Survival of the Fittest

Charles Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species in the 1860s.

Among the key points of Darwin's novel was the theory of "survival of the fittest," meaning that those who were best adapted for the environment around them would succeed.

I'm sure Darwin never imagined this would translate to American college football, and yet, here we are.

Last month's debate about divisions vs. no divisions? Scrapped.

Power Five? Please. There's a Power Two, a second tier of three, and the Group of Five.

It's survival of the fittest in college football, which means it's survival of the fittest for every athletic program out there. Today's power structure is based off of two things: the power of one's football program and the power of one's TV market.

With that, a new hierarchy has emerged from the college football jungle.

Let's start at the top with the new Power Two: the SEC and the Big Ten.

The SEC is as solid as a conference can get. They distributed the most money of any conference, have a monster TV contract waiting in the wings, and shook the college sports world one year ago when, during their own media days, announced Texas and Oklahoma were joining the league. They have dominated college football in the past two decades and have the trophies, facilities and rabid fan bases to show for it.

TV markets? They have some major cities, but to be honest, their markets are entire states. Nowhere is college sports more prioritized or celebrated than in the southern U.S. They're set.

The Big Ten distributes a ton of money, as well, and combines it with tradition and giant TV markets. While the SEC was happy to keep their footprint fairly regional, the Big Ten seized major markets in Washington D.C. and New York, adding to their arsenal of powerful media markets, such as Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Columbus. Their strategy from the beginning has been big markets for big money.

When the SEC grabbed Texas and Oklahoma, grabbing Kansas and Iowa State wasn't enough for the Big Ten. They wanted the splash, the media buzz to counter the SEC's big move. And, in landing UCLA and USC, gaining the massive Los Angeles market for their new TV deal with FOX, the Big Ten certainly gained the attention it craved.

There no doubt will be an issue for some of the athletic teams in traveling ... early morning baseball games to catch a cross-country flight home will be no fun, charter plane or not. But UCLA this week made it clear: they needed the money that the Big Ten no doubt will deliver. And that brings us to the second tier.

The Pac-12 already had the weakest TV deal in the Power Five, thanks to the mismanagement of Larry Scott at the helm and many games being played while America slept. Now, the biggest market on the West Coast no longer belongs to them. The Pac-12 is on shaky ground and no doubt, the remaining members need to take a hard look at things.

Already, the Big 12 wisely is taking an aggressive approach, having met with Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and Arizona State. While the logistics in the Big 12 aren't pretty at all (especially with Cincinnati, Louisville, and Central Florida joining the league), the conference is on much sturdier ground than that of the Pac-12. Those four schools can wait it out for a little bit, along with Oregon and Washington, who should get a second look from the Big Ten, especially if Notre Dame, the golden goose of the Midwest, turns down their advances.

The ACC has to get Notre Dame as a full football member. Now. No questions asked. That's the move.

If the deal with Notre Dame goes sour, the ACC will have to play defense. Should the Big 12 be successful in grabbing Arizona, ASU, Colorado and Utah, maybe the ACC could convince West Virginia and Cincinnati to look eastward. I don't know how Florida State or Miami will feel about UCF joining their league, but the Orlando market is one worth considering.

Notre Dame has clung to football independence as they've felt they were a national brand that didn't need a conference. For many decades, that was true. But college football is rapidly changing, and the Fighting Irish, who haven't won a title since 1988, face being left behind if they don't move quickly. They'll have options for sure. The ACC will likely do whatever it takes to land them, as Notre Dame places them in a much needed position of strength. Should the Irish head for the Big Ten, the ACC will be in a position of weakness and, despite their large TV rights contract, ESPN likely wouldn't have much issue having ACC teams leave for the SEC, since they have the contract for their rights, as well.

Then again, the Irish could head to the SEC, who would gladly welcome them as it would send the ultimate gut punch to the Big Ten and crank up the revenue streams that much more.

The Pac-12 is scrambling to keep afloat, but their idea of a loose agreement with the ACC doesn't hold much hope. What good does that do for their respective leagues, especially as neither conference put a team in the College Football Playoff last year? Frankly, it's a move that reeks of desperation. But there's not many moves the Pac-12 can make at the moment, other than do what they can to keep the remaining conference intact.

The Pac-12 reminds one of Sears, or Blockbuster Video. Once thriving, bad management at the top, coupled with a failure to catch up with their competition and a lack of local interest, has placed them in this mess.

The SEC and Big Ten are best prepared for the new, crazy environment that lays before them. The ACC and Big 12 aren't suffering, but need to seize the chance to be aggressive.

The Pac-12 is the wounded animal, fighting for its survival. Will it survive will be the question. Or will we have four large conferences setting up the new football dynamics?

Needless to say, the rapidly changing evolution would even have Darwin impressed.

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