Aug 17, 2023 - Sports

College football rivalries are the biggest loser in realignment race

Illustration of an old football covered in bandaids

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A dramatic realignment for most of the major college sports conferences is killing off some of the country's most beloved rivalries.

Why it matters: This is the last season for college football as we know it.

  • Conference realignment kicks off in earnest next year — and the expansion of the College Football Playoff is on the horizon in late 2024.

What's happening: Most of the changes are driven by money. Specifically, TV dollars.

  • Texas and Oklahoma were required to pay the Big 12 $50 million each to leave the conference a year early, but both schools will get a piece of the SEC's $300 million a year deal with ESPN.
  • The Big 10's expanded, 16-team roster secured a TV deal worth $7 billion to air games on Fox, CBS and NBC through 2029-30.
  • The Big 12's deal, good through the 2030-31 season, is worth $2.3 billion.

State of play: Some schools made their moves earlier this summer: The Big 12 added Brigham Young University (BYU), Cincinnati, Houston, and the University of Central Florida (UCF) in July.

  • Charlotte, Florida Atlantic University, North Texas, Rice, University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) also hopped over to the American Athletic Conference (AAC) last month.
  • But some of the biggest moves — like Texas and Oklahoma to the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the eight-school exodus from the Pac-12 — will happen next summer.

Zoom in: The shift in the athletic landscape means that some long-running rivalries will likely end as the teams go to different conferences.

  • Washington and Washington State's famed Apple Cup rivalry appears up in the air after this season, with the Washington Huskies leaving the Pac-12 next summer.
  • Oklahoma and Oklahoma State's Bedlam matchup — which has been played since 1904, before Oklahoma was a state — is slated to end this year.
  • Oregon said it will "prioritize the long-held traditions" like competition with Oregon State when it moves to the Big 10 but stopped short of saying its football teams will play every year.

In a plot twist, conference realignment has brought back one of the wildest rivalries in all of college football: the Lone Star game.

  • When the game resumes in 2024, Texas and Texas A&M will have taken a 12-year hiatus from meeting on the gridiron after the Aggies moved to the SEC in 2012.
  • It's unknown if the game will become an annual event or just one that happens when the teams rotate onto one another's schedules.

Yes, but: As conferences get bigger, scheduling in-conference rivals will also become more difficult unless teams share a conference division, stop playing out-of-conference opponents, or the college football season expands.

  • Colleges have also changed conferences in the past, with historic rivalries like Nebraska-Oklahoma becoming less intense or dying off.

The bottom line: Lucrative TV contracts that offer schools massive payouts are changing a staple of American culture forever.

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