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One of the most relentless parts of college football realignment is that it courses through every corner of college athletics. As leagues reshape, budgets change and traditional power structures shift, there’s always a trickledown of trends.
With the announcement of the departure of Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC, the Big 12's entire paradigm changed. Big 12 league revenues that are expected to eclipse $40 million in upcoming years could dip down to nearly $15 million if the eight teams don’t either find a partner or a creative way to generate revenue in their next television deal.
That precipitous drop in revenue – or the specter of it – will likely mean that the remaining Big 12 schools will struggle to remain a destination for top coaching talent. That means a countdown has begun to the potential devastating financial fallout coming in 2025, when the conference's media rights deal expires.
So as we examine this year’s college football coaching carousel – an annual summer exercise that tracks jobs, coaches and assistants that are potentially in flux – the most timely trend impacting it is the Big 12’s diminished standing.
Here are three reverberations to look for in this and upcoming coaching cycles.
What happens to Iowa State's Matt Campbell?
Campbell has been inordinately loyal to Ames, as he has resisted overtures the past few seasons from the highest levels of college and the NFL. Ames has been a perfect bubble for Campbell, who loves digging in with his team and is ambivalent toward the front facing parts of the job like media and engaging with boosters.
Iowa State has been able to thrive building what he likes to call a “life factory,” not a “football factory.”
But with Big 12 revenues destined to shrink and recruiting made more daunting by the lack of being able to sell a top conference, Campbell may turn to more of a traditional football factory.
He has pushed Iowa State through some glass ceilings, including four consecutive bowls for the first time in school history and a breakthrough Fiesta Bowl victory on the national stage last season. He has built a staff fiercely loyal to him.
Can that last forever?
With 19 starters returning, this feels like a last call for Campbell in Ames. He should be able to have his pick of jobs in college and interest in the NFL.
The dilemma of Campbell doubles as the issue for the Big 12.
“Can you afford the coach?” asked a Big 12 source. “You could based on current revenues. But for the future, that’s the uncertain part of it. The second piece is perception. Are you at the same level? Does the coach see it through that lens? Do they think their job just got harder? Is recruiting harder?”
Does this impact Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Texas’ Steve Sarkisian?
The NFL’s interest in Riley, 37, has been consistent the past few seasons. He fits the archetype of the current youth movement of NFL coaches – play-caller, quarterback developer and strong leader.
Sarkisian’s impending rejuvenation of Texas, which starts this season, got a lot more difficult as he has to simultaneously recruit against SEC schools while selling players on a majority of their career playing out in the Big 12.
Will the waiting to arrive in the SEC be the hardest part?
If the start date on OU and Texas going to the SEC doesn’t arrive until 2025, as the contract states, it puts both schools in an awkward limbo for a few years. Along with the tough recruiting sell, don’t underestimate the week-to-week misery of playing games in venues where fans are spitting vitriol and waving money at you. That’s a lot of bile to swallow for a career.
Then there’s the notion of Oklahoma in the SEC, where it will still be a contending program, but it will have an exponentially harder path to the playoff. Texas’ athletic department leadership void and facility apathy for most of the past two decades has allowed Oklahoma’s elite leadership under athletic director Joe Castiglione to sprint ahead of the Longhorns and the rest of the league.
A lot of OU’s edges in talent, leadership and facilities will be neutralized in the SEC. It was always hard to envision Riley as a college lifer, and perhaps this nudges him quicker to the NFL.
As for Sarkisian, Texas doesn’t have any of those same edges as Oklahoma. Nor do the Longhorns have anywhere near SEC-caliber talent on the offensive or defensive lines. The job is completely different than the one Sarkisian signed up for. And it got much harder before he ever coached a game.
Will either or both be around in 2025 for the SEC debut? Regardless, the road there promises to be a slog.
Where else will the ripples go?
West Virginia’s Neal Brown would be another coach to watch eventually make a move in this unstable Big 12 environment. He has been solid at WVU – 11-11 in two seasons – and a good fit. But it’d be a lot harder for him to resist an SEC, ACC or Big Ten job now, knowing that things like keeping a staff will be much more daunting with the potential of budget cuts being made with a cleaver.
Also, it will be worth watching to see if TCU’s Gary Patterson sticks through to the next iteration of the Big 12. He led TCU out of the Mountain West and it’ll be interesting to see his appetite, at age 61, to guide TCU through the next chapter.
For WVU, TCU and beyond, one of the scariest things for coaches and ADs is going to be staff retention. Big 12 staffs are more vulnerable to losing top coordinators and position coaches to leagues like the SEC, Big Ten and ACC.
Would an assistant like Baylor’s Joey McGuire, a former Texas high school coach, suddenly be more valuable to an SEC program now that the league’s footprint is deeper in Texas? Would a coveted young assistant like Iowa State’s Nate Scheelhaase be more likely to consider a Big Ten job? Could a longtime staple in the Big 12 footprint like Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn look elsewhere?
Every macro hiring decision and defection in the upcoming few years involving a Big 12 coach or school will be made through the prism of realignment. If top coaches, coordinators and assistants leave, the league’s decline becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And that’s why realignment will loom over the coaching carousel.
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