In College Sports, the Power Five May Become the Power Two

So improvisation has all but become a sanctioned sport at conference offices.

The Big 12 has moved to add schools such as Cincinnati and Central Florida. Many around the A.C.C., the only Power 5 conference whose membership has been unaffected by this round of realignment, hope to conjure a renegotiation of a television deal that is not scheduled to expire until 2036.

The Pac-12 is presenting as brave a face as one can muster when blindsided. On Thursday, the league pronounced itself “extremely surprised and disappointed” — even though conference officials had worried for years about the possibility of a U.S.C. exit — and on Friday, it said it would “explore all expansion options.”

“The 10 university presidents and chancellors remain committed to a shared mission of academic and athletic excellence on behalf of our student-athletes,” the league said.

The remaining 10 schools are Arizona, Arizona State, California, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Utah, Washington and Washington State. Some of them, though, would be prizes for other leagues because of their locations in major media markets or their athletic reputations. And in college sports, pledges of allegiance, whether from prospects, coaches or universities, are often impermanent, particularly when promises of big money or threats of irrelevancy are involved.

The SEC has been publicly quiet since U.S.C. and U.C.L.A. jumped toward the Big Ten, a process that some executives said unfolded far faster than they had anticipated. Smith, although a representative of just one of 14 current Big Ten schools, said he did not expect the league to pursue more members, though he acknowledged “you’ve got to listen” if Notre Dame, his alma mater, calls.

“You’re always trying to be open, but I just don’t see anything happening in the near future,” said Smith, who previously oversaw athletics at Arizona State. “I just don’t see why we’d expand beyond the 16.”

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