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Early Thoughts on the Realignment Rumors

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It’s Groundhog Day again...or is it?

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Like apparently everyone outside of the inner circles at the Universities of Texas and Oklahoma, I was caught off guard on Wednesday by the news that Texas and Oklahoma are not just flirting with the SEC (like they’ve done for years), but outright getting ready to pack up and say their goodbyes. Rumors of the Big 12 imploding have been around almost non-stop since the last wave of realignment around 2010, but they were never particularly real, and obviously never amounted to anything.

But the shear number of sources seeming to confirm that there’s some movement happening in the tectonic plates of the conference and college football as a whole leads me to believe that this is really happening.

There is so much information we just don’t know right now, even if the apparent intentions by Oklahoma and Texas to move to the SEC seem fairly obvious on the surface. It looks like a move to prepare for the new future of college football that’s currently in the early stages of taking shape in the post-NIL era.

Competitively, the move makes little sense for Oklahoma and essentially zero for Texas given the impending changes to the College Football Playoff. Given recent success, Oklahoma seems like a virtual guarantee to make the Playoff every year as either the champion or the runner up, and Texas would certainly be one of the teams in contention for that second spot most seasons. In the SEC, those teams are probably playing somewhere between 3rd and 6th (?) fiddle behind Alabama and LSU for sure, then probably Georgia and Florida in certain years.

After a decade of being the big fish in a small pond, are OU and (especially) Texas going to be happy essentially being a sideshow in their own conference?

Of course, the move to the SEC comes with a vote, and OU and Texas would need 11 of 14 members to vote for inclusion. Texas A&M is a guaranteed no for obvious reasons, and Mizzou is probably in the same boat. Neither is likely interested in sharing a conference with Texas after bolting from the Big 12 for that exact reason in the first place.

So if two more members would need to vote no, where would those votes come from? I suppose Arkansas could vote no given their dormant, but fervent rivalry with Texas, but that’s probably unlikely. Beyond that, it’s difficult to find a third “no” vote, and virtually impossible to find a fourth. In short, if it makes it to a vote, this thing is happening.

So what does that mean for Iowa State?

It’s worth noting here that I don’t personally have any sources on the inside, so this is simply my perspective of the situation. In my mind, here are the handful of basic scenarios that seem to be obvious at the moment.

Rebuild the Big 12 without Texas and Oklahoma

Obviously, the Big 12 could try to rally and add teams to replace the two departed giants. However, even in a scenario where the Big 12 goes for broke and adds four teams to get back to twelve and try to add some stability, let’s say Arizona State, Arizona, Cincinnati, and SMU just for fun, this is still likely a financial disaster for the remaining Big 12 schools. The combination of those four teams don’t provide the value that even Texas does by itself.

The expanded playoff means the new Big 12 would likely still have a shot at putting a champion in the playoff, but a second team is basically impossible. The schools would take significant pay cuts in the next media deal. I really don’t think many, if any schools would fight for this. I suppose Kansas State might, given that they would have no obvious landing spot in the Power Five, but they would be in the minority.

The Big Ten

This is far and away the best option for Iowa State. Like, not even close. There are a million reasons this makes sense from a qualitative perspective. Geography, natural rivals, a passionate fanbase, the third-largest stadium in the Big 12, a basketball program with history and a home court, academic credentials as an AAU member and high-level research institution, and a football program that’s gaining a lot of national attention.

The $50 million question is obviously whether the Big Ten would want Iowa State. Iowa State is probably the most attractive option from the Big 12 should the Big Ten decide they want to get to 16 teams to match the SEC, which may be a necessity if they want to keep Ohio State and Michigan happy.

If I’m Jamie Pollard and want to make a serious play at getting into the Big Ten, and immediately hopping on the phone with Kansas AD Travis Goff and working with them to sell Iowa State and Kansas as a package deal to the Big Ten.

Yes, Kansas football is an embarrassment, but that basketball program is worth more than some Power Five football programs, and would immediately be the flagship program in a conference with a bunch of good basketball schools.

Beyond just finding a stable home, Iowa State stands to gain a lot from this move. The obvious is the big pay day from an increased TV contract. Based on current contracts (which honestly might be a useless historical metric in this case), that’s an extra $8-$10 million dollars per year in Iowa State’s pocket, a massive boost to a growing athletic department that’s trying to punch through a glass ceiling amid a COVID-related budget crisis.

CyHawk obviously instantly becomes more meaningful, and becomes a significantly more valuable property for both schools and the Big Ten. It also opens up a slot for a new non-conference opponent for each school, which gives them freedom to look for interesting matchups to boost resumes or get eyeballs on the program.

Could Iowa decide to be petty and try to keep Iowa State out? It might make sense if they think the best way to curb the rise of Iowa State football and maintain a stranglehold on in-state recruiting is to kneecap it by sending it to a less-desirable conference and use that as ammo on the recruiting trail.

However, in my subjective qualitative analysis, the University of Iowa stands to see a net gain by adding Iowa State, and would likely have a difficult time keeping them out if they’re the only “no” vote.

Do I know if Iowa State to the Big Ten is likely or even possible? Not officially. However, I do know that 2021 Iowa State is orders of magnitude more valuable and attractive than 2010 Iowa State was, and 2025 Iowa State looks like it will be more valuable than even 2021 Iowa State.

I could go on and on about all the reasons I would love this move, but we’ll do that at a later time when we get more info.

The Pac-12

This idea is quite a bit less appealing, as the Pac-12 has been floundering for quite awhile and the stability of that conference has been in question for some time as it is. The primary benefit of this move would be retaining the most familiar opponents and road trips, as at least Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and TCU would probably be able to find homes out west. Iowa State would probably be extended an offer by the Pac-12 if the Big Ten said no and the Pac-12 was looking to expand, and Iowa State would accept the offer if it was the only Power Five option, but it’s still not a a great option.

The ACC

The ACC is probably a better option than the Pac-12 for Iowa State, but I think it would be a less likely invite to receive. The ACC is still working on trying to get Notre Dame into the conference as a full member, and WVU makes a ton of sense for them as well. Notre Dame joining the ACC in football is far from a guarantee, and maybe even a longshot, but that’s still a factor.

Beyond those issues, Iowa State has history with essentially none of them outside of the infamous Iowa State-Florida State game in Arrowhead, and Iowa State’s matchups with Virginia and North Carolina in basketball in the NCAA Tournament.

I would personally be in favor of a move to the ACC over the Pac-12, but an invite to the ACC feels less likely at this point (based on absolutely nothing besides my own personal observations).

Drop Out of the Power Five

This is far and away the worst option. A drop to something like the American or Mountain West conferences would be absolutely catastrophic to the Iowa State athletic department. Not only would it mean a massive financial pay cut, but the headway Iowa State football has made over the past five years may all be for nothing.

I really don’t even want to discuss this scenario any further unless it starts becoming more of likely possibility down the road. Until then, I’m going to choose this option doesn’t exist for my own mental and emotional well-being.


Fortunately, Iowa State may potentially be in a position to have options should this all come to fruition. As mentioned before, Iowa State has a lot to offer at this point, especially given that TV markets and expanding geographic footprint, will be a much smaller factor this time around. Having Jamie Pollard at the helm gives Iowa State the best possible shot at coming out of this in a decent position.

As if this upcoming football season couldn’t have any more pressure involved, Iowa State living up to the hype and establishing itself as a long term force to be reckoned could prove to be a huge bargaining chip when they look to find a new home.

All this said, we won’t have any answers today, next week, or even this month. Maybe not even this year. Until we get those answers, the best advice I can give is to point your focus to the 2021 football season and the absolutely incredible things they have a chance to do.

What will be, will be.