College Football/Basketball: The AAU Conference Proposal

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College Football/Basketball: The AAU Conference Proposal
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Hello college football and basketball fans!

The college realignment rumors have once again reached full circle with the rumor that Florida State is moving to the Big 12, despite the fact that Eric Barron, Florida State's president, is skeptical of the move

Adding fuel to the fire is the recently introduced SEC vs. Big 12 college football bowl game.

If Florida State makes the move, it threatens the ACC as a viable college football conference and hurts its overall athletic standing nationally as well. Even though the ACC without Florida State would still be a top notch basketball conference, it will be viewed by many as a second rate athletic conference.

The move would hurt the East Coast's presence in college sports. Depending on who is taken by the Big 12 along with Florida State (or by the Big Ten if it decides to expand), there may be just two Northeastern schools in the "big four" conferences: Penn State and West Virginia.

The Big Ten is more of a Midwestern conference while the Big 12 is very Texas-centric. While the West, South, and Midwest have their own conferences, the Northeast (Boston to Washington corridor) really has no major conference to call their own except the ACC.

The ACC is the one conference that is stepping up and trying to expand its presence in the Northeast. They recently added Syracuse and Pittsburgh to go along with Boston College. Meanwhile, the Big East has teams in Texas now (California and Idaho if you count football only members). Only eight of its 18 members in college basketball (less than half) in 2013-14 will be from Northeastern states.

Should Florida State leave, many great Northeastern schools (along with schools like Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and Duke) will have to accept second class athletic standing.

In addition, the move could hurt academics playing a part in athletics conferences.

Some conferences value academics along with athletics. Athletic conferences have to take athletics into account but academics shouldn't necessarily be neglected. While none of these conferences will be mistaken for the Ivy League, the Big Ten, ACC, and Pacific 12 Conferences do place a great emphasis on academics and pride themselves on the academic accomplishments of their members.

Academics played a part in the ACC accepting Syracuse and Pittsburgh. ACC Commissioner John Swofford was quoted "The ACC has enjoyed a rich tradition by balancing academics and athletics and the addition of Pitt and Syracuse further strengthens the ACC culture in this regard."

When it comes to college athletic conferences (at least at the current BCS level), the Big Ten and ACC clearly are the cream of the crop academically compared to the Big 12 and SEC.

According to the most recent US News & World Report college rankings:

Every Big Ten member is in the top 100 national universities except for Nebraska, who tied for 101st. Five of its members are in the top 50 (Northwestern, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Penn State).

Every ACC member is in the top 100 except for NC State and Florida State, who tied for 101st as well. Seven of its members are in the top 50 (Duke, Virginia, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Boston College, Georgia Tech, and Miami). 

While only six Pac-12 members are in the top 100, five of those (Stanford, Cal Berkeley, USC, UCLA, and Washington) are in the top 50.

Private schools dominate the rankings. However, many Big Ten, ACC, and Pac-12 schools are among the top 30 public universities. Nine of the eleven Big Ten public universities are in the top 30. Seven of the nine ACC public universities are as well. The top five are Cal Berkeley (Pac-12), UCLA (Pac-12), Virginia (ACC), Michigan (Big Ten), and North Carolina (ACC). 

Meanwhile, only Vanderbilt (SEC) and Texas (Big 12) made the top 50 universities. The only SEC/Big 12 public schools that made the top 30 public universities are Texas, Texas A&M, Florida, and Georgia. Both conferences have several sub 100 schools.

Another measure of academic excellence is AAU membership. Here is a list of all of its current members.

The Big Ten for years has prided themselves as having all its members in the AAU. While that statement is no longer true, Nebraska was an AAU member when they were admitted to the Big Ten and there was controversy surrounding their ouster.

As for other conferences, the Pac 12 has eight of its members in the AAU while the ACC has six. (Syracuse also was a longtime member before voluntarily withdrawing). On the other hand, the SEC has only four (Florida, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt) and the Big 12 has only three (Iowa State, Kansas, and Texas).

Any move that strengthens the Big 12 and SEC and weakens the ACC and Big Ten is a slap in the face of academics.

So in response to the Big 12 and SEC, I propose what I call the AAU Conference. The conference consists of only current and former AAU members (if Syracuse and Nebraska were AAU members for decades, it's good enough for me).

This conference strives to be great in athletics while showing academics still matter.

My conference will have 32 members divided into four somewhat geographically friendly divisions.

East: Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Virginia

North: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin

South: Florida, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, Texas A&M

West: Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington

Northwestern and Vanderbilt were not included because they are terrible in athletics. Northwestern has never made the NCAA Basketball Tournament and has won only one football bowl game in their history. I also wanted to keep it mostly public although there is no way I can keep schools like Duke, USC, and Stanford out without their rivals objecting. We have to have some athletic standards for this conference or we'd have to take Brandeis University (I don't even know what state they are in).

In addition, Iowa State seems unnecessary since Iowa is already included (why would Iowa need two schools in the conference when Iowa is in the bottom half of the states by population in the country?)

The West is the Pac-12 trimmed down to eight, leaving Washington State and Oregon State behind. WSU and OSU are two of the worst academic and athletic schools in the Pac-12 and I don't think the California schools will miss them one bit.

The majority of the Big Ten is in the North with Penn State moved to the East (where they fit better geographically), the schools west of the Mississippi moved to the South, and Northwestern eliminated.

The East contains six ACC members along with Penn State and Rutgers. The Northeast is well represented with Penn State, Pitt, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Maryland.

The South contains most of the SEC/Big 12 members. It reunites five current and former Big 12 members including most importantly Texas and Texas A&M (the Border War would also be back on). Florida and Georgia Tech seem a little out of place with six other members west of the Mississippi and in the Central Time Zone but they have to go somewhere.

The conference is also a winner demographically. It reaches most if not all of the largest states by population and leaves most of the boon dock states/towns that no one outside of the sports world cares about (Auburn, Clemson, both Mississippi schools, Oregon State, Wazzou, etc.) behind.

Teams would play round robin in football and double round robin in basketball. They will be encouraged to play other AAU Conference members in non conference play. In basketball, the East and North can continue their "Big Ten vs. ACC" challenge with many of the dead weights gone. Since teams would only play 14 divisional games, maybe each of the teams can play two "challenge" games, one home and one away.

The AAU can then have its four football divisional winners face off in their own four team playoffs. One idea would be to permanently have the North and West champions play in the semifinals (and have it in the Rose Bowl).

In basketball, I say let everyone make the tournament. I can see the first round matchups now: Duke vs. Nebraska, Kansas vs. Penn State, Michigan State vs. Rutgers (I will assume two divisional teams won't meet in the first round).

Admittedly this conference is lacking many of the top football teams but consider that the conference will contain six of the eight teams that won national championships in men's basketball since 2000.

I would say that schools should not be booted from the AAU Conference if they are voted out of the AAU but if a Connecticut, Kentucky, Alabama, or some other strong athletic program make it into the AAU, they should be considered to be added to the AAU Conference.

I have a feeling most of the Big Ten and Pac-12 AAU schools will easily agree to this. For the Pac-12, this is the chance to shed its academic, athletic, and demographic dead weight (who cares about Pullman or Corvallis?). Should the ACC lose Florida State, the ACC's AAU schools will jump at the chance to join.

The biggest challenge will be convincing Florida, Texas, and Texas A&M to join as this conference as the conference would lose much credibility without the states of Florida and Texas represented. Also, imagine the SEC and Big 12 without the University of Florida or either of the top two Florida schools. At least that would finally get Florida State in the SEC. 

I would think Florida and Texas fit better with these schools as opposed to the Mississippi schools. Texas was involved in serious discussions with the Pac-12. If they wanted to get out of the Big 12, wouldn't the SEC have been more geographically convenient?

It would be ideal if the real AAU would threaten to boot these schools out of the AAU if they don't join the AAU Conference, but that won't happen.

Should the SEC and Big 12 schools refuse, you can still have a 27 school, three division alignment.

East: Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Virginia

Central: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin

West: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nebraska, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington

Nebraska would be the big loser here but someone has to join the Western schools and Nebraska is far and away the most western school remaining. Besides, Los Angeles and the Bay Area aren't that much farther away than Penn State, Ohio State, and the Michigan schools.

On the other hand, Georgia Tech and Iowa would probably love this alignment more than the 32 team one as they can be with their current conference rivals.

I am an Easterner and a Northerner. I graduated from two Big Ten schools. I would like for the Northeast to be relevant in college sports. 

I do not want the college sports world run by the South or where Mississippi schools look down upon Penn State and Illinois (or North Carolina and Maryland). I do not want the capital of college sports to be some school who can't even get the color of their uniforms right (auburn is a shade of red!) I don't want Baylor to be rewarded for politically forcing themselves in the Big 12 where they clearly didn't belong.

So I urge Florida State to stay where it belongs, the ACC. I'd rather travel to Boston, DC, and Raleigh/Durham than Stillwater, Ames, and Waco. Remember that all of your other teams will have to travel to these places too if you leave.

 Let's keep the ACC relevant and keep the "college" in college basketball and football.

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