Oklahoma football: Remember when realignment reimaged college sports?

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 07, 2019 - Detail view of Big 12 logo as the Baylor Bears band plays on the field before Baylor plays the Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12 Football Championship at AT&T Stadium on December 7, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 07, 2019 - Detail view of Big 12 logo as the Baylor Bears band plays on the field before Baylor plays the Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12 Football Championship at AT&T Stadium on December 7, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) /

Remember 10 years ago when realignment was the epidemic spreading around the college landscape and pigskin-proud schools like Oklahoma football were considering relocation.

Those were crazy times, too, although of a much less serious and scary nature. Schools were scrambling to make sure they wouldn’t be left out in the land rush to secure their futures in what they believed to be a more stable and economically advantaged conference structure.

The Big 12 lost four members but gained two schools, resulting in a net loss of two and a readjustment to 10 members from what had previously been a 12-school structure.

What once were conference affiliations organized on the basis of geographic proximities have grown into super conferences with as many as 14 schools and little, if any, consideration for geographic location or distance.

For example, the Big 12 took on a school (West Virginia) located five states away and approximately 1,200 miles from the nearest Big 12 school. Rutgers and Maryland, both located on the East Coast became members of the Midwest-oriented Big Ten. And so on and so on.

Up to now, the thinking has been that eventually there would be three or four super conferences made up of 16 or more schools each that would rule college football. Football, being the largest revenue sport and, along with basketball, pays all the freight for all of the other college sports, would be the prime consideration for the future conference alignments.

Sports Illustrated staff writer Pat Forde is suggesting that while pure economic considerations fueled the last round of conference realignments, the COVID-19 pandemic has dealt those previous considerations a significant blow and left us with a new fiscal reality.

Because of the ‘new normal’ we are all living in, Forde wonders if perhaps this is the time for some reverse thinking when it comes to conference alignments and structures.

"“Maybe we’re due to both rein in and reach out, ” he writes, “to contract geographically into more regional conferences, while expanding the scope of the revenue gusher that is the College Football Playoff.”"

In an article posted yesterday on the si.com website, Forde proposes a new FBS ecosystem, as he calls it, consisting of 119 current FBS schools and one new one — perennial FCS champion North Dakota State — elevated from the lower ranks. In doing so, he would relegate 11 former FBS schools to the next level down. To find out the schools he would designate for relegation, you can reference the full article.

As part of the new alignment, Forde would organize the 120 FBS teams into 10 different leagues of 12 schools each, all “designed to maximize proximity and reduce travel demands and costs.”

Here is how all of this relates to Oklahoma: The Big 12 would cease to exist — as would all of the Power Five conferences in their current identity and configuaration under Forde’s radical realignment plan. The current membership of the Big 12 would be spun off into three different newly organized conferences.

Forde’s idea has Oklahoma as part of the Southwest Conference — yes, a league of the same name that the Sooners were once a founding member of from 1915-1919. Current Big 12 schools, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech, TCU and Baylor would be part of the league, along with Texas A&M, SMU, North Texas, Tulsa, Rice and Houston.

Under Forde’s proposed realignment plan, Kansas, Kansas State and owa State, along with former Big 12 schools Nebraska and Missouri, would become part of the Great Midwest Conference. West Virginia would be placed in a league of more geographically proximal schools that could identify itself as the Mid-American Conference.

Every league would play a full round-robin format of 11 games and one non-conference opponent, which would enable schools like OU to re-establish longtime rivalries that went away with the realignment craze of 10 years ago.

For example, Oklahoma and Nebraska could renew their rivalry on an annual basis going forward as the one non-con game on each other’s schedule. With every school having to play every other school in its league, issues over unbalanced scheduling would go away and there really wouldn’t be the need to hold a conference championship game to establish a true league champion.

Again, you can see all 10 proposed conference structures that are part of Forde’s out-of-the-box realignment idea by going directly to his article.

Another part of Forde’s proposal that has an intriguing ring to it involves expanding the College Football Playoff.

He suggests expanding the Playoff format to include a dozen teams. The 10 league champions would receive an automatic playoff bid and there would be two at-large bids awarded by the CFP selection committee. This would eliminate the complaint that not all conference champions make it into the playoff and give more meaning to winning the league.

This, of course, is only hypothetical, but it would serve to eliminate the disparity between the power leagues and the so-called Group of Five or mid-majors and would create greater parity among all the FBS teams.

Let’s face it, though, parity is not something the Oklahoma football program and the other Power Five schools are particularly interested in — now or ever.