of my life; however, I always liked the fact the Big Ten had a clear sense of identity in the Midwest.

NCAA FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Holiday Bowl - USC v Wisconsin Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Will it be cool to watch Wisconsin play USC more in a helmet game type factor? Yes. Do I wish there were more chances of building rivalries and real stakes in the Midwestern reaches of the Big Ten? Yes. But at the end of the day, we’ll all get mostly used to this change just like remembering Rutgers (sorry J.J.) and Maryland are a part of the conference.

Tyler: I’m kinda meh as a fan. I think it’ll be cool to play USC and UCLA the first few times and then it will kinda wear off. We’ll see. Maybe it will be better than I expect but it will feel a bit out of place.

J.J.: It’s hard to say yes, even if I spent the last three answers rationalizing how inevitable this always was. UCLA and USC just don’t seem like Big Ten teams by nature. They never will. Maybe this will help for recruiting though!

What do you think is going to happen to the Pac-12 and the ACC and, well, any conference that isn’t the Big Ten or the SEC?

Nick: I think it depends on what schools leave next. If Oregon and Washington are serious about leaving, and the Pac-12 only picks up schools like Boise State or Fresno State, then the Pac-12 is going to look more like a mid-major conference at that point. I’m not sure if they’ll still be in existence by 2030, unless they start making crazy moves themselves. The ACC and Big 12 still have a path forward for now but they can’t afford to lose anyone right now and they need to look to bolster as well. If Baylor, Kansas, Clemson, or Florida State start shopping, we’ll be on a fast track to two mega conferences.

Bremen: Pac-12 and ACC will eventually be consolidated. Their best bet to stay semi-viable is a trip from the past actually. Back in like 2011 or whatever, when it was the Pac-16 debate before Larry Scott ruined the conference, they almost took Texas, Oklahoma and other programs from the Big 12 to create the first super conference. Obviously, that failed. But for most of the Pac-12 or new Big 12 to stay alive, they need to somehow have an ability to persuade the programs attractive to the SEC or Big Ten super-conferences to not jump ship. Do I think that would happen? No. But I guess that’s showbiz baby.

Tyler: The ACC is what fascinates me here. They’re behind the eight ball already and are in real danger of falling behind further if they don’t make some big moves. I think you’ll see some sort of Big 12 and Pac-12 spare parts merger. It just makes sense. But the ACC? I’m not so sure where they go.

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 21 Michigan State at Notre Dame
Will Notre Dame finally join a conference?
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

J.J.: The pessimist in me says the Big 12 and Pac-12 will be raided for their premier programs and will then realign into some fusion of conferences that are distinctly above mid-majors but distinctly below the new Power Two. I think the ACC could hold out if they manage to bring in Notre Dame, but I really don’t see that happening. I think Notre Dame would rather be independent or be a Big Ten team. If the Fighting Irish don’t join the ACC, I would imagine it would get gutted as well- I’m sure the SEC would love to have Clemson, for instance- and the rest would join the new tier of Powerless Three schools. I suspect a lot of schools will go independent a la UConn.

To summarize, assuming the ACC doesn’t get Notre Dame, we’ll end with:

The Power Two: B1G and SEC, each with roughly 20-24 teams

The Powerless Three: whatever the rest of the ACC/Big 12/Pac-12 realigns to

And a whole bunch of new independents