Would Michigan Leave the Big Ten?

Is the Big Ten going away too?

Photo: Tyler Carlton

College football realignment is back – and in a big way. For the past few years at least, things seemed to be somewhat settled. But with Texas and Oklahoma now really looking like they're heading to the SEC, thus blowing up the Big 12 as we know it, that could trigger a monumental wave of conference expansion, or more importantly, consolidation.

Remember...everything I write here will probably be proven wrong within the next 24 hours, but let's have some fun, shall we?

Before we start looking at where this school or that school could end up, or if Michigan and other members of the Big Ten could be in the mix, I think it's important to at least address the fundamental question...why? 

Why is this happening? Why now? And why Michigan?

Well, the answer to the second question...it's because Texas A&M sort of ratted out Texas and Oklahoma and the deal they'd been working on that would bring them to the SEC. A&M was more than happy to break free of the Big 12 back in 2011, and was apparently none too happy to be in Texas and Oklahoma's shadow again. Assuredly, ESPN and FOX were very much a part of this deal (maybe even the initiators of it) and probably weren't too happy all of this became public last week. Had no one at A&M snitched, we probably wouldn't be talking about all of this right now. Frankly, I'm amazed this deal was kept a secret as long as it was.

The answer to why this is happening at all is even simpler. Money. Why else would anything change in college sports?

College football could look very different in the coming years. Television executives and conference presidents are running the show now. The NCAA, fresh off losing a very public battle with name, image and likeness, is in no position to influence anything of this scale.

It all starts and ends with the post-season. 

Even with the current 4-team playoff, college football has never had a foolproof system to crown a champion. While some see this as part of college football's charm, right up there with calling players "student-athletes", TV networks see it as a broken system that is just wasting money. If you're ESPN, why would you want to air 30 bowls that no one watches or cares about if you could realign the teams and conferences to create a multi-week playoff that utilizes the current bowls...and make 50x as much money as they are now?

I'm sure there's a way to utilize the existing framework of conferences and bowls to create a larger playoff, but I don't think that's where we're headed. I think we're on the cusp of a much more fundamental change. But it has to start somewhere. And it appears its starting with Texas and Oklahoma leaving the Big 12 and heading to the SEC.

But where will it end? And what about Michigan and the Big Ten?

The simple truth is no one knows for sure. This is all just now starting to emerge. But if you take a step back and think about how to truly modernize college football, it only makes sense to fundamentally blow up the current system as we know it. Conferences really don't make sense anymore. All conferences really are are independant divisions within a larger system, but with no real rules or infrastructure in place to create a post-season that really works.

The way I see this going is, in the coming years, the top 7-8 teams from the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC, ACC, Pac-12 and Notre Dame are going to somehow, some way, condense into a 4-division, 40ish-team, mega-conference or CFB league...with or without the NCAA's approval. Maybe even figure out a lower division or league with the leftover schools...ala the Premier League in soccer.

Michigan, being the blue blood CFB brand that they are, will certainly be an attractive school for any such mega-conference or league expansion that may or may not be coming. Other schools in the Big Ten with such lucrative football pedigrees such as Ohio State, Penn State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa would all be included, in my opinion, in any such conversation.

But for now, none of this is concrete, and likely won't be until more dominoes start to fall. But much like Texas and Oklahoma's departure is a death blow for the Big 12...if Michigan and Ohio State were to depart the conference, that would all but signal the end of the 125-year run of Big Ten football as we know it. 

Reminder...none of this will probably happen the way I just described. But either way, changes are coming whether we're ready or not.

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