The commissioners for the Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC appeared together at a virtual news conference last August to express unity and a spirit of collaboration in announcing a new "Alliance" partnership in the wake of jarring news that Texas and Oklahoma were bolting to the SEC.
The "Alliance" unveiling carried a tone of absolute solidarity.
Said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren that day, "Where we are in college athletics right now, what we really need is for things to be stable."
Asked why they chose not to make their pact binding in a signed contract, ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips said: "It's about trust. We've looked each other in the eye."
Yeah, maybe they should have put it in writing.
If it wasn't already clear before, the lesson learned last week is that there are no friends or allies in the cold, harsh world of college sports. Money — not loyalty or tradition or geography — is the sole driving force.
Warren's quest for stability didn't even last one year. The Big Ten rocked college sports to its core Thursday by accepting USC and UCLA as members starting in 2024. The aftershock creates instability within the Power Five and pushes the entire enterprise closer to the formation of super conferences.
The Power Five as we know it soon will be archaic. It is now the Power Two — Big Ten and SEC — in a battle of King of the Hill. Everyone else is scrambling to salvage what's left of their weakened conferences, or to find a new home.
This isn't the finish line, either. More dominoes will fall.
The prediction here is that the Big Ten and SEC will keep adding until they reach 20 schools. Why stop at 16 when there are more lucrative TV markets to gain and schools with glitzy brands to strengthen the Big Ten's portfolio in media rights negotiations?
The biggest fish, of course, is Notre Dame. The Big Ten would be crazy not to make another hard sell at that long-desired target because circumstances have changed dramatically, and adding Notre Dame's prestige would be the chef's kiss.
Notre Dame has resisted joining a football conference because its national brand and exclusive TV deal have provided security. Maybe school officials view things differently now, as the Big Ten and SEC cherry-pick other conferences and position themselves in revenue distribution that some speculate could reach $100 million annually per school by the end of this decade.
Independence is great, but the money being funneled to those two super conferences by television networks is hard, maybe impossible, to resist.
That's why USC and UCLA were so willing to say so long to their bedrock ties to the Pac-12, and why Texas and Oklahoma are moving to a new conference.
Revenue distribution for the Big Ten and SEC far exceeds the other three Power Five conferences. And that gap is only expanding.
What is the price of loyalty?
If the $100 million estimation is accurate, pack your bags, kids. Big Ten, here we come.
Losing USC and UCLA erodes the Pac-12, which means officials at Oregon, Washington, Stanford and others are likely calling Warren, asking for an invitation, too.
Every conference is destabilized by realignment and the financial allure of the Power Two. Is Kansas wedded to the Big 12? Are Clemson and North Carolina attainable from the ACC?
Warren should be on the phone finding out. Anything seems possible in this new wild, wild west.
There are those who wonder how much is too much and detest what has become of college sports. The Big Ten footprint now stretches from coast and coast and hardly resembles the conference of Woody and Bo.
TV revenue dictates decisions and the path forward. That might make some hold their nose or curse, but this is reality now.
Rivalries represent the fabric of college sports and what makes them so wonderfully unique. As a native of Tennessee, I'm deeply aware that one does not dare get married on the third Saturday in October, the annual date of Vols vs. Alabama. It's preferable if you don't croak that day either.
I love tradition as much as anyone. Times have changed though.
Strap in because more changes are coming. The money involved guarantees it.