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College Football

There’s Room In The Future For A Big Fat SEC And Not Much Else

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS - DECEMBER 29: DeMarvion Overshown #0 and D'Shawn Jamison #5 of the Texas Longhorns react after a turnover in the fourth quarter against the Colorado Buffaloes during the Valero Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome on December 29, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
Tim Warner/Getty Images

There were many lessons delivered by the freshly slaughtered Super League, the idea that 12 very rich European soccer teams could go it alone in a relegation-free environment that would make enough money for everyone that all their mountain ranges of debts could be cleared in hours rather than years and all the money would be theirs forever. Every fan in every city hated the idea to such an extent that they took to the streets, more or less, and the league collapsed under the weight of its own excrement within 48 hours.

The big lesson we thought we learned was that fans still have power. The lesson we are now embarking on is that the Super League idea was simply too small. College athletics is about to show us how the Super League concept will actually work: by continuing to assimilate schools like Texas and Oklahoma into the Southeastern Conference and letting their less financially muscled brethren in the Big 12 thrash about in smaller and shallower waters, under-noticed and under-nourished by big-biz college sports definitions.

Conference membership upheavals happen every now and then, usually when the big dogs notice one of two things: The bowl either doesn’t hold as much food, or there are too many puppies eating. It’s how the Big East basketball conference, one of the great philosophical confluences in the history of the sport, splintered into basketball schools and football schools. The football schools headed for the ACC to make that amalgamation into a Canada-to-Florida bloat-box, and since that moment, long-held associations became marriages of convenience, to be dissolved at the tap of a contactless ATM card.

Thus, the rumor that Texas and Oklahoma are looking to escape the Big XII, the fiefdom they largely dominate, to go to the already overstuffed SEC, a fiefdom run by Nick Saban’s mood on any given day, has folks seeing the writing smeared on the walls—that big attracts big, and if you have enough bigs, there aren’t enough smalls to matter any more.

In other words, the Big XII, which once actually had XII teams, will be back to VIII, and together they won’t have the clout of the two schools that left. Oklahoma State’s president is already up in arms, Texas A&M’s athletic director is already spoiling for a fight because it wants to be the only Texas school in the conference, and all the other petty resentments will be back in force before too much longer. “We’re all in this together” becomes “I’m sorry, but who is this ‘we’ of which you speak?”

It will mean, ultimately, that the slow-motion supercollider that smashes Texas and Oklahoma into Alabama and Georgia also flings the Iowa States and Oklahoma States and Kansas States out of their orbits and into a new and worrisome void without the rainmakers that made them nationally viable. In a new world in which the NCAA has finally surrendered the remaining powers it didn’t have over the conferences and schools while retaining the right to screw individual athletes on a whim, this is the obvious next step—for the bigger athletics departments to untether from their less moneyed brethren and sistren for the few real power centers in the industry, specifically the Big 10, SEC, and ACC. Maybe there will be a fourth gigantoconference formed, but we will soon see a college landscape with functionally less than half the current 130 FBS schools, and maybe as few as 40.

Gone to less lucrative and less noticed associations will be most of the schools with the same family surname of State, and yes, that will include States that currently feel safe, like Mississippi State or North Carolina State or Oregon State or that wackiest of States, the vaxless bastion that is Washington State. The new traditional rivals are wrapped in whatever color Bitcoin comes in, and if it means that USC and Oregon have to lead a new Big 10 Plus 10 with BYU and Minnesota and Kansas and whatever else is lying around, well, yesterday’s rivalries are today’s stretched-out bungee cords.

Texas and Oklahoma opting to frolic with Florida and LSU is the next bold step toward that flavor-deficient future, and even if you at Cal or Stanford or Louisville or Purdue think your school is safe, wait a decade or so. Hell wasn’t built in a day. The accretion of the uber-rich and the abandonment of the structures you’ve known forever have been happening for decades now, and this is just the next big event.

It’ll be a Super League with too many members to fail and too few fans to stand in opposition, and if this view is too grim for you, just look at Mark Emmert’s picture for a few minutes. That ought to make your spinal cord roll up and spin violently like one of those old pull-down windowshades from days of yore, when going to a state school meant big-time football and basketball with other big-time football and basketball schools. Eventually, kids, the big either eat the small, or just abandon them with the other roadside cow skulls. And go team.