An Offer They Can't Refuse: Making Sense of Conference Realignment, Godfather Style
"Times have changed. It's not like the Old Days when we could do whatever we want."
As chaos is ensuing in college athletics with USC and UCLA making the shocking decision to jump to the Big Ten, it reminds me of one of my favorite movies: The Godfather.
College sports as we know them are changing. As a result of power plays, financial strangleholds, deceit and betrayal, all of college football is fighting to end up on top and not left behind.
To wrap our heads around all of this, I think it would be best to articulate it all with Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo's masterpiece.
"Leave the gun. Take the cannoli."
The Big Ten has essentially killed the Pac-12 by taking away arguably their two greatest brands in USC and UCLA.
The conference was already struggling to build momentum in the national landscape, with only two total College Football Playoff appearances and zero championships in the eight years under this system.
In fact, the Pac-12 has not won a football national championship since 2004 - and the team that won it is headed elsewhere (USC).
"It's a Sicilian message. It means (the Pac-12) sleeps with the fishes."
Amazingly enough, it seems that truly no one saw this move coming before it was reported by Jon Wilner (@wilnerhotline) early Thursday afternoon.
That means that just as we were reading about this news on the Internet, so too was the ACC.
"Look how they massacred my boy."
Why would the ACC take this news so harshly? This move is a sign of something greater occurring, which is this: two Super Conferences (Big Ten and SEC) dominating the college athletics landscape.
When Texas and Oklahoma announced their move to the SEC 11 months ago, it seemed the SEC sought to take over college sports and leave everyone in the dust.
In response, the ACC joined forces with the Big Ten and Pac-12 to form The Alliance - a coalition for these conferences to always have each other's backs despite the SEC gaining power.
Yet here we are, with the Big Ten betraying a fellow Alliance member. The ACC must also realize that they too are in danger of having their best schools poached.
This reminds me of another time three individuals from different organizations broke bread together and two ended up dead...
With these two super conferences now in position to take over, conferences like the ACC, Pac-12 and the Big 12 must now prepare to have their teams be poached.
Tradition and loyalty mean nothing when financial stakes are this high. Schools will now look to join the party or be left behind.
"Be my friend...Godfather."
Dog-eat-dog does not even begin to describe what will unfold next.
The SEC and Big Ten were already the greatest financial powers in the industry, as both conferences' TV deals were significantly more lucrative for their schools than the rest of the country's.
Now with both conferences moved up to 16 teams apiece and no end in sight to the expansion, that gap will only continue to widen.
If a school wants to be able to make enough money to contend for championships with the big boys and see their games broadcast to a national audience, it seems that they must join one of the two conferences.
"Don Corleone, I am honored and grateful that you have invited me to your home on the wedding day of your daughter. And may their first child be a masculine child."
I mean, come on. We're talking about a clear line of Haves and Have Nots, and VANDERBILT gets grandfathered into this thing?
"Now, you owe your Don a service. He has no doubt that you will repay him."
It seems as though the Pac-12 is not done losing schools yet.
Rumblings have begun that Oregon and Washington as well as perhaps Standford and Cal may be next to join the Big Ten.
It is important to note that, unlike the SEC, the Big Ten seeks universities of a certain academic stature...
"Don't ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever."
An important aspect of the Big Ten's search is that all 16 current-or-soon-to-be members are part of the Association of American Universities (AAU).
This is an elite group of American colleges. Universities in this group are viewed in a more significant academic light.
It can be assumed the Big Ten would seek to keep this academic standard among its universities.
Here is a list of the AAU schools in the FBS and not pledged to the Big Ten (**denotes SEC member):
I expect all the next Big Ten additions to be from this list.
"My father made him an offer that he couldn't refuse."
In this scene, Michael tells Kay the story of his father helping Johnny Fontane out of a bad deal with a band by threatening the band leader.
Perhaps one day a similar story will be told by the schools like Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, Miami and UNC when they are full-fledged SEC members and no longer bound to the ACC's Grant of Rights contract.
In this contract - which runs until 2036 - ACC schools forfeit the right to all home ticket revenue and media payouts to the conference until the end of the deal.
This means that if a school were to chase the increased TV money and leave the conference, that extra money would be plucked away from the school and sent to the ACC. Essentially, this protects the conference from having a rogue team bail on them.
But what if five, six, seven or even eight teams decide to leave? Those schools could unite in legal action against the ACC with the hopes to absolve the GoR.
With the SEC and/or the Big Ten backing these schools, the ACC's hands would end up tied.
The ACC would be depleted and likely forced to merge with another smaller conference. Their best schools would be taken away, and the conference would be in financial ruin.
It wouldn't be the first time someone entered into an arranged marriage that ended explosively...
Exploding cars aside, Virginia Tech specifically needs to hope they can end up on the right side of this split.
As laid out earlier, the Big Ten seems like an unlikely option for the Hokies as they are not an AAU member. That means it's SEC or bust for Virginia Tech, and they need to start groveling at the Godfather's feet.
"YOU CAN ACT LIKE A MAN! What's the matter with you? Is this what you've become?...'Oh, what do I do? What do I do?' What is that nonsense? Ridiculous!"
Begging may be what Virginia Tech has to do. It is clear they would not be the SEC's first choice; that would be Clemson.
But can Virginia Tech find a way to make itself more appealing than the likes of Florida State, Miami, UNC, Duke and NC State?
Just how many teams will the SEC want to grab? And the Big Ten for that matter?
That remains to be seen. I expect this situation to continue to grow, and the next few weeks could shape the entire future of college sports as we know them.
For now, we can summarize the situation with one final line from Michael Corelone:
"It's not personal, Sonny. It's strictly business."