When Arkansas and South Carolina joined the Southeastern Conference in 1992, it marked a major expansion and reshuffle that would start a tremendous ripple effect through the world of collegiate athletics, particularly college football.
Now a new wave is coming and further restructuring, most notably the additions of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC.
Arkansas left the then nine school Southwest Conference, the lone member of that league not from the state of Texas, which signaled the end of the old SWC. It also was the beginning of the end for the Big Eight, which would become the Big 12. The eight members of the, well, Big Eight, merged with Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor – four Lone Star State schools from the old SWC. Word is, Baylor got the nod over TCU because the governor of Texas at the time, Ann Richards, was a Baylor graduate.
Left out in the cold, TCU, Houston, Rice and SMU, vagabonds searching for a home in Conference USA and the Mountain West.
Texas A&M and Missouri bolted from the Big 12 and joined the SEC in 2012. That took the SEC to 14 members and the Big 12 to ten.
Fast forward to 2021, The Big 12 (with ten teams) is trying to survive with the impending move of the Longhorns and Sooners. Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Baylor, West Virginia and TCU (again) are now in a wobbly setting. Four invitations have been extended to Houston, Cincinnati, Central Florida and Brigham Young, which will get the Big 12 back up to 12 teams.
But without Texas and Oklahoma, survival status is shaky.
The biggest hit the Big 12 took, which certainly weakened its stronghold and stability, was Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten. Legendary Cornhuskers football coach Tom Osborne, who at the time of the jump was the school’s athletic director, said they likely would have stayed in the Big 12 had the league not done away with the annual game against Nebraska. Yes, under the Big 12 scheduling format at the time, Nebraska and Oklahoma, college football’s biggest and most impactful rivalry during the decades of the 1970s and 198’s, were in different divisions and no longer played every year.
The old foes squared off on September 18, trying to rekindle the spark. Oklahoma-Nebraska isn’t a conference game. Oklahoma-West Virginia is.
Give the fans what they want.
South Carolina’s move to the Southeastern Conference in 1992 was an easy and nondisruptive one. The Gamecocks had been an independent in football since leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference following the 1970-71 campaign. Same for Penn State when the Nittany Lions became the 11th member of the Big Ten in 1990, and for Florida State when the Seminoles joined the ACC in 1992.
Independents finding a home certainly felt different than conference hopping.
So now Oklahoma and Texas are coming this way. The SEC will have four teams who were once members of the Big XII: the Sooners, Longhorns, Missouri and Texas A&M. Arkansas, A&M and Texas were in the old SWC. Mizzou and Oklahoma in the old Big 8.
The next set of issues, upon the Longhorns and Sooners arrival, revolves around who resides where? Who plays who? And how many, in terms of conference games, and participants in SEC tournaments in other sports.
The devil, you may have heard, is in the details.
How do you arrange the divisions and the schedule? Will Missouri go to the SEC West and Alabama and Auburn East? Will there be a quartet of four team pods, and an NFL style scheduling plan? Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee could possibly make one up. Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State could be one. LSU, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M a third. And then … Missouri, Arkansas, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Hmmm. Think some traditional blue bloods would like to join that group. While all of this is being decided, every single school will be politicking, stumping, and screaming like Willy Stark to get the friendliest slate and division possible.
One of the twists with these supersized conferences is that, just under a century ago, that’s the way it was.
Yes, the old Southern Conference, in 1932 had 23 teams. 23!
Then came the split.
Everyone figured out it was too big to efficiently work. In 1933, Essentially, teams East of the Appalachian Mountains formed the Atlantic Coast Conference. Those West of the range became the Southeastern Conference. Plus there was Virginia Tech (which wouldn’t join the ACC until the 21st century), VMI and Washington and Lee.
The SEC, born in 1933, featured Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tech, Tulane and Suwanee. The latter three would all eventually leave, with Suwanee’s final football season in 1940, Tech’s in 1963 and Tulane’s in 1965.
Then there were 10. It was that way until 1992. Now it’s 14, and in 2025, or who knows, maybe as soon as 2023, there will be 16.
Will it stop there?
History has certainly taught us that conference alignment is fluid and uncertain. Of late, it has just come at a much more rapid pace.