College football realignment news: Notre Dame on deck; Pac-12, Big 12 could merge; SEC vs. Big Ten playoffs?

The friend is passing … or not? Or maybe the Trojans and Bruins preparing for Big Noon games (9am PT!) will still take some getting used to.

The Fourth of July weekend is right around the corner, so we’re going to assume that the shuffle is taking a few days off. We need it. USC and UCLA need him. They need time to buy parkas, hire tutors for five-hour plane rides, and develop a taste for cheese curds. Such is the continuing impact of two West Coast icons headed to the Big Ten.

Now is the time to consider next steps.

Notre Dame is a talking point until it decided it isn’t. Its continuous dance with conference membership dates back nearly a century. The Pac-12 is already on record as aggressively pursuing expansion. The Big 12 has not revealed a plan, if it has one. It could stay at 12 ready to go in 2025, or as industry insiders suggest, pick as many Pac-12 schools as is financially wise and perhaps consign the Pac-12 to the dustbin of history.

Then there’s ACC, which until further notice, is looking increasingly vulnerable. If this all sounds relentless, we should be used to it by now. The blow has to go… right?

Here is the latest from the reorganization trenches….

Nothing happens until Notre Dame decides

Pac-12 presidents and athletic directors met by phone Friday, but does the Pac-12 have any strong positions? Until Notre Dame decides its future, it probably doesn’t have one. Sources told CBS Sports that the Big Ten is done “for now” until the Fighting Irish determine if they want to try and join the conference.

To entice Notre Dame to jump into the Big Ten, one source suggested Stanford could be invited as a “rivalry” partner of sorts. The two schools have met 24 times in the last 25 years with the streak interrupted only by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

In that scenario, Notre Dame would have at least five traditional rivals (Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, Stanford, USC) as Big Ten conference partners. With an attractive conference schedule plus three annual non-conference games, the Irish could easily continue their “Shamrock Streak” of back-to-back games across the country.

The Big Ten could stop there at 18 or go further, depending on the SEC’s intentions. There is a growing feeling that some combination of Clemson, Florida State and Miami could migrate to the SEC. This assumes that any of the three would bring proportional (equal value) to the teams already in the league. That’s $80-100 million a year in media rights fees.

Breaking ACC’s grant of rights can require a substantial eight-figure exit fee, assuming the contract is not successfully challenged in court. However, such a penalty can be funded over a period of years while the new schools reap an annual windfall.

Does that force the Big Ten to take a hard look at places like North Carolina and Virginia? Both were on then-commissioner Jim Delany’s radar years ago before the league eventually added Maryland and Rutgers.

With or without Notre Dame, one industry source doubted there was value to the Big Ten in inviting Oregon and/or Washington. This source went so far as to call the two schools “tweeners,” not big enough to justify the $80-100 million annual media rights fees, but significantly better than other Pac schools -12.

Think Oregon and Washington more attractive to the Big 12 if the Pac-12 doesn’t stick together. Speaking of which…

Looking down

Regardless of Notre Dame’s decision, the next step in realignment could be a raid of the Big 12 or Pac-12 from the other conference.

An industry source said the Pac-12 (without USC and UCLA) and the Big 12 (without Texas and Oklahoma) compared to the “Mountain West or AAC-plus.”

Trying to poach teams from the other league is the obvious answer to improving those tags and the rights fees that come with them. A raid might not change the financial math much, but it would mean survival for one conference and a possible dissolution for another.

One industry source described the Big 12’s options as if realignment were a slap in the face.

  • Get Arizona schools (add Phoenix market)
  • Get Arizona and Mountain Schools (Colorado and Utah)
  • Attempt a full Pac-12 merger by adding Arizona schools, Mountain schools, Oregon and Washington

The Big 12 needs to act fast. On the West Coast, a source said there have been a number of phone calls between Pac-12 administrators on the subject of loyalty and staying together … but nothing like “a blood oath.” Why would it be with everyone looking out for their own interests?

“You can’t trust anybody,” said one Pac-12 source of the major-college football climate. “It’s over.”

Mutual destruction option

There is one option that would ensure the mutual extinction of both conferences but provide stability for the survivors: get the top schools in the Big 12 and the Pac-12 to agree to form a new conference it is in their best interest.

It might look something like this:

There’s some spice if Utah and BYU can reconnect in a conference. Pac-12 schools gain recruiting access to Texas and expand their reach into the Central Time Zone. The Big 12 schools gain recruiting access to California while adding the Phoenix, Denver and Seattle media markets.

This hybrid conference might look better than anything that could form one league by taking a few teams from the other. And if the idea is to get as close to revenue as possible with the SEC and Big Ten, it might be the best lineup.

Of course, it will also mean the following programs are left out in the cold: Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oregon State, Washington State, West Virginia.

Power Two

As mentioned on ThursdayThe combined 32 teams in the Big Ten and SEC could mount a credible playoff run of their own when they have their final configurations (for now) both in place in 2025.

Media rights insiders who recently spoke with CBS Sports added some depth suggesting the idea has not only been considered, but is perhaps a big reason the Big Ten made its bold move.

  • Take the top four finishers from each conference and put them in an eight-team field.
  • The quarterfinals and semifinals are played in bowl games (as proposed in last year’s 12-team playoff bracket).

Using the first eight years of the CFP as a reference, only five teams that qualified for the field would not have a chance to return: Cincinnati, Clemson, Florida State, Notre Dame and Washington.

If Clemson and FSU joined the SEC — and if Notre Dame joined the Big Ten — only Cincinnati and Washington would be suburbs. Would there be too many misdemeanors?

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