The announcement Thursday that USC and UCLA are leaving the Pac 12 Conference to join the Big 10 for the 2024-25 season should have been staggering news, but in the ever-shifting sands of college athletics that has seen its paradigm not only shift but also crumble to pieces in recent years, it was kind of par for the course.
When a little less than a year ago, Oklahoma and Texas announced their intentions of leaving the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference by 2025, we knew it was just the first of several tectonic shifts that would follow in college athletics.
There have been other moves since. With the loss of their big two, the Big 12 announced BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston would join the conference in an effort to fill some of the void.
Interestingly enough, the Arkansas Razorbacks play both Cincinnati (Sept. 3) and BYU (Oct. 15) this season in football in perhaps the Hogs’ most challenging overall nonconference slate in school history.
The Pac-12, Big 10, and ACC also entered into a scheduling agreement to combat the big, bad SEC, but with Thursday’s developments, I wonder how long that agreement will last?
It’s interesting and fun to consider what’s next.
Does the ACC hold pat or does it attempt to gobble up some more Big East teams?
Or will programs like Clemson and Florida State seek to find greener pastures in the SEC or perhaps this new Big 10, which is now actually closer to a Big 20 with 16 teams?
And what about Notre Dame?
The Fighting Irish’s football independence has to be in jeopardy. But what will the Irish do? Hang around the ACC or leap to the Big 10?
The Big 10 makes more sense geographically and even schedule-wise with longtime rival USC now in the fold.
The only thing that’s clear is that all this realignment is ongoing, and it likely means the top 40 to perhaps 100 football/athletic programs will break away from the NCAA at some point and do their own thing.
With the NCAA’s power governing extra benefits basically out the window now with Name, Image, and Likeness revenue being Constitutionally permissible for college athletes to secure, there’s not a lot of reason for the existence of the NCAA other than running national tournaments, which admittedly the organization does a fine job with for the most part.
The scuttlebutt seems to be that Texas and Oklahoma will be playing in the SEC by the 2024-25 season, if not before, instead of the 2025-26 season as originally announced.
A good indication if that will be sooner than later might be if the SEC announces its scheduling plans for the expanded league in the near future, perhaps leading up to or during SEC Football Media Days, which will be held July 18-21 in Atlanta.
Popular sentiment is that the SEC will adopt a format that does away with the Eastern and Western divisions that we’ve become so accustomed to since Arkansas and South Carolina joined the league for the 1992 season in football. It already happened in basketball several years ago with little to no fuss.
The idea is that each SEC team would have three permanent opponents creating four, four-team pods. The other teams would then rotate on and off each other’s schedule filling out the other five or perhaps six slots, if the SEC does go to a nine-game schedule as some coaches like Alabama’s Nick Saban is in favor of doing.
The thought is having three permanent opponents would go a long way in preserving most of the traditional rivalry games that SEC fans dote on.
The big question then is how would the pods be formed?
Not privy to any inside information, I’ll just float my idea as a Razorback follower.
If I were picking three every-year opponents for the Hogs, I’d be tempted to take Missouri, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina for obvious reasons.
None of those opponents are particularly exciting, and none are rivals, not even Missouri no matter how hard the SEC tries to shove that down Razorback fans’ throats.
But, it’s a bit like stacking the deck. Those are three programs that I think the Hogs could thrive against on an almost yearly basis.
Now, if I’m feeling competitive and somehow longing for days of my youth when the Razorbacks were a key member of the Southwest Conference, I might be inclined to take Texas and Texas A&M as two of three every-year opponents. Maybe take Oklahoma as the third for good measure.
No doubt at least two of those three games would stir up old memories, but it would be a heavy-weight pod for the Hogs to attempt to compete in every year.
Maybe a pod containing Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and LSU might be a bit more favorable and certainly SEC-flavored?
Hailing from the Memphis area and being in junior high when the Razorback-Rebels rivalry renewed in 1981, Ole Miss has always seemed to be an apt arch-nemesis for the Razorbacks to me. I’d rate only Texas greater in my estimation, but it’s obviously a subjective choice.
What about the annual Thanksgiving-weekend “rivalry” game?
Who would you like to see the Hogs play on the final regular-season playing date of each year?
The Missouri game just doesn’t do it for me as a rivalry, although I’m not exactly sure how the Hogs will escape it as the SEC seems intent on pairing the two squads together.
Perhaps, Oklahoma is the answer?
With the Sooners leaving the Big 12 and Oklahoma State in its rearview mirror, maybe an annual Oklahoma-Arkansas showdown might become a great day-after-Thanksgiving tradition to look forward to?
It would be a tough assignment, but I’d like to see it.
With the way the sands of college football are shifting, anything seems possible at the moment. We’ll just have to see how everything shakes out, but with football season still two months away at least we have some interesting developments to consider while we wait for the season to kick off.