I'm breaking away from UK football for today and taking a look..."/>
I'm breaking away from UK football for today and taking a look..."/>

College Football Conference Expansion: My predictions and the options for Kentucky


I’m breaking away from UK football for today and taking a look at the overall college atmosphere regarding the conference expansions. Keep in mind that my predictions are purely speculation on my part.

With Texas A&M successfully (at least for now) seceding from the Big 12 and being voted into the SEC, the move to the Super Conferences has unofficially kicked off. Most pundits believe that when all the dust settles, there will be four separate 16-team conferences and the face of college athletics will be forever changed. So far, there have been rumblings of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State heading to the Pac-12 and Missouri and West Virginia heading to the SEC. With all the talk, the Big East and the Big 12 are looking like goners a little more every day, and it appears that the Pac-12, the Big 10, the SEC, and the ACC will be the survivors.

So what does this mean for Kentucky?

Well, this is a complicated question. The Wildcats have a couple of different scenarios that could work out.

1. The Wildcats stay in the SEC.
I think this is the most likely scenario by far. With the addition of four new teams, the conference’s stranglehold on the title of top football conference will only strengthen. This will give UK the benefit of continuing to play in the best football conference and make the Wildcats a beneficiary of the inevitable TV deal that is sure to be groundbreaking. Kentucky remains in the conference it is a charter member of and continues to dominate what is sure to be the weakest basketball conference of the four. The downside here is that Kentucky will be in a football conference that is sure to see them finish in the bottom four on an annual basis. As the only basketball powerhouse in a football-minded conference, the Cats will be a big fish in a small pond on the hardwood, and a small fish in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on the gridiron. This scenario offers the least change for the athletic department.

2. Kentucky moves to the ACC.

I know that the SEC diehards will hate this scenario, but it really isn’t all bad for the Cats. Kentucky would no longer be in the powerhouse football conference, but would move to the basketball minded ACC, where the Cats fit better philosophically. The basketball team would be playing the Dukes and North Carolinas of the world instead of the Georgias and the Ole Miss’ of the SEC, and would likely play on a national stage each week. The conference would be no SEC in terms of football, but with schools like Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech, the competition would be much closer to Kentucky’s and would give the Wildcats a much better chance of being a contender. The biggest downside here though, might be the lost revenue. While the ACC is sure to ink a lucrative deal, it is unlikely to be quite what the SEC will bring.

3. Kentucky moves to the Big 10

This one is probably the most far-fetched, but actually is probably not the worst option. From a basketball standpoint, the Big10 has put some really good teams into the tournament historically and with schools like Indiana, Ohio State, Illinois, and possibly Missouri, Kentucky would have several natural, border-based rivalries. Geographically speaking, the Big10 makes more sense than the SEC or the ACC, and the Wildcats could benefit from shorter distances to away games in all sports. The football prestige will surely still be there with teams like Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State in the conference, and Kentucky would move from a bottom-dweller in the new SEC, to a mid-tier team in the new Big10. The biggest hurdle though, might actually be the AAU, and not the basketball league your kids play in. The Association of American Universities has some strong ties to the Big10 and Kentucky would almost have to become a member to even be considered.

I think staying in the SEC is probably the safest choice for the Wildcats (and what they’re most likely to do, but you never know. Based on nothing other than pure speculation mixed with very few educated guesses, I think the final conferences will look something like this:

1. Florida – 2. Georgia – 3. LSU – 4. Alabama – 5. Auburn

6. Vanderbilt – 7. Tennessee – 8. Kentucky – 9. Ole Miss
10. Arkansas – 11. Miss. St. – 12. S. Carolina
13. Texas A&M – 14. West Virginia – 15. TCU – 16. ECU

Thoughts: We already know that Texas A&M will be part of the SEC sooner or later, and now rumblings have surfaced that West Virginia will be a target (which makes sense on multiple levels). I added TCU because of its former membership of the Southwestern conference; you get a natural rival for Texas A&M and Arkansas. ECU is added here because not only is it an up-and-coming football university, It also gives the SEC a school in the state of North Carolina (think recruiting). So we’re looking at adding a school with a foothold in the San Antonio, Houston, (Texas A&M) and two schools in the monstrous Dallas/Ft. Worth markets (Texas A&M and TCU), in addition to gaining some leverage in the Charlotte TV market (ECU). Texas A&M and West Virginia would add established reputable football programs and TCU and ECU would add two strong up-and-comers. Also, two eastern teams and two western teams would mean that the conference could still be split in two geographically.

1. Arizona – 2. Arizona St. – 3.Washington – 4. Washington St.

5. USC – 6. UCLA – 7. Stanford – 8. Cal – 9. Oregon
10. Oregon St. – 11. Colorado – 12. Utah
13. Oklahoma – 14. Oklahoma St. – 15. Texas
16. Fresno State

Thoughts: Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have made it clear that they are a package deal, and all indications are that both schools are headed for the Pac-12. It should be fun to watch T. Boone Pickens and Phil Knight try to outspend each other. Texas has been rumored to the Big10 as well as the Pac-12, but the Pac-12 just makes a lot more sense for the Longhorns on a couple of levels. I was honestly was inclined to include a number of schools as the 16th team. Boise State, Hawaii, BYU, Texas Tech, Baylor, and TCU were all programs that I considered adding here. Ultimately, Baylor and TCU were lumped in with BYU and omitted because of the conferences tendency to avoid religious schools in the largely liberal west coast (see BYU being left at the alter last year). Texas Tech and Boise State don’t have the academic prestige and/or research background for the Pac-12, and Hawaii doesn’t bring much to the table in regards to athletic excellence. Fresno State fits the Pac-12 billing at all levels. Adding Texas and Oklahoma alone gives you a piece of almost every TV market in the Midwestern and Southwestern US.

Big 10
1. Michigan – 2. Michigan St. – 3. Iowa – 4. Nebraska

5. Penn State – 6. Ohio State – 7. Northwestern – 8. Purdue
9. Indiana – 10. Illinois – 11. Wisconsin – 12. Minnesota
13. Not
re Dame – 14. Rutgers – 15. Missouri – 16. Kansas

Thoughts: Figuring out the future of the Big10 was actually the toughest of the four conferences. Geographically speaking, Notre Dame is a no-brainer, and when the Super Conferences finally come to fruition, I doubt the golden domers want to be left out in the cold. The real catch here is the Big10’s connections to the Association of American Universities and the unwritten rule that any Big10 schools must be members of the elite academic union. This complicates things a little with Notre Dame not being a member, but with a tradition of academic excellence that is arguably superior to any of the current Big10 members, I’m sure they would get in. That makes Missouri, Kansas and Rutgers prime candidates for the final three spots. They are all three AAU members, all are in the Geographic vicinity of the other Big10 schools, and would open up the New York, St. Louis, and Kansas City Markets to the conference. Things get a little blurry if Missouri opts to go with the SEC, but I think the Tigers will opt in with a more natural fit in the Big10 and will attempt to bring along rival Kansas. A dark horse here would be the Buffalo Bulls.

1. Florida State – 2. Miami – 3. Virginia – 4. Virginia Tech
5. Georgia Tech – 6. Clemson – 7. Duke – 8. Wake Forest
9. N. Carolina – 10. N. Carolina St. – 11. Maryland
12. Boston College
13. Pittsburgh – 14. Syracuse – 15. Connecticut – 16. South Florida

Thoughts: The first three teams here were pretty easy. Pitt and Syracuse have already applied for membership and UConn is probably around the corner after rumors started floating this weekend that the Huskies would be next. The 16th team wasn’t as easy here, and a number of schools fit the bill to some extent. In the world of college football though (which is what’s fueling all of this), the state of Florida is still king and adding the South Florida Bulls would allow the ACC to have three of the state’s top four football schools. This would add additional TV’s in the Tampa market long with Pittsburgh, just about all of Upstate New York and New York City, and Metro New York/Rhode Island, Connecticut.

The rest: With the dissolution of the Big East and Big 12 conferences, my predictions here leave Cincinnati, Louisville, TCU, Texas Tech, Baylor, and Kansas State as schools without a home. I think Louisville and Cincinnati rejoin the Conference USA and Texas Tech, Baylor, Kansas and Kansas State Join in the Mountain West or alternatively, start a new conference of their own possibly including current independent BYU and maybe Boise State.

While all of this is pure speculation on my part, the combinations are dizzying to say the least. In the midst of all the uncertainty though, it’s clear that the landscape of college athletics is going to be very different in a short time. Hopefully I gave you something to think about on a slow Tuesday.

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