The Big Ten ruptured the college football landscape when they added USC and UCLA. Without them, the Pac-12 couldn’t land an attractive TV deal. Reports are that their best offer was an Apple TV deal that relied upon them driving subscriptions. A deal like that would mean the casual fan would never flip to FOX or ESPN and see a Pac-12 game.
Once that became the scenario, it was time to escape the conference. Oregon and Washington had no leverage and had to take an offer from the Big Ten to join without getting the full TV media deal pay-outs in their initial years. Colorado had already bolted for the Big 12 as they read the tea leaves on the TV deal negotiations early, but now Arizona is joining them. Utah and Arizona State are likely to follow.
That leaves Oregon State, Washington State, Cal, and Stanford to find their own way. I could see Cal dropping to FCS or dropping their football program altogether. Oddly, the Cal Golden Bears have an amazing history from 1885-1950. In the booming 20s, they were booming. They didn’t lose a game in 1920, 1921, or 1922 combining to go 27-0-1. From 1937-1938 they went 20-1-1. After a few good years post-WWII, they declined rapidly and have never recovered. From 1951 to present, they’ve only reached the nine win mark five times. They’ve finished under .500 in eight of the last 11 seasons.
Oregon State has a sordid history, but has been much better lately. It is crazy to think that former Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei may finish his college career playing in a non-Power league, perhaps the Mountain West.
So what does this mean for Clemson and Florida State? It certainly makes a Big Ten invite seem more likely, although I do not believe it is imminent. Clemson and Florida State benefit in the short-term from being in the ACC and getting the auto-bid into the new 12-team playoff, but by 2026 that will likely get reworked as the Big Ten’s fourth best team (imagine a 9-3 USC) would likely be better than a Pac-12/Mountain West, Big 12, and AAC champion.
The SEC would be the first choice for most Clemson fans. Unfortunately, ESPN holds the media rights deal for both the SEC and ACC. It doesn’t appear they are willing to embrace creative destruction and undermine their ACC property before the Big Ten does it to them.
If it is the Big Ten that comes calling, my hope is that we can bring some fellow conference mates beyond just FSU along with us. I would hate to be one of just two southern teams in the conference. Maryland then would be the only other program that makes any sense for Clemson geographically or historically. Adding North Carolina and Miami along with Clemson and Florida State would make it a much more palatable situation. If some combination of Virginia Tech, NC State, Louisville, and Georgia Tech could also join, it would be a smashing success, but that seems less likely. If that scenario unfolds, Notre Dame would almost be forced to join the Big Ten as their deal with the ACC would be all but dead.
For now, let’s just hope this settles down until next offseason and we can enjoy this season for what it brings. We have season preview content on the way. Drew Schneider just joined me on the YouTube channel to preview the offense so check that out and stay tuned here as our position previews are coming later this month!