Conference Realignment

August 7, 2023
Just as our Friday newsletter hit your inbox, the college sports landscape as we know it unraveled: A conference realignment bomb exploded, and we’re here to parse through the pieces with you. There are still a ton of questions to be addressed and a near-guarantee of more bombshell headlines, so buckle up — who knows where the Power Five will be by the time you finish scrolling!
Conference Realignment

☠️ An overnight implosion

The GIST: Well, that escalated quickly. The Big Ten and the Big 12 made like Kens taking over Barbieland on Friday, poaching half the schools belonging to the artist formerly known as the Pac-12.

The moves: Early Friday, Pac-12 founding schools Washington and Oregon announced they’re Midwest-bound, leaving their home of 108 years for the Big Ten. Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah followed suit hours later by bailing for the Big 12, hanging the conference’s remaining four schools — Stanford, Cal, Washington State, and Oregon State — out to dry.

  • These moves won’t happen until the 2024–25 season, when the Pac-12’s current media rights deal expires. Like having to live with your ex until your lease is up, this year is going to be awkward AF.

Why it happened: Because everybody’s got a price. The massive media rights contracts that created the Power Five are also their undoing: With the clock ticking down on its current deal, the Pac-12’s struggled to secure a new one that can compete with the monstrous contracts the Big Ten, SEC, and Big 12 landed.

  • Last week, the Pac-12 finally floated a new agreement with Apple TV which would put $23M per season in each school’s pocket — peanuts compared to the Big 12’s $42.6M and the Big Ten’s eye-watering $80M to 100M per school deals.
  • It clearly wasn’t enough to convince the five new defectors to stay. After weeks of flirting and speculation, they hit the eject button, likely signing the Conference of Champions’ death warrant.

What’s next: No one knows for sure but, under NCAA rules, four schools does not a Division I (DI) conference make. The new Pac-4’s options include finding Group of Five replacements or dissolving entirely, leaving Stanford, Cal, Washington State, and Oregon State seeking new homes or even going independent.

  • The Pac-12’s the focus right now, but as schools, money, and power begin to consolidate in the Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC, concerns are swirling around the ACC as well. Are we heading toward a super-conference future? Watch this space.