JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The next 12-14 months could see a major reshaping of the college sports landscape, one that could be tougher on student-athletes but could be better for bowl games, according to Gator Bowl Sports president and CEO Greg McGarity.
There are some school movements that are already assured and more could be on the way.
UCF, Houston, Cincinnati and BYU will join the Big 12 in 2023. The Big 10 is adding USC and UCLA in 2024. The SEC will add Texas and Oklahoma in 2025. On Tuesday, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports reported that the Big 12 was in deep conversations to add six Pac-12 schools, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
It’s all because of the power of college football and the media deals that come with it.
“I think it is one thing, and one thing only, and that’s money,” said Greg McGarity, president and CEO of Gator Bowl sports and a former athletic director at Georgia. ”The Pac-12 schools shared around $34 million, each, from their TV rights compared to the Big 12, which was $40 million. The SEC and the Big Ten are well north of $50 million. So you’re seeing discrepancies there, which causes schools to move to provide a more even playing field. But it’s like anything else in college athletics: just trace the money. And that will lead to decisions that schools are making on where to align themselves for the future of college athletics.”
Those changes could net a healthier bottom line for the big schools that routinely compete at the highest levels of college football. But far-flung conferences will also have an impact on the student-athletes, not just in football.
“What hasn’t been brought up at all is the student-athlete experience,” McGarity said “What is it going to be like when you have to make a trip? I know, from my experience at Georgia, making a trip to Missouri was traumatic. But now doubling that to where when Rutgers goes on the West Coast and plays a tennis match against UCLA.”
That becomes more problematic for non-revenue sports that may not have the budget that football or basketball has. Some of that money will have to come from the larger pie created by the football superpowers.
Speaking of football, how each large conference will determine its champion remains a question. This summer, the ACC announced it would eliminate the division format and select the top two teams in the conference standings to play for the title.
“I have no idea how the conference championships work out with so many teams, and then Big 12 can have, you know, what, four? Well, we’ve got 14 teams now in play even with Texas and Oklahoma, they’ll be there for another three years. So you’ve got the 2022 season, (then) ‘23 and ‘24 with Texas and Oklahoma there and UCLA and Southern Cal wouldn’t join the Big 10 until 2024. So there’s time for it to all flush out, but I think it’s just it’s chaos right now and there’s no rhyme or reason and it’s very difficult for people to understand what’s going on.”
So how is this all going to end? What will the college sports landscape look like when the dust settles? The only certainty is that it will look different.
“I think you’ll always have the group of five playing in this football league, so to speak, and what it looks like because you can’t play a conference for 12 games a year, you’ve got to be able for the sustainability of college football, you have to play a group of five opponent,” McGarity said. “I think the problem is going to come with conference alignment, and how you even get to where you have two teams are playing a conference championship with, for instance, the SEC will have 16 teams and the 2025 season. Is that a true representative of the SEC? Therefore, they just take the top two teams in the conference and not have divisional play. But either way you slice it, you wouldn’t even be able to play half the teams in your conference, much less dealing with other conferences.”
As for the impact the changes will have on college football bowl games, McGarity says it could help the product on the field.
“Well, I think the bowl games will really benefit from this because you’re still going to have bowl destinations that are going to be really critical,” McGarity said. “I think you’ll see a deeper level of bowls. I don’t think you’ll see any more bowls develop because it’s just financially difficult in some situations. But I think you’ll see maybe some teams with 7-5 records and may not go to a bowl. And so maybe the product will be a little bit better.”