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Kelly Yu / Gavel Media

Breaking Down the Impact of the College Football Conference Realignment

Before the start of the 2021 college football season, the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners accepted invitations to join the Southeastern Conference, the best football conference in the country. Their transition was the first domino to fall in what will likely lead to the end of several of the group of five conferences. 

On July 30, 2021, both the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma accepted invitations to join the SEC. While the college football world was absolutely stunned, it is a move that makes sense for both schools as far as money goes. The SEC is dominant in football. Since 2000, a team in the SEC has won the championship 11 times. They have had a team appear in the championship game 17 times over that timespan. The tremendous success the SEC has had in this century has allowed them to bring in an incredible amount of money for their member schools. 

In that same period, Oklahoma and Texas’ current conference, the Big 12, has only won the national championship game twice. Oklahoma and Texas each won one of those two championships. For the last 20 years, they have been the only teams to find postseason success. Therefore, it makes financial sense for them to switch to the SEC so they don’t have to be the only big money makers. However, as far as football goes, that is a completely different question. 

Since 2000, Oklahoma has won 14 Big 12 championships. They have been the best of the Big 12 consistently. However, they have yet to make it past the first round of the playoffs in four tries. They have lost to an SEC team in three of those four attempts. Despite tremendous regular-season success against the SEC, the Sooners have yet to beat them when it truly mattered. It brings up a great question of why the Sooners would want to leave a conference they know that they can win in just to lose to the powerhouses every single year. 

Texas joining the SEC makes no sense for them. Despite being ranked every year and bringing in good recruiting classes, the Longhorns have not won the Big 12 championship since 2009. Every year, they fall short to the likes of Oklahoma and other competitive schools in the Big 12, such as Baylor and TCU. The only defense of Texas joining the SEC is on the basis of revenue as they were ranked No. 1 by USA Today as the most valuable college football program. Even though Texas is such a valuable football program, they simply don't have the on-the-field success to justify joining the SEC. While they might be able to compete with the average to below-average SEC teams, it is unlikely that Texas will be able to win the SEC for the foreseeable future. 

Once the news of Oklahoma and Texas broke, the Big 12 was left scrambling for answers. If they continue without changing anything, they would only have eight teams. For a Power Five conference, that is not enough. Unfortunately for them, there was not a single team in another Power Five that was willing to jump ship to join them. 

Just when all hope seemed lost, they found some hope in some of the best Group of Five schools in the country. Cincinnati, Houston, UCF, and BYU decided that they would join the Big 12. In the past several years, these schools have had some great success, all being ranked at several points in the past ten years. The only problem for them is that they have had little to no competition in their conferences. In the Big 12, they will not merely be looked at as a team that just beats up on less talented teams. If any of these teams go undefeated, like UCF did in 2017, there is no chance that they will be left out of the College Football Playoff. 

While the Big 12 has a lot to be excited about for their future, the Power Five conferences suddenly lost a handful of their best football programs. Cincinnati, UCF, and Houston all came from the American Athletic Conference. Since the conference was created in 2015, these three schools have won four of the six championships. Without these schools, the conference could crumble. BYU was an independent school before, so their addition to the Big 12 does not have any major impact on any conferences. However, without three of their best teams, the AAC was put in a similar situation as the Big 12. 

In order to fix their problem, the AAC plucked six members from Conference USA. Conference USA is losing eight teams in total, with another pair opting to go to the Sun Belt Conference. With all of this restructuring, Conference USA is left with essentially nothing. All of the power has suddenly shifted even more to the Power Five conferences. Once these moves officially happen, all of the money is going to remain with these conferences and there will be a small audience left for the Group of Five conferences. 

All of this realignment begs the question: Will the Group of Five conferences be able to survive after such a drastic change? What does the future hold for the teams left outside of the Power Five?

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Fan of Minnesota sports, so I'm used to disappointment. Was once mistaken for Ryan Gosling (but I'm more talented). Probably the only Yung Gravy fan you'll meet.