At least for the time being, any real information about conference realignment seems to have slowed down.
It’s been just over a week since the news that USC and UCLA are leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024 became official, and during the time since, there have been plenty of reports and speculation about what will happen for conferences like the Pac-12, Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference.
The chatter and any sort of solid information has died down in the past couple days, though, leaving the question: what is going to happen next?
Industry experts that include the Bay Area News Group’s Jon Wilner, CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd and ESPN’s Pete Thamel have examined where everything stands on the conference realignment front, and what it could mean for teams like the Utah Utes and BYU Cougars with the Pac-12 and Big 12 heavily involved in the speculation.
What about a Pac-12/ACC agreement?
Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated explained what a reported “loose partnership” between the Pac-12 Conference and the ACC could bring to both parties.
Essentially, it’s an agreement meant to boost revenue for both conferences through broadcast rights with ESPN, and help stabilize a Pac-12 that’s losing the lucrative Los Angeles market.
The ACC currently has a grant of rights agreement with ESPN that runs through 2036. The Pac-12, meanwhile, announced earlier this week its board of directors authorized the league “to immediately begin negotiations for its next media rights agreements,” which expire in 2024.
Thamel, who said there is skepticism surrounding what kind of impact this agreement could have, reported that projected revenue numbers for a potential partnership “are supposed to be floated by the schools next week.”
“But no one should hail this potential partnership as some sort of financial haymaker, especially for the high-end ACC schools worried about falling way behind the SEC and Big Ten. It’s novel, but unlikely to be a game-changer,” Thamel wrote.
What’s the next step for the Big 12?
Another possibility that’s been highly discussed is Pac-12 programs joining the Big 12. On Tuesday, Dodd reported that the Big 12 was in “deep discussions” to add as many as six Pac-12 teams.
Among the teams that have been discussed as potential Big 12 additions from the Pac-12 are Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon and Washington.
Just how deep these discussions have gotten, or if they’ve happened at all, has been a point of contention.
A source close to Utah told the Deseret News that the suggestion that the school is meeting with the Big 12 “absolutely false,” while adding that Utah “is tethered closely and strongly aligned with Pac-12 leadership and league members.”
Thamel reported that the extent of discussions between the Big 12 and Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State “were overstated in reports this week,” though if the projections for a Pac-12, ACC partnership “as financially flimsy as expected,” that could heat up discussions for Pac-12 teams looking to join the Big 12.
“If one of those schools breaks away from the Pac-12 and commits to the Big 12, a domino effect could soon follow. And that domino of four schools could end up being six, with Oregon and Washington following for safe ground,” Thamel wrote.
What will happen with Notre Dame?
One of the major questions in conference realignment right now is what happens with Notre Dame. While the school has an agreement for a majority of its sports to compete in the ACC, the Fighting Irish football program remains independent.
Multiple news outlets this week have discussed how Notre Dame would be a financial coup for the Big Ten, or even the ACC or SEC, if it joined one of those conferences.
“We don’t feel any particular urgency,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told ESPN this week. “We think there’s ample time for us to let the landscape settle.”
During a television segment discussing conference realignment, Dodd said one of the next things that could cause “more dominoes to fall” is the announcement of the Big Ten’s new TV contract.
The league’s grant of rights runs through 2023, and Dodd believes the new TV contract could be announced in the next month, perhaps at Big Ten media days on July 24-25.
“What we’ll know then is what teams the Big Ten are going forward with in 2023,” Dodd said. “That doesn’t preclude Notre Dame from joining — everybody is worried about Notre Dame as the next domino to fall — but Notre Dame could join the Big Ten at any time. If they want to take months or even a year to hash this out, the Big Ten’s going to wait for them.”
Iowa athletic director Gary Barta spoke about the state of the Big Ten, saying he would support adding Notre Dame “eventually,” according to The Athletic’s Scott Dochterman.
“I don’t anticipate that’s a decision I’d be making this summer,” Barta said.
Iowa AD Gary Barta on Notre Dame: "Notre Dame was certainly on that list (after UT-OU to SEC).— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) July 8, 2022
"We are not seeking applications."
On if he would support Notre Dame as a member, Barta said, "Eventually ... I don't anticipate that's a decision I'd be making this summer."
What about another scenario?
Wilner, who broke the news about USC and UCLA leaving for the Big Ten, has examined several different factors and scenarios related to conference realignment that could impact the future of the Pac-12.
In addition to a Pac-12, ACC partnership or Pac-12 teams joining the Big 12, Wilner even offered up conjecture he described as “out of the box” thinking.
That would involve ESPN exploring the possibility of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State moving to the Big 12, and Oregon, Washington, California and Stanford heading to the ACC.
“Crazy? Maybe. But this feels destined to land outside the box,” Wilner wrote.
(RT) My conjecture: Is there a 3rd door being explored by ESPN?Instead of 1) the P12/ACC partnership or 2) P12s going to B12, what if they split up: Four corners to B12 and Ore, UW, Bay Area to ACC— Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline) July 8, 2022
Crazy? Maybe. But this feels destined to land outside the box
When could there be some answers?
College football expert Matt Brown suggested it could be some time before any more puzzle pieces fall into place in conference realignment, particularly from the Power Five perspective.
Also hearing that it's pretty unlikely anybody at the P5 level makes a drastic move in the immediate future, if for no other reason than Pac-12/ACC people are still waiting for/digesting updated projections from ESPN. Folks want as much data as possible before major shifts.— Matt Brown (@MattBrownEP) July 8, 2022
Most certainly, conference realignment will be a major point of discussion when conferences hold their media days in the next few weeks, and that could give conference commissioners a chance to address these situations.
Up first is the Big 12, which will hold its media days July 13-14. Also of significance for Utah schools, the Pac-12 will have its media day on July 29.