Currently there are six BCS leagues and while the Pac 10 has remained steady since the late 70's the other five leagues have seen some variance of a facelift in the last three decades. This current, modern era of conference was first shaped by the Big Ten adding Penn State to their mix in 1990. The SEC sent the most tremendous ripple through the football landscape in 1992 when Arkansas and South Carolina joined the league.
The Big Eight would wait just four years before swallowing the Texas members of the artist formerly known as the SWC. In the east the ACC took just over a decade after the first SEC title game to follow suit by gobbling up Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College up to get twelve teams and their own title game. Lastly the Big East, in response to the pillage by the ACC decided to add Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati to their football landscape for survival.
Change has been going on for the last three decades, it is nothing new and while each change has brought new faces to conferences and created or renewed rivalries the conferences have survived.
After reading several columns, including, most notably the Pete Thamel piece with former Syracuse Jake Crouthamel it appears that yet another shift is coming. Not just the Big Ten going to twelve teams but the possibility of a tremendous facelift for the landscape of college football.
Now here we stand in what appears to be the calm before the storm that will come with massive league realignment. The Big Ten is leading the way with thoughts of a December Big Ten Title game dancing in their head. The Pac 10 is poised to react to the Big Ten's move while the Big East is sitting and waiting on death to be dealt to their anemic football league and bloated basketball contingent.
So the ball's in the Big Ten's hands; but why?
Why wait for the Big Integer to decide WE, as a college football landscape, will stop at 12 team expansion or WE will go all the way to 16? Why give that league the say and watch the Pac 10, SEC, ACC and Big XII try to follow suit? If expansion to 4 leagues of 16 teams each is where we're inevitably heading why not be the firebug that starts the blaze?
The Big XII and Big East are both damned by expansion beyond 12 teams, they cannot muster the team numbers without adding folks such as Boise St, SMU or ECU, Memphis to the mix. However, the SEC, Pac 10 and ACC all have the staying power to start the trend instead of just following the Big Ten's lead.
As we've seen in the previous SEC and ACC expansions, of 1992 and 2003 respectively, being the aggressor is how you land the big fish that you want. Wait and you'll be left scrambling to fill your ship's holes just to stay afloat a la the Big East in 2005.
So how do they get aggressive?
For the Pac 10 the first thing is recognizing the biggest fish; Texas. The Longhorns are the daddy on the expansion block and they bring a nice "tag along" prize with them in Texas A&M. The Pac 10 has to look east first and while plenty of teams such as Utah, BYU, Boise St, Fresno State, Colorado and more will be hoping for the Pac 10 invite, the league will have to woo Texas to make them the backbone of their existence.
With ten teams currently the league must add six and they've got the heftiest task in a very sparsely populated west when compared to the mega-population centers up and down the east coast. Landing Texas will give them Dallas and Houston, two of the top 15 television markets in the nation. Then the conference can move to landing the Denver market with Colorado and putting the nail down in Salt Lake City before they decide whether Las Vegas or other areas warrant their interest.
Remember the Pac 10 is all about research universities and total sports experience. So while Boise State has done a good job of building a football program from dirt their is far too much wrong with that university's academic and athletic make up and rankings to warrant their inclusion.
Just like the Pac 10 the SEC has one big fish that they must land. Even with their megaton TV contract the fact is the league would love to get their claws into Texas. Just imagining the reunion of the Texas-Arkansas-Texas A&M rivalry games or the new potential for Texas-Florida in the title game is enough to drive up the revenue tremendously.
Of course teams such as USF, Clemson, WVU, OU and Oklahoma State will be wanting a chunk of that SEC change and, with the exception of Clemson, they'll need that invite to save themselves "non-BCS" status. Picking two more teams out of the cluster of schools in SEC territory will be easier once the big fish of Texas and their partner Texas A&M is landed.
To add to the SEC's revenue cash cow is the fact that they can take teams that the Pac 10, Big Ten and ACC cannot accept. Less of a knock on the individual academics of the SEC schools but rather a nod to the other league's placing a legitimate concern on the academic prestige of their collective group.
The ACC is already hard at work selling themselves as a football league. Some folks are calling the original expansion a failure and the new TV contract isn't drawing anywhere near the numbers that their SEC brethren got when they inked their deal. On the positive side the league does hold the gateway to eight top 30 US TV Markets an invaluable asset as Boston, Atlanta, Washington DC, Miami, Tampa-St. Pete, Charlotte, Raleigh-Durham and Baltimore mean plenty of eyes can watch ACC games.
Obviously Notre Dame will remain the crown jewel of the Big Ten with their lack of AAU membership and desire to remain independent being the roadblocks. The ACC doesn't require the AAU and Notre Dame warrants a call. However, if they aren't looking to move now odds are the Irish will never make the jump.
For this league to expand their key is to outstep the Big Ten. Instead of allowing the league to pick off their choice of Big East schools the ACC must get proactive by raiding the Big East; again. Notre Dame is a brand they could use but following the Irish the league must look at Syracuse, UConn, Pitt and Rutgers to be the four who push them to 16 teams.
Yes, schools such as ECU, WVU, UCF and perhaps even Temple or Richmond would love to get the ACC invite if it is extended; it won't be. The league doesn't have the same ardent requirements of the Pac 10 and Big Ten but they do make it clear their they're a collection of top 100 schools.