Trying to deduce the next steps for the summer version of College Football Bingo has become a full-time nationwide obsession since news broke last week that USC and UCLA were bolting the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2025.
Apparently, the Big Ten has told various outlets that the conference is done developing, for now. But who really believes that?
There are theories to support any scenario you can imagine, from the entire remaining Pac-12 merging with the Big 12, to the Big Ten absorbing the rest of the Pac-12 to create a “Western” division of the traditional Midwestern conference, to much smaller movements such as the Big Ten inviting Stanford to join, largely as an incentive to lure Notre Dame since it would mean two traditional Irish opponents would be in the same conference.
As CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd wrote on Sunday, nothing happens “until Notre Dame decides its future.”
Notre Dame next? No so fast
If the Big Ten is still looking to expand, a likely target would be Notre Dame. The conference has long coveted the introduction of college football’s singular national brand, but Notre Dame has remained true to its independent roots, strengthened since beginning a relationship with NBC in 1991 to exclusively show Irish home games.
Notre Dame has conference memberships beyond football. The Irish are members of the ACC for most Olympic sports and are part of the Big Ten hockey league. One of the main reasons for the latter is the ease of movement within the conference.
The Big Ten have made races at Notre Dame several times over the years and have come close several times. Interestingly, when USC and UCLA join the conference in 2025, that’s also when Notre Dame’s current contract ($15 million per year) expires with NBC.
However, as Mike Berardino notes in the South Bend Tribune, there would be a huge catch if Notre Dame jumped completely into the Big Ten.
He wrote that ESPN’s contract with the ACC, which runs through 2036, includes a provision that if Notre Dame were to join a football conference before then, it would be contractually obligated to join the ACC. The exit fee to get out of this deal would likely offset the windfall of joining the Big Ten. Then again, Dodd surmised that perhaps other schools in the Big Ten could help share the financial blow.
Apparently, none of this dampens the Big Ten’s interest in the Irish. Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, who held the same position at Arizona State and played on two national championship football teams at Notre Dame in the 1970s, wasn’t shy about expressing his feelings .
“I love my alma mater,” Smith told reporters at a Friday press conference in Columbus, Ohio, “and I always thought they should go to a conference. I don’t know what the next step (for Notre Dame), but hopefully they will consider this opportunity and hopefully it will be the Big Ten.”
Arizona schools on the fast track to the Big 12?
The most obvious move for Arizona and Arizona State, should they choose to leave the Pac-12, is the Big 12. There is a built-in familiarity with some of the schools in this conference, such as BYU (join next year) and Texas Tech; there’s powerful basketball in the Big 12, including Kansas and Baylor, playing to the strength of UA; and Arizona schools are used to recruiting from Big 12 countries, especially Texas.
Playing into this possible scenario is the Big 12’s apparent sudden interest in going on the offensive, writes Action Network’s Brett McMurphy. According to his sources, “The Big 12 has never been aggressive (in the conference realignment), but they should contact these four Pac-12 schools and tell them ‘get on board because there’s nothing left’ in the Pac. -12 Another source added, “We’re not sitting back this time. It’s killed us in the past. We’re looking to strengthen our conference.”
Above it all looms the SEC, which kicked off the current realignment carousel when it lured Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12. Speculation is flying that the SEC will then seek to board some of the gems of the ACC, like Clemson and Florida State.
Matt Leinart understands USC decision
Former Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart, who won the Heisman Trophy while playing for USC in 2004, says he understands why his school is making the leap from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten.
“It’s still, like trying to treat them as part of the Big Ten in a few years… I was shocked by the initial announcement, but I can’t say I’m surprised it happened,” he said. he said Friday on The Herd with Colin Cowherd “I think when you look at the current landscape of college football and where it’s going…Oklahoma and Texas really being that first domino last year to say we going to the SEC for obvious reasons, USC being a massive national brand despite the lack of competitiveness on the court, it was just a no-brainer.
Leinart went on to say that he thinks the move “will be of great benefit to them and to UCLA.”
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