Wait a Minute: The SEC is Trying to Poach OHIO STATE and CLEMSON?!

As if the news of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC wasn’t big enough. Jack McGuire, from Barstool, just dropped this bomb:

He’s vouching for his sources here.

Could it happen? At first blush it seems outlandish, but only when you consider it from the perspective of, “The SEC is supposed to be for teams from the Southeast!”

Yeah, sure; in that regard, the idea of Ohio State and Michigan joining the SEC is pretty ridiculous.

But hold on a sec: the Big Ten already stretches from Piscataway, New Jersey to Lincoln, Nebraska. The Big Ten is supposed to be the upper-Midwest conference, but now it includes two schools on the East Coast (Rutgers and Maryland), and a school from Nebraska. Piscataway, NJ and Lincoln, NE are over 1100 miles apart. Lincoln is closer to the border of California than it is to New Jersey.

Colorado is in the Pac-12, and the Pac-12 is supposed to be the “Pacific Athletic Conference.” Boulder is like a 17 hour drive from the Pacific Ocean. It’s over 800 miles as the crow flies.

And the SEC in the past decade expanded into Texas, which is not traditionally thought of as part of the “South” in the traditional sense. And Missouri? I guess you could argue Missouri is in the South, but I don’t think most people would consider Missouri “the South.” For instance, are St. Louis and Kansas City part of “the South”? No. I’ve always thought of Missouri as part-South, part-Midwest.

You could even say Kentucky isn’t part of the South; Kentucky is in Appalachia, and still they’re a founding member of the SEC dating back to 1932.

When you think of what constitutes the true core “South,” you think of the following states: the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and all of Florida north of Orlando. I guess you could argue Texas is part of “The South,” but Texas is really of a mix between the South, the Southwest, the Great Plains (i.e. Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska) and Northern Mexico.

But then again, the Mason-Dixon line, which has traditionally divided the North from the South, is the southern border of Pennsylvania:

Ohio State in Columbus is pretty darn close to the Mason Dixon line, huh?

Columbus is only 157 miles north of Lexington, Kentucky as the crow flies. It’s only a 3 hour drive. That’s really not that far from SEC country. Lexington is closer to Columbus than it is to Nashville. If it’s not a logistical problem to travel to Lexington, KY, then it’s not a logistical problem to travel to Columbus, Ohio. They probably have a better airport in Columbus anyway.

I’m kind of trolling here, but you get the point: the SEC is continually expanding its boundaries. Conferences these days don’t really care about geographical fit. They care about money and power.

The bigger picture, though, is that the SEC is apparently determined to completely take over college football.

The SEC isn’t going to become a super-conference; it’s going to become a Super League. It’s going to be the SEC and then everybody else. I think Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson and Florida State will have to join the SEC at some point.

Texas and Oklahoma moving from the Big 12 to the SEC doesn’t just kill the Big 12, it kills every other conference in the country. It’s the SEC, and then everybody else. Ohio State and Clemson will look at their respective conferences and say, “Hold up, none of these schools are even close to us.” Clemson is a natural fit for the SEC. Ohio State, as I said earlier, is about 160 miles from Lexington, Kentucky. Good enough.

And for Ohio State specifically, they’re probably going to be looking sideways at the Big Ten for years to come after how close they came to not having a season last fall. Ohio State fought like hell to get the Big Ten to reverse its decision to cancel the 2020 season–it didn’t even kick off until late October, remember.

Even though the Big Ten ultimately changed its mind on canceling the season, Ohio State has to be looking at the rest of the conference and thinking, “Are any of these guys as committed to football as we are?” I think it was just Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska that were fighting for football from the very start last year. Compare that to the SEC, where there was never any doubt they were going to play football last fall. The ACC as well.

If and when Ohio State does leave the Big Ten, I think we’ll look back at the way last season was handled as the beginning of the end. It was the moment Ohio State truly realized that, outside of Iowa and Nebraska, nobody else in the Big Ten was as serious about football as they were. It’s harsh to say, but wouldn’t you feel that way if you were Ohio State?

Ohio State is really the only school in the Big Ten with an “SEC culture,” where they live, eat, sleep and breathe college football. It’s as plain as day.

Eventually they’re going to join the SEC. Clemson, too. They’re just like Ohio State: head and shoulders above everybody else in their conference.

It’s going to happen some day–maybe soon, maybe later. The SEC will then become the Super League of college football. It won’t be a Power Five/Group of Five divide anymore–it’s going to be the SEC and then everybody else.

I’ve been saying for a while, we need one unified college football Super League with either the top 48 or 64 programs in the country under one umbrella, split up into four regional divisions, with relegation and promotion possible. So if, say, Kansas keeps going 0-8 in conference play, they get demoted down to the lower division–at least in football. I don’t think it’s fair to relegate a basketball program because the football program sucks.

The Super League teams will be vying for 11 playoff spots, while the non-Super League teams will be vying for one spot in the playoff among them all.

The SEC is on the verge of becoming that Super League. I think it will eventually hit a tipping point where the SEC gets so big and so powerful, that top-tier football schools will just begin trying to join the SEC in droves, by the dozen. It won’t be at a pace of 2 new teams every ten years. The pace will rapidly increase.

Maybe it won’t be called the SEC in 10-15 years. Maybe they’ll just call it “The NCAA 2.0.” Or they could keep the initials SEC but rename it from the “Southeastern Conference” to the “Super Elite Conference,” or the “Super Exclusive Conference.”

The broader point is, college football is about to be completely transformed. Dabo Swinney himself recently said that he believes this is just the beginning of all the changes coming to college football in the years ahead. This article on Clemson Insider was just published yesterday:

Dabo Swinney thinks the news that Oklahoma and Texas are moving to the SEC is just the beginning in what he believes will be a restructuring of major college football in the next 10 years.

The Clemson head coach did admit at the ACC Football Kickoff on Thursday he was surprised to hear the news about Oklahoma and Texas possibly leaving the Big 12 to join the SEC. Reports surfaced on Friday that Oklahoma and Texas could be telling the Big 12 they are leaving the conference to join the SEC as early as next week.

However, Swinney did not give it much thought at the time when he heard the news on Wednesday. However, he was not shy about giving his opinion on the subject and what the future holds in college football.

“I would say you will hear a lot of conversation over the next five to seven years. I would imagine there will be some type of restructuring in college football over the next decade,” Swinney said. “I don’t have any intel, that is just my gut instinct, but we will see.”

Dabo knows. He can see the writing on the wall.

Now, the other conferences aren’t going down without a fight. I bet the Big Ten tries to poach Kansas and Iowa State. That will bring the Big Ten to 16 teams and while it won’t bring them any closer to the SEC (which they were already lagging pretty far behind outside of Ohio State), it will give them a marquee basketball program in Kansas and a pretty good football program in Iowa State, although Iowa State is a massive question mark if and when Matt Campbell moves on.

Despite the fact the SEC has been the most dominant conference college football for a decade-and-a-half now (admittedly that’s mostly due to the presence of Nick Saban), the Big Ten is still the #1 conference in America in terms of annual revenue generated at $768 million. The SEC is #2 with $728 million, although with Texas and Oklahoma joining, they’ll probably jump to #1 given that Texas and Oklahoma represent the majority of the Big 12’s $409 million in revenues from 2020. (The Big 12 was the lowest of the Power Five, by the way; the Pac-12 came in third with $533 mil, and the ACC was 4th with $496 mil).

Yeah: despite the fact that the Big Ten almost didn’t even have a football season last year, they were still the #1 conference in terms of revenue.

Point is, the Big Ten isn’t just going to roll over and die. I think the Big Ten will get very, very aggressive and try to make a massive splash in response to the coup the SEC just pulled off.

I know Notre Dame is contractually tied to the ACC, but the Big Ten has a lot of money to throw around. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Big Ten made a push to try to help Notre Dame buy out that contract with the ACC. After all, OU and Texas are each paying $76 million to the Big 12 to terminate their contracts early. For the right amount of money, just about any contract in the world can be voided.

The ACC will probably go after West Virginia because of the geographical fit, and then put on the full-court press to try and add Notre Dame. Remember, Notre Dame did play in the ACC for the Covid season. If they get Notre Dame, the ACC gets to 16. That’s a big “if,” but I would say it’s more possible right now than at any point in the past 2-3 decades. And as we just went over above, I think the Big Ten will come after Notre Dame pretty hard.

The Pac-12 then has to think about grabbing the remnants of the Big 12. They’ll probably compete with the Big Ten for Kansas. But Baylor is great in college basketball. They’re not a great fit for the Pac-12 or the Big Ten, but they’re at least closer to the Pac-12. Then you look at schools like Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, and maybe Kansas State or TCU? I don’t know.

There’s even talk that the top Pac-12 teams like Oregon, USC, UCLA and Colorado are thinking about bolting to the Big Ten, which would just be absolutely ludicrous considering the Big Ten would stretch from coast to coast at that point. But hey, if the Pac-12 can only get the table scraps from the remnants of the Big 12, it calls into question the long-term viability of the conference.

If there’s anything we’ve learned about the history of conference realignment, it’s that schools are always seeking to join strong conferences. It’s why Nebraska bolted to the Big Ten a decade ago, and why Mizzou bolted to the SEC. They thought the Big 12 was weak. And it almost imploded back then. But although the conference survived, it has been on shaky ground ever since. And that’s why Texas and Oklahoma are leaving for the way stronger SEC.

If the Pac-12 starts showing signs of weakness–and football-wise, the Pac-12 has been in decline for about 5 years now–I would not be surprised if a few of its member schools began to have conversations about leaving. There is somewhat of a historical tie between the Big Ten and the Pac-12 through the Rose Bowl, so I guess it’s not a complete mismatch. Plus, the Pac-12 is prestigious in terms of academics–Stanford, Cal, USC, UCLA–and it seems like they place a premium on that, and the Big Ten–with Northwestern and Michigan–is more of an academic conference than the SEC.

Obviously there’s no geographical fit whatsoever, but the SEC has really turned up the heat on the rest of college football. They’re all going to have to take drastic action here.

It remains to be seen how this all plays out. While the Big 12 conference officials would probably prefer to merge with one of the Group of Five Conferences, such as the AAC, in order to stay alive, the individual schools in the Big 12 will probably want to bolt for the Big Ten/ACC/Pac-12. It’s better for their own interests. It’s likely the Big 12 will cease to exist and all the remaining programs will go their separate ways.

However, even if we do see the Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 swoop in to poach the remnants of the Big 12, it still doesn’t bring any them any closer to the SEC in terms of football. It would only make them even in terms of the number of schools in the four major conferences. But that’s it.

The SEC would still be far and away the most dominant conference in America. In a 12-team playoff, they’d probably routinely get at least 3-4 teams in the field at a minimum. And the only hope for any other conference to win it all would be, as it is today, Ohio State and Clemson.

The College Football Super League is happening. It’s just a matter of when.

Austin Frank

Sports blogger

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