The next phase of college football realignment and conference expansion is clearly trending towards the formation of two or three so-called "super-conferences."
Those leagues will have by far the easiest access to the College Football Playoff and most of the huge pile of TV money.
So, where does that leave the smaller conferences? Apparently on the verge of extinction, according to ESPN college football insider Pete Thamel.
The conference with the greatest chance of ceasing to exist? The Pac-12.
“I would think so only because [the Pac-12 is] not tied to a grant of rights right now,” Thamel said on ESPN.
“The ACC has a 14-year grant of rights, which is a very strong legal document. There’s really no precedent for someone [to get out of that contract]. That doesn’t mean somebody may not try in the next 14 years, but I don’t know if they’re going to try in the next four weeks.”
Losing the likes of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten can't be anything but a soul-searching moment for the Pac-12, which is fighting to survive.
“The Pac-12, what’s working against them, is their deal is up in essentially two football seasons,” Thamel said.
”So USC and UCLA are going to play out those seasons and walk, the same way Oklahoma and Texas are playing out their time in the Big 12 and are going to walk.
“So the end of that contract, the end of grant of rights, makes it a little bit of open season for them at least to pick up their head and look around and say, ‘Do I have more lucrative options?’
”Because they want to get to the end of the moat where the SEC is and where, obviously, the Big Ten is financially.”
That seems like a difficult task after the Pac-12 loses its two premier brands, along with the lucrative Los Angeles media market.
Especially with teams reportedly looking to get out of the conference, not into it.
Big 12 officials already called off the talks that proposed a merger between that league and the Pac-12, and once again reports connect Oregon and Washington to a potential move somewhere else.
And the Big Ten is still looking around for new members for a potential second expansion, but is waiting around to see what Notre Dame says first.
Whatever happens next in college football realignment, one thing appears certain: the future of the Pac-12 itself is an open question.
More on college football realignment
Pac-12 AD takes a shot at USC, UCLA after Big Ten move
CA governor blasts UCLA's expansion plans
Realignment: Pac-12 updates future plans
Notre Dame names its price to stay independent
Big 12, Pac-12 make decision on merger
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