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When I said the whole "the number one part of this whole adventure of making this my full-time job is attending every football and basketball game, home and away" thing, I didn't really envision trips to Los Angeles. I mean, seriously, there could be a basketball schedule in a few years that includes a game at UCLA on Thursday night and then another road game at Maryland on Sunday. I still plan to attend each and every game, but... a trip to LA is a lot different than a trip to Iowa City.
If you're not familiar with what I'm talking about, the news came out today that USC and UCLA are joining the Big Ten. It might be announced as soon as tomorrow. Just this evening the news came out that the Big Ten Presidents and Chancellors have voted to accept both schools and they'll begin play in 2024.
And as I went to go pull the "sources say the Big Ten has concluded their vote and this is now final" tweet link, I see this on Twitter:
OFFICIAL: USC will join the Big Ten Conference in 2024.— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) June 30, 2022
So, uh, yeah. It won't be announced tomorrow. It was announced six minutes ago. Pack your bags, Robert. you're going to California at least once per year (and perhaps 2-3 times in one year).
There's so many different directions I could go here. I'm going to try to stay focused. To do that, I use plus signs.
My thoughts drift to...
+ There's not really a Power Five in college football anymore. When all the changes happened 10 years ago, the conferences aligned as the "Autonomy Five" (referred to as the Power Five), the group that could set their own rules apart from the NCAA, and the "Group Of Five", your MACs and your Sun Belts who make up the "smaller school" conferences. Cincinnati this past season was the first G5 team to make the playoff. And that earned them a bump up to a P5 conference.
But with Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 for the SEC last year, and with UCLA and USC leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten this evening, at least as far as football is concerned (and let's be honest, football determines everything), there are two clear top conferences and three "what's going to happen, guys? I'm scared" conferences.
Remember this tweet last summer?
If you’re a #CFB fan of the...— Kyle Umlang (@kyleumlang) July 18, 2021
Alabama Crimson Tide
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Ohio State Buckeyes
Congratulations!!! Your team is a Blue Blood!!! #ThisIsTexas #HookEm ￼￼🤘🏽 pic.twitter.com/5u8q2Fy6OA
Let's ignore the line drawn at eight teams for a moment and just look at the teams ranked in the top-12 by that formula. The conference affiliations for each:
Ohio State - B1G
Notre Dame - Independent
Alabama - SEC
USC - B1G
Oklahoma - SEC
Michigan - B1G
Texas - SEC
Nebraska - B1G
Penn State - B1G
LSU - SEC
Tennessee - SEC
Georgia - SEC
There's just no way every other conference isn't in an absolute panic right now. College football drives the money, the money already leaned heavily towards the SEC and the Big Ten, and now, in the last 12 months, the SEC has grabbed the only two Big 12 schools on that list and the Big Ten grabbed the one Pac-12 team on that list. As I just tweeted, I'm calling it. There's no Power 5 anymore. There's a Power 2 and a Panic 3.
Remember this graphic that I included in my article about potential "pods" as part of the Big Ten schedule?
Go ahead and push that blue line above the yellow line now.
+ So if there's going to be two main conferences (and this will extend to all sports), will it be the SEC and Big Ten that breaks off from the NCAA and pays the players?
In his media roundtable on Tuesday, Josh Whitman said that if NIL was what dominated the last two years of discussions about college athletics, player pay will dominate the next two years. Not salaries or contracts, but some kind of system where the players get a piece of the pie.
The most likely scenario (and this is me postulating here, not Josh Whitman): a stipend. Isaiah Williams gets his full-ride scholarship plus (just throwing out a number) $30,000 per year while in college. To do that, you have to draw a line somewhere. The players at Montana State aren't going to be getting a stipend. The players at Toledo probably aren't going to be getting a stipend. Would all of the "autonomy" conferences get a stipend? That's been discussed, but that's 85 football players on 65 teams (plus whatever they work out for basketball and maybe other revenue sports like women's basketball).
So maybe it makes sense that once the number of universities gets low enough, they draw a line and say "these are the players who are part of this new tier and will receive stipends". Perhaps that's just... the SEC and the Big Ten?
From there you can go 15 different directions. Would the SEC and Big Ten stay at 16 teams each for a nice, clean 32 teams? Would the other conferences try to consolidate to create their own "superconference" which might climb up onto that tier? How many would that be? One more conference? Two? And what happens to Notre Dame?
And if football creates this new tier, what happens with college basketball? If Kansas is on the outside looking in on the ability to pay players a stipend, would high school basketball players choose Penn State over Kansas because they can get a stipend if they go to Penn State? What about Duke and North Carolina? Should they be on the phone right now begging the Big Ten (or the SEC) to let them in?
I'm not sure I have a sense of how any of that plays out. I just know that I'm glad I'm an Illini fan and not an Iowa State fan at the moment. There are a lot of fans from the Big 12, ACC, and Pac 12 looking at this USC/UCLA news and saying "well, we had a good run - can't wait for matchups with Arkansas State and Bowling Green streaming on Discovery+."
+ I just tweeted this but I'll add it here as well. You used to be able to go to the official Illini website and see our football schedule for 2023, but they pulled it (last year, maybe?) because the Big Ten wanted to reevaluate the schedule. The TV deal was being negotiated, and there was talk of possibly going to pods (or going to eight conference games), so they pulled it from everyone's schedule. Originally it was the second year of the next 6-year rotation (with Penn State replacing Rutgers as our yearly cross-division opponent starting in 2022), but they changed everything and made 2022 another "let's make up for games missed due to Covid" schedule (it's why we play Indiana instead of Penn State now) with the next rotation to start in 2023. They'd finalize the TV deal this summer, settle on a way to do the schedule, and start those rotations in 2023.
But now we have UCLA and USC joining the conference in 2024. Which means 2023 will be the one-off of all one-offs. I'm sure everyone will keep their rivalry game, but beyond that, who knows? Are divisions still a thing in 2023? And if divisions go away and pods are put in place, what do you do for the one year before UCLA and USC arrive? You play your rival and then everyone draws 8 opponents out of a hat?
Best guess is they keep divisions for one last year and then do everyone's cross-division games randomly. So there's really just two questions: who are the three Big Ten East teams that Illinois will play in this one-off year and why will it be Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State?
+ Both the Big Ten and the SEC could stay at 16 teams for decades (or they both go up to 20 teams by the end of the summer), but if the conference does stay at 16 teams for a while, it's rather fascinating. SEC fans have been playing around with their 16-team football schedule for the last year. Maybe we should do the same?
There's two ways to go about it if divisions are eliminated. One is permanent pods - four groupings of four teams. The other is three permanent rivals for each team. If it's permanent pods (think of it like the NFL with four teams in each division), maybe it's something like this:
UCLA - USC - Nebraska - Iowa
Minnesota - Wisconsin - Northwestern - Illinois
Michigan - Ohio State - Michigan State - Penn State
Purdue - Indiana - Rutgers - Maryland
I don't think that's as likely as three permanent rivals. Because of the complicated Big Ten rivalries (Ohio State has to play Michigan but not Michigan State - Michigan has to play both Ohio State and Michigan State), the more likely scenario in my mind is a list of three permanent rivals for each team. Then you play a 3-6-6 schedule. With nine conference games, the first year it's your three permanent rivals plus these six. The second year, your three permanent rivals again but the other six.
It's tricky to add USC and UCLA, though. The marquee matchup everyone is thinking about here is Ohio State-USC, but would Ohio State agree to permanent games with Michigan, Penn State, AND USC? Don't you think they'd fight for a gimme game in there (I hate to say this, but, like, the Illibuck game)? The conference would likely keep the rivalries mostly geography-based, so would that mean Nebraska gets USC and UCLA every year? If Nebraska ever returns to what they were, wouldn't Nebraska-USC make a lot of sense every season?
Here's a stab at it. I'm not married to this. But I tried to keep most of the trophy games (like the Little Brown Jug, and, yes, Illibuck). It's not perfect, but it's impossible to make it perfect. Combining geography plus trophy games, I came up with...
USC - UCLA, Neb, Wisc
UCLA - USC, Neb, NW
Nebraska - USC, UCLA, Iowa
Iowa - Neb, Minn, Wisc
Minnesota - Wisc, Iowa, Mich
Wisconsin - Minn, Iowa, USC
Northwestern - Illinois, UCLA, Pur
Illinois - NW, Pur, tOSU
Purdue - Ind, NW, Illinois
Indiana - Pur, MSU, Rutg
Michigan St. - Mich, Ind, Mary
Michigan - tOSU, MSU, Minn
Ohio State - Mich, PSU, Illinois
Penn State - tOSU, Rutg, Mary
Maryland - Rutg, PSU, MSU
Rutgers - Mary, Ind, PSU
I could be talked out of a lot of that. I kind of painted myself into a Northwestern-UCLA corner but I was really struggling with a third opponent for USC and UCLA. I originally had USC getting Wisconsin and UCLA getting Iowa, but that took one of Iowa's three trophy games away. So I kept those in the rotation, gave Minnesota a Little Brown Jug game against Michigan, and that sent UCLA to Northwestern.
And yes, we have all three trophy games as well (LOL Hat, Cannon, and IlliBuck). Illibuck doesn't really matter to anyone, and it's the first to go if Ohio State does want to sign up for USC, but I have it in there. We keep our three trophy games and Ohio State gets a gimme game. Hey, stop throwing tomatoes at me.
I think that's all my thoughts for now. I have more but I need to put the finishing touches on travel plans to go see my granddaughter next week in Idaho because babies born at 36 weeks apparently get to go home from the hospital fairly quickly (hurray!). "Grandfather Before The Age Of 50" achievement UNLOCKED. What do I win?
Wait, Idaho isn't that far from California. Maybe I'll stop in to see her 2-3 times per year.