by Daniel Olsen
With Texas and Oklahoma reportedly looking to leave the Big 12 for the SEC, conference realignment could be happening sooner than expected. It’s time to see how that could affect each of the three in-state schools. Here are some scenarios for the Utes.
Scenario #1: PAC-12 stays put
This would be boring and likely not an option long term. As soon as a few more teams start to move around, it creates a domino effect. If the PAC-12 stays put, it could get left behind. They need to work on their depth. Their best teams aren’t as good as the best from the other P5 schools. There are bad teams in every conference, but it wouldn’t hurt the PAC-12 to have more depth by letting poor programs like Oregon State and Washington State go. Colorado has a decent market, but they haven’t performed well. Perhaps the Big 12 would be interested in taking them back.
In the new proposed 12-team playoff, the Utes could still work to get that auto-bid by winning conference. With so many changes from other conferences looking to merge, the PAC-12 wouldn’t have more than one bid under this format. The SEC is starting to look like a junior NFL. This is especially true if they continue to take heavy hitters from other conferences. They could get possibly three or four teams in the possible 12-Team playoff format. They could even host their own exclusive playoff if they get big enough.
Scenario #2: Super Conference
Which conference should the PAC-12 combine with? They could try to take a few of the best from other conferences. The Big 12 is the closest geographically of the P5. The two conferences could combine and add a few more top G5 teams to the list. Houston, SMU, Cincinatti and Memphis would be good. In order to maintain the win streak against BYU, Utah should try to do everything to keep them out of the new conference in this case.
This chess move of joining forces with the PAC-12 could possibly counteract the what the SEC might create. Oklahoma and Texas aren’t the end of it. Pretty soon Ohio State and Michigan, Clemson and Florida State, and other blue bloods of college football will realign in a gridiron version of Risk.
How would this Big 24 conference compare to what the SEC is doing? It will be tough as many of the blue bloods are east of the Mississippi. However, if the PAC-12 can somehow get a stranglehold on most of Texas, they could have the second best super conference in America. Instead of a Power 5, there would basically be two conferences like the NFL: the East and West.
If you throw in premiere basketball programs like Kansas (and maybe even try to pry away Gonzaga from the WCC), this makes sense across all sports.
Scenario #3: Independence
This is the least likely. Why would the Utes do this? It works for teams with a worldwide religious following like Notre Dame and BYU. While the Utes have a loyal following of their own, it makes sense to maintain the allies that these conferences bring. BYU’s financial success is largely dependent on their contract with ESPN. With these super conferences attracting attention, what if that contract does not get renewed? With Notre Dame looking to join a conference, it may be advantageous for BYU to do the same.
The only way independence could work is if the Utes offered some perk that other schools couldn’t. Since it would probably be against NCAA rules to get their players seven figure salaries or something like that, the Utes will need to rule this out. They should work with the PAC-12 to either stay put at the 12-team model or expand.
Most Likely Scenario
This isn’t going to happen overnight. There will be some changes but many likely won’t happen until contracts expire in 2024. At that point, it will be free reign. Not many PAC-12 schools, with the exception of USC, will be willing to pay the price to leave for greener pastures. Texas and Oklahoma would be paying a total of $140 million to leave early.
For right now, the PAC-12 should be on the phone with every blue blood program to plan for the Realignment War. While they might not dominate the gridiron out west, they have plenty to offer with basketball and the Olympic sports. The Utes will be in good hands if they stay put. The teams that have to worry are the Independent and Group of 5 members.
Here is what the best super conference for the Utes would look like:
Eight teams left of Big 12
Gonzaga (everything except football)
The Washington State Cougars could be traded out for the BYU Cougars if there wasn’t in-state pride on the line. Again, it would be disastrous for the Utes if BYU got in. While the Cougars of Provo have lost nine straight to the Utes, they have kept some games pretty close. If they are in the same conference, they should be able to get similar recruits. The top LDS kids aren’t always choosing BYU, but they certainly might do so more if the Cougars join one of these super conferences.
There just aren’t 32 super teams out west so that would be hard to make a better model than the SEC. There would be some good teams in this conference, but it would be ideal to get some teams from the Big 10 and ACC as well. The SEC is already taking the Red River rivalry from the Big 12 and is also interested in The Game of the Big Ten and College Football: Michigan and Ohio State. Why wouldn’t they go after the best in other conferences? While the travel costs would be steep, a super league of the best teams from sea to shining sea would be innovative and make college football even more entertaining than it already is.
Featured image courtesy Rick Egan, Salt Lake Tribune