Week after week, terrible headline after terrible headline, Iowa State fans are bombarded with news of Armageddon in the college football world. Every headline from The Athletic (who does not have a dedicated writer for a single remaining B12 team), CBS (who currently partners only with the SEC in college football through 2023), ESPN (The Mothership of the ongoing/impending CFB attack), or whatever website is getting in on the click parade spells the end of the world for the 8 little worthless schools sitting in the middle of America.
But reality is perhaps not what these people and their giant media conglomerate overlords say, and the headline always seems to sting a little more than the actual content inside the article once you read it. “The ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 will officially announce their alliance next week, sources tell @NicoleAuerbach. And it’s going to involve far more than just scheduling.”
Narrator: It did not even include scheduling. It didn’t include a single signed contract. The trio of the B10, P12, and ACC (“The Alliance”) declared they won’t be breaking any existing contracts, TV or scheduling. The ACC-ESPN TV deal is not up until 2036, and most teams have non-conference games scheduled out through 2030 or later.
In July, Stewart Mandel tweeted “I combed through TV data, and the reality is barely more people watch the non-Texas/OU schools than watch AAC games.”
This may be the case in whatever reality Stewart Mandel inhabits, which I do not claim to have any insight on. But in the reality where you and I reside, as noted by some fantastic and thorough research by SicEm365.com, this isn’t even remotely true. Mandel double counted the fact that popular schools attract more viewers and they also take the prime TV slots which themselves are responsible for just as much difference in viewership. Kansas vs Baylor on ABC will draw more viewers than Oklahoma vs Texas if you put the latter on ESPN The Ocho. We fans of the remaining 8 understand we won’t be making the same money as the SEC or B10 schools once OU and UT leave, but there is still a massive advantage in viewership compared to the Group of 5 schools Mandel compared them to.Embed from Getty Images
What Conclusions Can We Draw?
While we know absolutely nothing for certain, there is enough information to narrow outcomes down a bit. And it seems the worst outcomes for the B12 leftovers are becoming more and more unlikely thanks in part to The Alliance’s attitude, so they say, towards the CFB landscape. When you look at the information we have, you start to get the feeling that things might just work out fine. That being said, lets start with the bad.
CFB Superconference: The worst thing that could possibly happen is a super conference consisting of the SEC, B10, and selected ACC/P12 schools effectively freezing out every remaining P12, B12, and G5 team out of playoff and scheduling and the NY6 bowl games. The B10’s #1 expansion option was some combination of USC/Oregon/UCLA/Cal/Stanford. Due to a Grant of Rights that goes through 2036, the B10 can not expand out of the ACC. The inclusion of the P12 in The Alliance seems to insinuate that B10 expansion from the P12 is off the table. This is perhaps the best news an Iowa State fan could hear, which I will elaborate on later.
No expansion: The Alliance being formed could easily have been be used to attempt to freeze out B12/G5 teams in a similar fashion to the hypothetical Superconference. The B12 could add 2 AAC schools but the P4 would eliminate the B12 Champion’s “Autonomous Five” status which gives them an automatic playoff bid in the new expanded CFB Playoff, and currently gives an automatic bid to a NY6 bowl. This would relegate the B12 to a limbo somewhere close to, but still above, the current AAC in terms of money and power. Recruiting to a league without automatic bids to these games would be much more difficult than the status quo and it may lack the big time feel in a way that could hurt fan support.
Luckily after Tuesday’s press conference, it does not seem this is what The Alliance is aiming to do. The commissioners made sure to emphatically state that they want the B12 to have a place, along with other conferences. My read on that is that the truth in the statement is that the schools in the B12 are what is important, not the conference itself. It appears to me that the B12 is being left out because The Alliance wants an option to expand through these remaining 8 teams and increase the power of their numbers fighting the SEC/ESPN takeover. I do not think expending major energy and public relations capital on removing the A5 status of the B12 rates very high on the priority list for The Alliance, and rightfully so.
This leads to the logical conclusion that they could choose not to expand but allow the B12 to retain its A5 status for the CFB Playoff and NY6 Bowls. This would give them an easy ally and one that would not be a very large threat to their pursuits. On the flip side, trying to remove A5 status from the B12 could push the conference into the arms of the SEC/AAC/ESPN voting block and shift the balance of power away from The Alliance. OU, Texas, and ESPN would love nothing more than to reduce the buyout money owed to the B12 in exchange for a life raft of some sort. For these reasons I am bullish on even a new look B12 retaining it’s A5 status.Embed from Getty Images
Realignment Timeline and TV Contract Exclusivity
That’s enough negativity for me, but before I lay out the Iowa State pipe dream, I first need to make one point that dictates everything else I will say: No conference will expand until the Oklahoma and Texas buyouts and penalties are paid or settled, or 2025 when the B12 TV contract expires. There is no chance the B10, P12, or ACC will let the SEC or ESPN off the hook by weakening the B12 until this happens. The P12 is going to announce if they will expand later this week. They will say they are not, but it will leave room for later moves. Until the B12 is paid it’s money, the clock on re-alignment has not even started ticking.
This also allows the new B12 and P12 contracts to go past the exclusive window in which only Fox and ESPN can negotiate for their TV rights. Which could bring in some of the largest tech companies in the world to bid on these games. A quick search shows that Apple has $195 billion in cash on hand and is worth $1.4 trillion. Amazon is worth $1.7 trillion. Disney itself is only worth around $143 billion, with ESPN making up only a fraction of that number. Yahoo wrote in 2020 that ESPN has “structural issues” and that “they’ve built a business model that is unsustainable.” Can they outbid Jeff Bezos and Tim Cook? ESPN is relying on exclusive control of the CFB Playoff along with the SEC, ACC, and AAC TV deals to deliver profits while they are forced to lay off high profile talent and once great highlight shows are replaced by Twitter and other internet sources.Embed from Getty Images
B10 Expands: This is obviously the best case scenario for Iowa State. If the B10 wants to expand it will basically be forced to take Kansas and Iowa State. They are the only P5 AAU teams not in The Alliance. As many of you know, the B10 has never added a team who was not in the AAU at the time of the invite, although Nebraska was kicked out after moving to the B10 in 2021. Kansas is a dumpster fire in football but brings in money with basketball, and Iowa State is somehow the opposite at the moment. The B10 could name their price as far as a reduced share and both schools would pay it, helped out by $40M each in SEC/ESPN settlement money. It’s hard to imagine a number too low for either school to say no to, so the arguments of either school not bringing in enough money are misguided. B10 schools are making around $54M per school, and you could easily tell Iowa State and Kansas that they could only join if they took half shares for an extended period of time and they would say yes before the sentence was finished. There are also fringe benefits to the B10 getting balanced out a bit divisionally and Iowa getting a freed up non-conference game. The Cy-Hawk may disappear if Iowa takes their ball and goes home because of Alliance non-conference scheduling and their absolute need to schedule Northern Illinois and Western Michigan home games every year. Iowa State and Kansas, for as little as it may be worth, would just be very fun in the B12 and a great culture fit.
This would leave 6 B12 schools to be divided up by the ACC and P12. I believe the only school in serious danger is Baylor, whose religious affiliations and past scandals disqualify them from getting a P12 invite. At that point they would need a life raft from the ACC. West Virginia would likely be welcomed into the ACC and Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Texas Tech, and TCU would all head west. But don’t take my word for it, ask Dave Wannstedt.
P12 Merger: If the B10 says no to expansion, then the P12 has an easy decision. The P12 takes Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and one more out of the field depending on the ACC’s decisions regarding West Virginia and TCU. This expansion could give them 40+ games to choose from in the earlier time slots if each team gets 7 home games a year. The Alliance scheduling pact would add 12.
B12 expansion and Power 5 Limbo: The P12 decides scheduling alliances are enough after the B10 stands pat, and the B12 is forced to remain and expand but retains A5 status. The B12 would have to take teams from the AAC, my guess would be Cincinnati and UCF. This works twofold, as these schools are legitimately strong additions in football quality and will likely draw similar to the median team remaining in the B12. At the same time the AAC will lose its top two teams and be pushed further down the totem pole when it comes to competing for the final spots in the CFB Playoff and NY6 Bowls. This may not matter to any conference except the new B12, but distinguishing itself as superior to the current G5 schools would be paramount. I personally think Boise State and BYU would be great adds as well, but I am unsure of how large the new conference would want to be, and the Mountain West is not nearly as competitive as the AAC at the moment, so you lose the bonus of cutting a new competitor off at the knees.
There’s even an outside chance that the B12 expands without a GOR renewal before 2025, plays out the TV deal with OU/UT buyout money after an early exit, and then B10/P12 expansion occurs even after the B12 expands.
So despite the doom and gloom, I fully expect things to work out for Iowa State and largely for the other remaining Big 12 schools. They deserve a place at the table and provide value to their conference and to college football as a whole. There could always be a B10 heel turn that would include poaching from inside The Alliance that could set off a catastrophe, but it’s not worth worrying about. In fact, until Oklahoma and Texas are confirmed to have exited the conference and paid their fees, the roller coaster hasn’t even started yet.