Sunday, September 18, 2011

NCAA Conference Realignment

There's a whole lot of buzz currently surrounding conference realignment in college football. Just yesterday, Syracuse and Pittsburgh were both accepted into the ACC, signaling the disintegration of the Big East and indicating further progress toward the creation of the so-called superconferences. There's no question that the superconferences will completely change the landscape of college sports. The question is whether or not that change would be good or bad.

I'm not entirely opposed to the idea, but I'm not exactly sure why the superconferences would be necessary. The system that is currently in place works fine. See my September 1st blog post exploring the BCS system here. I don't see anything wrong with the BCS right now, apart from the fact that it ignores the second-tier non Big Six teams. But even that inattention is not unfounded: only a few teams from non-AQ conferences have gone undefeated in the past 10 years (TCU, Boise State twice, and Utah twice). 

So, if the current system works pretty well, then why are these superconferences necessary? The answer is not animosity toward the system; it all has to do with greed. In most conferences, including the ACC, Pac 12, and SEC, all schools receive an about-equal share of revenue. However, in a conference like the Big 12, revenue is split based on television deals and media exposure. That's why Texas earns $93.9 million from football while Baylor earns $14.3 million. It's no wonder Texas A&M wants to leave the Big 12 to a conference where it can poach the earnings of programs like Florida, Alabama, and Auburn and it's no wonder that Baylor is trying to stop them at all costs. Every school wants to be in the best financial situation possible for their football program.

The landscape of college football will undoubtedly change dramatically in the next few years due to this never-ending cycle of greed. What will that mean for the non-AQ teams, however? More and more of them will want to make the transition to a BCS conference. But what will that look like? TCU is already moving to the Big East, although who knows what the Big East will look like by the time they join. Utah has already joined the Pac 12. It seems evident that Boise State, the third of the three recent BCS bowl busters, will attempt to join the Pac 12 soon as well. I'm not sure how much room there is for the rest of these mid-major programs looking to make the leap. The big conferences want to usher in programs who are successful, and therefore generate a lot of revenue.

Now lets take a look down the road to 2015. Will the superconferences have emerged at the cost of the Big East and Big 12? Here is what I think the conference landscape will look like 4 years down the road:

The Big East and Big 12 will fall apart, leaving Iowa State, Kansas State, Kansas, Baylor, Rutgers, South Florida, and Cincinnati scrambling for a new home. Texas A&M and Missouri will move to the SEC, creating  the first 16 team superconference (in which Vanderbilt is so thankful to be nice and safe). Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech will make the much rumored move to the Pac-12, which would be rechristened as the Pac-16. The Big Ten, eager to catch up with its fellow conferences, would snap up Kansas and Kansas State from the Big 12 and UConn from the Big East. After interviewing many candidates (including Notre Dame) for the16th spot in the conference, they would finally agree to take in Iowa State for the sole purpose of giving Iowa and Nebraska a geographic rival. It is unsure whether Iowa State would be a leader or a legend though. By this point, Baylor would be in tears and reluctantly agree to join Conference-USA. Finally, the last conference, the ACC, has already added Pittsburgh and Syracuse. They go on to welcome in Louisville and West Virginia to the last of the four collegiate superconferences. Thus, the college landscape is set.

The losers in this scenario are, of course, Baylor and all the Big East schools whose main focus is basketball. Cincinnati is probably the biggest football school to be booted to the mid-major conferences. Notre Dame would once again be glad to end all the talk linking them to the Big 10, now the Big 16. Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Minnesota, Iowa State, and Washington State would all be glad that they have a home in one of the four superconferences.

It took me some time to figure out how to realign these schools. How do you think it should be done?

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