Opinion: College football as we know it is about to change forever with sweeping realignment

The SEC will be the first conference to expand to 16 teams but it won't be the last, with the projected addition of Texas and Oklahoma very likely triggering another wave of seismic realignment at the expense of the rest of the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The SEC expands. The Big 12 contracts, or even dissolves. The Big Ten teams up with another current Power Five conference, or cuts to the chase and poaches the best options from the ACC or Pac-12. The impact trickles down through every team and conference. The result is predictable but still almost unimaginable.

Step back and take a picture for posterity: The world of college football you grew up on will soon go the way of the wishbone offense.

SEC expansion is the tipping point for a new version of college football dominated by multiple super conferences of 16 or more teams, turning the very concept of parity into an even bigger punchline and officially relegating the majority of the current FBS to second-tier status.

The realignment madness that swept through college football a decade ago will seem quaint in comparison. Relative to what's underway this summer, those changes resembled a painful game of musical chairs. The creation of these behemoth leagues tears at the very fabric of the sport — one long defined at its most fundamental level by small pockets of fandom formed out of proximity, rivalry and tradition.

At risk of fracture are the two greatest traditions of all: one, that every team is competing for the same prize, even if some have an easier track than others; and two, that every game carries a significance beyond the final score, with layers and layers of meaning developed over generations of interactions between teams and among fan bases.   

Oklahoma running back T.J. Pledger (5) breaks through the defensive line of Texas Longhorns during the Red River Showdown in 2020.

During a turbulent time for amateur sports, large-scale realignment promises to have the deepest impact on how college football is conducted on a national level.

Issues related to recruiting and roster management created by the coronavirus pandemic will pass. While the ability for student-athletes to monetize their name, image and likeness represents an enormous shift, this change has already been embraced by conferences, schools and legislators aware of the need to evolve the amateur model. 

But this sort of realignment has the potential to carve an impasse between super conferences and the rest of the FBS. The inevitable result would be a top level of college football condensed to roughly half of the current FBS membership; the rest would be left in the cold to fend for themselves.

Even if not an official split, the difference in revenue, publicity and opportunity would create a chasm separating these super leagues from the rest of the 130-team FBS.

The fallout could impact the next generation of the sport.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby speaks to the media during Big 12 media days Thursday.

Fans of programs without a seat at this table would face a crisis of identity. What do you cheer for when you're not competing on an equal plane for an equal prize? What do you care about on a week-to-week basis when longstanding rivalries have been tossed aside and your schedule is composed of strangers cobbled together out of necessity?

With college football leaders already worried about dwindling attendance and rising disinterest, the creation of an NFL-like super league could deal another blow to regional and national investment in the regular season. Why be invested in a sport that has removed its own investment in your school, your conference, your program?

This stage of realignment will accelerate the process of redefining what constitutes a successful season. When only a select few leagues have the wherewithal to compete for the national championship, how will fans, administrators and boosters stomach life at the bottom of the conference standings?

For example, adding Texas and Oklahoma will increase revenue for the SEC while making life even more difficult for Vanderbilt, South Carolina, the two Mississippi schools and others, who now have two more national powers to steer through before reaching bowl eligibility, let alone competing for something grander.

That part of the process lays bare the two concepts at war during this coming stage of expansion. One asks what's good for the sport. The other asks what's good for revenue. You know which side is winning.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Paul Myerberg on Twitter @PaulMyerberg