Over the last week during the latest realignment saga, the topic of super conferences keeps coming up in interviews, blogs and message board posts. Most commonly talked about is the nice, neat little package of four major conferences with 16 teams each. Why this idea has gained such widespread acceptance continues to amaze me. I guess if you say the same thing over and over people start to believe it. I won't pretend to tell you what the conference landscape will look like in the future, but I will outline the reasons why it won't look like what you hear in the majority of the media.
1. The probability of every conference having the same number of teams is virtually very low. At no time in history has there been a time where the top conferences all had the same number of teams. So to think that the four top conferences are all of the sudden going to end up with the same number is not logical.
2. There are currently 67 schools in AQ conferences plus Notre Dame. That number is likely to grow in the next few years as the Big XII looks for a replacement for Texas A&M and the Big East adds some teams like Villanova or Central Florida. Once a school is "inside" the BCS, any movement to remove a school would bring government intervention - most importantly the threat of removing tax-exempt status.
3. Not every major conference is acting like it is quick to expand. The convention is that the four conferences will be the SEC, the Pacific Twelve, the ACC and the Big Ten. The SEC will likely move to 14 very soon, but they may have a hard time getting to 16 unless they remove their restriction on adding teams already in their footprint. The PAC 12 wants to expand, but is limited in who they can get. Any expansion probably has to include Texas, but the issue of the LHN is a big hurdle. The Big Ten has never been fast to expand. They only added one team last year and have shown no indication (other than that fabricated by the media) that they are in any hurry to expand further. The ACC has shown no indications of expanding.
4. The demise of the Big 12 is premature. First, Texas wants to stay in the Big 12. They have the power and also have an easier road to the championship with Oklahoma as their only major hurdle and occasionally some other teams like Oklahoma State, Missouri and Texas Tech providing obstacles and no title game to trip them up. They also have 3rd tier rights which they cannot have in any other conference. Oklahoma also has the same road to the championship and the same rights to 3rd tier games (although not as lucrative as Texas). If they move to the PAC 12, then they have that same obstacle just to get to the conference championship, NOT a national championship. It is in Texas and Oklahoma's best interest to stay in the Big 12. And the conference is as stable as those two schools, regardless of what Texas A&M does.
5. The demise of the Big East is premature also. They are continually looking to expand . They have been very proactive in making sure that if they lose teams to other conferences that they will have replacements. TCU is beginning play next year. Villanova could be coming soon if they increase their stadium size. East Carolina and Central Florida are also candidates. I don't think the Big East is going to let it's conference die.
6. Much of the impetus for the super conferences are because four conferences would lead to a playoff. First, as much as I would like a playoff, we are still a long ways away from one. Second, you don't have to have super conferences to have a 4-team playoff. Conference champions are left out of the 2-team playoff right now. Third, if you had a 4-team playoff and only the conference champions were allowed, the government would intervene.
7. The only time we have had a 16-team conference in the past, it was a failure. Once the first one or two conferences moves to 16 teams, the other conferences will sit and wait to see how successful or unsuccessful they are.
If super conferences do materialize, I don't believe it will be in the neat package that the media makes it out to be. It will either be 5 or 6 conferences with 12-16 teams each or 4 conferences with 16-20 teams. The 16-team conference is basically two 8-team divisions. Why would a conference have to stop at 16? They could still have 9 division games with a 20-team conference and the division winners play for the championship.