"It is filled with unexpected twists and turns. It is a tale of conquest, but also one of survival and persistence, and of the merging of peoples and cultures that gave birth and continuing life to America as we think of and experience it today."
Those words were written by Robert V. Hine and John Mack Faragher to describe the days of the Wild West and the exploration of new lands. In truth, the days of conference realignment in college football is a modern version of that frontier time. It's a tale of conquest for some. A tale of persistence for many. And a tale of survival, or lack thereof, for others. Realignment is indeed a story of merging cultures and traditions as east stretches west and midwest reaches east.
The modern rush of conference realignment has been like nothing we've ever seen in college sports. With a new team or new conference switching allegiances almost daily in the past week, it's easy to lose sight of just how drastically the landscape has shifted across the Football Bowl Subdivision since this saga began in full in 2010.
Below is the big picture of conference realignment with a complete recap of how every FBS conference has moved with these winds of change. For each conference you'll see three columns of how the league appeared in 2010 (before Colorado and Nebraska left the Big XII, launching full scale realignment), this year in 2012, and the projected lineup in 2015 when several of the announced moves become finalized. You'll see teams added in green and teams that left the conference in red as well as a recap of how each FBS conference has faired in this wild frontier of realignment.
In: South Alabama, Texas State, Georgia State
Out: FAU, FIU, Middle Tennessee, North Texas
We begin in the Sun Belt, which lost a net one member from 2010 to 2015 and did so with largely FCS teams moving up to FBS level replacing departures to Conference USA. League member South Alabama added a football program, Georgia State comes from a lower division, and Texas State hops over after a brief stay in the WAC. All in all, as the lowest conference on the FBS totem pole, the Sun Belt has to be happy with one thing during realignment. Survival. Not every conference was so lucky...
In: Texas State, UTSA
The WAC is the biggest loser in Realignmentpalooza because the league will cease football operations (at least temporarily) next year. Ironically, the WAC was undone by its own expansion over a decade ago when 8 members of the bloated 16 team league left to form the Mountain West. Unfortunately, Idaho and New Mexico State are the only teams without a conference safety net and will have to start the 2013 season as independents. The other members are scattered across mid-majordom. With every conference expanding, there was room for only one non-BCS conference west of the Rockies. The Mountain West won the battle, and the war.
In: FAU, FIU, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, Old Dominion, North Texas, UT-San Antonio, Charlotte
Out: ECU, Memphis, UCF, Houston, SMU, Tulane
Conference USA emerged from the first round of realignment completely unchanged. In the next round though, pretty much the entire conference left and moved to the Big East. Or, to put it more accurately, the Big East came to them. To fill those slots, Conference USA rummaged through the remains of the other non-BCS conferences like they were trying out for their own American Pickers spin-off. 4 Sun Belt teams, 2 from the WAC, 1 FCS, 1 new program from scratch (Charlotte), and a partridge in a pear tree.
Heh, Christmas humor.
The quietest of all conferences in realignment is certianly the MAC, who basically made a straight up trade - Temple for UMass. The MAC can stand pat comfortable in who they are as a league with nobody really angling to go one way or another. Have no fear, the state of the #MACtion Union is strong.
In: Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, San Jose State, Utah State
Out: BYU, TCU, Utah, Boise State, San Diego State
Even though their 3 biggest names (Boise, TCU, and BYU) left, the Mountain West can feel secure in what they've done during conference realignment. They finished off the WAC and look to be in decent shape moving forward. In fact, with the Big East not quite the league Boise State and SDSU imagined when they departed, there's even rumors the Mountain West prodigal sons may return home before they even leave.
In: Colorado, Utah
The Pac 12 is in a clear position of power. Even though they didn't get the bounty in Texas and Oklahoma, the league added two teams to take them to their desired 12... although Colorado has been doing a fine job masquerading as a BCS conference team the last couple years. Now with a championsip game and a visionary conference network system, the Pac 12 can walk away from realignment as one of the biggest winners.
In: TCU, West Virginia
Out: Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri, Texas A&M
The Big XII's roller coaster ride through realignment was so dramatic it should be turned into a TV miniseries. Can't you just picture Kevin Spacey as the perfect Dan Beebe? After teetering on the edge of extinction, the Big XII circled the wagons, downsizing to ensure their existence. At 10 teams, they may have lost their championship game and 4 of their core members, but they held onto Texas and Oklahoma. That was enough to survive and advance.
In: Louisville, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Notre Dame (all sports but football, but ND will play 5 ACC teams every year)
The ACC may have hit the realignment jackpot by tethering Notre Dame to the conference while pillaging the Big East of its top programs. While the Irish will still technically be independent, those 5 ACC games a year will pay huge dividends. The ACC acted quickly to ensure its superiority over the Big East early in realignment and the addition of Louisvillle this week was a wise one to stay ahead of the game. The ACC could even be the first of the long dreamt of 16 team superconferences if Cincinnati, UConn, or even Navy get an invite in the coming weeks.
In: Missouri, Texas A&M
As the preeminent force in college football, the SEC is in a true position of strength, carefully choosing to add Missouri and Texas A&M and stand pat. If the SEC feels frisky, they could go after Clemson or Florida State to grow their empire and cause more dominoes to fall. Once the SEC Network finally launches, the league will become an even bigger force, and Nick Saban will be one step closer to world domination.
In: Nebraska, Maryland, Rutgers
The Big Ten, and more specifically the Big Ten Network, has been the driving force behind conference realignment. With the success of BTN, revenues for schools have increased dramatically and other conferences are moving towards their own networks to follow suit. After poaching Nebraska from the Big XII, Jim Delany has channeled his inner Gordon Gecko during Phase II of realignment, making a straight play for cash and television sets over wins and tradition. Rutgers and Maryland won't excite the masses in the midwest, but they will allow the Big Ten to print their own money if BTN gets lucrative cable deals in those huge eastern markets.
In: Temple, Boise State, ECU, Houston, Memphis, (deep breath) SDSU, SMU, Tulane, UCF, Navy
Out: West Virginia, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse
Besides the WAC (may they rest in peace), the Big East is the biggest loser in realignment. The Big East lost their BCS status and will move forward in the merry ragtag "Group of Five" band with the MAC, MWC, C-USA, and Sun Belt on the outside looking in of the true power structure of college football. Actually, it's pretty depressing, but every ragtag band has to be "merry." No league saw more changeover with an incredible 15 teams passing through. 10 new members added since 2010 exceeds the league's 2010 membership! The Big East is still awaiting their next television contract, which will go a long way in deciding their eventual fate and viability as a conference. Although the league has grown by a net of 5 members, it's become the mascot for everything ludicrous in realignment as the first coast to coast conference - appropriate since more than half the league will be ex-Conference USA members.
At the moment, the teams left in the Big East are looking for a lifeline out with UConn devastated they haven't yet gotten an ACC invite and new recruits like Boise State considering a return to the Mountain West. What's left behind in the future Big East is a mashed together hodgepodge of leftover parts from college football's scrapheap...
Eventually, the Wild West settled down. Conference realignment will too some day. But if there's one constant in life, it's change. All in all, more than 40 schools will have changed their course during the last three years of conference realignment. Some schools like Boise State and Texas State have even moved conferences twice in this era of realignment. The Big East added more new football members (10) than they had football playing teams in 2010 (8). The WAC met its untimely demise. The Big XII came back from the grave on multiple occasions.
But we're only just beginning on this journey. There's still plenty more of the frontier left to explore.
I still think there is a chance for the B1G to get Notre Dame and Boston College. I really don't see them going south for GT or UVA when they can make a great case for an ACC like deal for ND and take the entire Boston Northeast TV market with BC. I do believe the SEC will take one of the NC schools and VT. The beauty is it leaves FSU, UM, GT, Clemson, 1 NC school and UVA or L;ville to go to 16. Given the collaboration between the SEC and B12, the geographic lay overs in the south makes for some great rivalries....something I'd like to see given all this realignment business.
I believe you'll still have work to do by the end of summer. Either the ACC or the Big 12 will be raided until there are 4 super conferences and everyone else filling in the lower tiers. I thing the SEC will choose NC St and Va Tech to go to 16. It would expand their footprint more than Clemson FSU. If that happens it will be the demise of the ACC and survival of the Big 12. I think UVA and UNC (too much money to hang behind with Duke) to the Big 10. FSU Clemson Ga Tech and Miami to the Big 12. If ND goes too (maybe even full member) then BYU could make 16. If not then may Col St and or Boise St. This will leave the PAC 12 scrambling because of the higher consecration of eastern schools they won't have many options. Nevada Hawaii Boise St and whatever scrub the happen to settle on. The Big East will be a mix of ACC Big East and Conference USA. Mountain West will go to 16. Do the rest really belong in FBS? Why doesn't the NCAA not create 5 classifications for football instead of 4? No one outside the top 80 schools (really the top 60) will ever have a legit shot at a national title.
@Hihoze Forget Notre Dame for the Big Ten; that ship has sailed. Boston College hasn't done much for the ACC (and Boston is arguably the least avid college sports market in America), so why would the Big Ten be interested, especially since BC isn't a member of the Association of American Universities? Delany's dream duo are Virginia and North Carolina, but both would be tough to pry away from the ACC. Moreover, some UNC fans would prefer to join the SEC (a dreadful cultural fit for Chapel Hill), if only to block N.C. State from going there and gaining an edge in in-state football recruiting. UVa would be far easier for the Big Ten to get, provided Virginia Tech can relocate to the SEC (those schools are more or less autonomous).
@Hihoze I think that would be a good move. One of our local writers says they should bring in SYR & Pitt but that won't happen. The Big 10 has drooled over ND forever. I think ND wants to remain a more national brand and don't want locked in Midwest/NE. Big 12 would be broader and (if we're right be more southern- both FL&TX). Conferences too worried about increased footprint. Everyone should just jump in and get over with it. A few moves a year and dragging it out is just as bad. Sure would be nice is ND gave up. Most of this hinges on them, they have to decide if they will stay where they are regionally or try to be bigger. With the Big 10 wait or push on South?
My thoughts are similar; the ACC will eventually be ACC'd, and that $50m penalty won't do anything to stop it.
SEC: NC State, VaTech
B1G: UNC, UVA
BXII: FSU, Clemson
As much fun as people make that the Big East is the new C-USA, the ACC will be the new Big East.
Eventually we'll have four legitimate 16 team conferences with their own finals and semifinals. Then those four champions will play one another. The season will mirror the passion of college basketball (i.e. zilch), but, God, think of the money to be made!
@auburnjohn the only thing I wonder about realignment is how the PAC 12 will fare. Where are they going to expand? Only reason why I think the Big 12 will take so many ACC squads. I think the playoff will actually add to the regular season in the long run because it will negate so much of voter bias and have championship played on the field. Everyone will still root and watch their team/conference just as much. Can't see how that changes. I love watching the PSAC (D2) in playoffs. We don't offer as many scholarships (only 8) as others (ex Valdosa St as many as 30+) but we at least get an opportunity to play. Usually the top 5-10 teams are good enough to play for a title and should. Play could eventually go to 6 or 8 to give a few at-large a chance with no maximum on a conference. So long as all conference champs have a chance. This year Being odd because Ohio St was able to represent Big 10 so we got Wisconsin. Undefeated OSU would belong.
@auburnjohn thanks for the perspective from one who knows the program. All I knew was that the Tigers won with Gus. But probably had a good bit to do with Cam. Tupperville seemed to be doing well there. Even seemed like they let Terry Bowden go too soon too. Leadership needs more patience. Although bringing in a guy who struggled at Iowa St never quite made sense. He has Tx Tech back to doing well. Could've come back but I guess that means someone swallowing some pride (not the good kind). Yeah. Thanks. Not much to saw about the Psu situation. At least they seem to have brought a good guy to take over. One thing for sure, you have to want to get to St College because its dead center of nowhere.
I'm not a fan of the Gus hiring, at least not yet. i'm sure I'll come around (I always do), but I don't like the power structure in place—so much politics at AU.
As far as my thoughts on Gus, he was there when we had a lot of discipline and NCAA issues, so it's not like we're distancing ourselves. Plus he's never been anywhere long enough to develop players. Everyone sees Cam from 2010, but we had a bunch of talented seniors that Tuberville developed (I'm a big Tubs fan, even though he is probably just an average 8-4 coach). From what I heard from a past player, there wasn't much technique being taught; with Gus, it's just, "run the play!"
I don't think that type of spread will work consistently in the SEC. It all depends on the QB; if you can get an ultra-talented player there, then it can succeed, but that's true with all offenses.
As for the playoffs, I voice my concern only because I love the tradition of the season and the bowls, but I'm a college football fan; I'll watch it and love it all. I think a search committee may help to de-emphasize the polls, and you're right, the AP is much, much better than the coaches. There's way too much bias.
Separate note, annually I travel to different campuses. I went to Happy Valley back in 2007, and it's been one of the best I've made. Great set of fans at PSU. Also a big JoePa fan; I hated the way it all went down.
@auburnjohn Wow just heard you guys hired Malzahn. Nice choice. I thought he was going to Arkansas. He's the reason Chizik looked so good. We have the DC that made him look good. Frazier running Malzahn's O will excellerate the turnaround.
@auburnjohn I could see BYU in Big 12 if ND would join full time. Big if though. Playoffs. If you kept it to 4 conference champs it would emphasis conference play even more. If your conference champ isn't at least in the top 10 with no more than one more loss than the next best team they are in. If like this year Wisconsin wins and don't belong they can be replaced by the next best team. To prevent underserving from getting a free pass. But it would be nice to negate some of this computer stuff and the polling. Coaches poll isn't right. Best poll is AP and isn't used. Maybe 8 is too many but 4 makes sense more years than not. This year not being one. Only because OSU ineligible or an Final 4 would have been appropriate. Thanks for the chat. Auburn should have waited a year, told Chizik to run the run first spread (why did Chizik may same mistake as Muschamp after he realize how wrong he was then you could've stole our coach after next year (that being Bill O'Brien).
Great point with the Pac12. They'll have to try again for BigXII teams b/c I can't see them ever going with the likes of BYU or Boise. As you point out, just not enough football- and academic-worthy schools on the west coast. (BYU fits both, but has the culture problem.)
Football will thrive (if it can survive the concussion/medical scare, which I'm so tired of hearing about), but the one thing that makes it different from all other sports is the regular season. While it's not a good system for 120-plus schools, the BCS tried to place the emphasis on the season.
What people don't realize is that a playoff doesn't mean you end with the best team. You just end with the team that didn't lose in a one-game setting at season's end. I'm no big baseball fan, but MLB had it right; when you play 14-bajillion games each season, the better team comes out on top. But even they've succumbed to playoff creep.
But we're a playoff-heavy society now, so we'll end up with 16 teams in some form or fashion, which is what people want. So, let them eat cake.