ESPN's Mark Schlabach wrote an article on what the next decade holds for college football titled "What does the next decade hold?" that has inspired me to attempt to my own prediction piece on the near future of the FBS.
Schlabach's article was a framing piece tying together other articles written by other ESPN bloggers on the ACC , Big 12 , Big East , Big Ten , Pac-10 , SEC, and the non-automatic qualifier FBS conferences .
I thought several points in each of the articles were well thought out and logical, but I disagreed with the direction the initial tumbler (the Big Ten to 12 members) would go, which would then leave the next conference down the pecking order in an entirely different situation, which would lead to an entirely different expansion solution.
Any speculative article like this one or those ones make a series of assumptions based on the conditions facing conferences at those moments. For my part, this piece is written with the idea that the Big Ten adding a 12th member will be the big tumbler that affects conference movement down the line.
I have tried to keep most of my 25 predictions here short and punchy, but I will probably write additional pieces that support my logic path as to why some of these things will occur like "Why Rutgers will be the 12th school in the Big Ten and not Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Syracuse, or Missouri." Check back as I will link these supporting articles into this story in the next week.
There were several losers and winners when the BCS was implemented and there have been many more each times conferences shift. I may predict some schools and conferences will likely lose out due to the likely conditions they will face and their school's and conference's historical behavioral patterns and values, but that doesn't mean I am hoping for a conference or a school to fall on its face.
Additionally, several things that I think would be likely if the Big 10 doesn't expand—the MWC making it into the ranks of the BCS automatic qualifier conferences, UNT making it into C-USA, etc.—seem likely to go down in flames if the Big Ten adds Rutgers.
I have broken the 25 predictions into two lists: 10 predictions for automatic qualifying BCS conferences by 2020 and 15 predictions for non-Automatic Qualifying BCS conferences by 2020.
10 predictions for automatic qualifying BCS conferences by 2020
10. By 2012, the Big Ten will add Rutgers as their 12th team (becoming the Big Dozen?...OK I have no idea what they will call the thing. Maybe they'll buy the 'Big 12" name) to have an eastern anchor in the New York City DMA, the largest media market in America. By 2020, the former Big Ten will have the most lucrative TV deals in the nation, outpacing the SEC.
9. As part of an arrangement with the Big Ten, the Pac-10 will expand to 12 (becoming the Pacific Dozen) adding the best collection of markets they can land in the Mountain West time zone. Utah and Colorado will be the 11th and 12th members of the Conference.
8. In an arrangement that will draw fire from the BCS "have nots" like the ACC and Big XII, the former Big 10 will allow the former Pac-10 to earn some revenue by providing late-night, live game content on their network. This arrangement, along with explosive growth in California, will keep the Pac-10 among the "haves" in college football.
7. There will be a general trend towards an end of divisions in the automatic qualifier conferences . The former Big Ten and former Pac-10 will start this trend by having every member play each other. (Thank you for the very compelling idea, Eddie Dzurilla.) The ACC will quickly follow suit. The Big 12 and SEC initially will pass on the idea, but by 2020, the SEC will also play a full conference schedule. A 1/12th share of a championship game will not outweigh the net positive of keeping game payouts within conference.
6. Penn State will have three head coaches in the next decade. Joe Paterno will be out by 2011. Penn State alumni and current offensive coordinator Galen Hall will take over as an interim coach and will do so well he will be named head coach. Penn State will win a national title under Hall, and then Hall will step down sometime before 2017.
5. The Big 12 will expand to 14, adding BYU, Colorado State, and New Mexico, killing the Mountain West Conference . CSU will be added to the North to replace Colorado as the conference's presence in the Denver DMA. BYU will be added to the north and UNM to the south to expand the conference's media dominance into the Mountain West time zone. This will drop the MWC below six members, killing their automatic basketball bid and preventing them from adding replacement schools like Boise State, Houston, SMU, or Tulsa in pursuit of an automatic BCS Bid. UT, A&M, and OU will quietly seethe when they look at the TV revenue that the former Big 10, former Pac-10, and the SEC pull in. The Big 14 will be primed to be the big tumbler, triggering conference restructuring in the next decade.
4. The next decade will open with a lot of coaching turnover in the Big 12, most of it being intra-conference hires. Mack Brown will retire from college football to be replaced by Will Muschamp at UT, Mike Sherman will be given the boot at A&M, who will start a landslide of coaching changes by hiring away Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville. Tech will in turn hire Baylor Coach Art Briles. After a long search, Baylor will eventually hire UNT head Coach Todd Dodge. Bo Pelini will leave Nebraska for greener pastures and will be replaced by Kansas's coach, former Nebraska QB, Turner Gill. Muschamp's and Gill's success in recruiting combined with Bob Stoops' failures in big games will lead to a falloff in recruiting that in turn will lead OU boosters to run off Stoops to the former Big Ten, replacing him with former OU QB Josh Heupel based on the idea that the younger Heupel would be better able to relate to younger recruits.
3. A restoration of the ACC powers. Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer will retire, opening the door for Miami and Florida State to return to prominence. They will finishing in the top 10 at least six times each in the next decade and will win two national titles. Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and North Carolina State will take turns as semi-regular top 25 teams. The ACC will grow into its 12 team status, even though it will be considered one of the least challenging automatic qualifier conferences.
2. Big East unity will splinter under a series of power struggle following the loss of Rutgers to the Big 10. Ultimately, that particular loss will allow the basketball schools to be able to dictate terms, and the Big East will add Memphis, a school that does little for Big East Football, as their replacement 16th member.
1. The BCS automatic qualifier criteria will be adjusted to be weighed differently for the 2010-2013 evaluation period. This will be done to force the Big East out of the ranks of the automatic qualifier conferences in 2014. The Big East will play their way into the BCS a couple of times in the following six years but won't dominate the other non-automatic qualifier conferences in that regard.
15 predictions for non-Automatic Qualifying BCS conferences by 2020
15. Conference USA will expand to 14 teams and earn two berths into the BCS as a non-automatic qualifier conference. With the loss of Memphis, the Texas block will have control of the vote in Conference USA. They will bring back in TCU to get to 12 and then concede to add two eastern teams to allow the seven member Texas block to play each other in division play. Louisiana Tech and Charlotte will be teams 13 and 14.
14. Marshall will continue to struggle as a small athletic budget, distant conference outlier. Look for the team to be a regular eastern-division cellar dweller from 2014-2020. Look for the threat of Marshall leaving the conference or even dropping football to ignite talks of a CUSA schism in the second half of the decade.
13. The Western Athletic Conference will have a new golden age as former Mountain West Conference media anchors return. Air Force, Wyoming, UNLV, and San Diego State will rejoin the WAC, creating an actual stable conference with reasonable expectations and decent media markets and reasonable travel partners. The WAC will be able to go to divisional scheduling to shave off some travel costs.
12. Boise State's run of WAC dominance will come to an end. The emergence of Idaho and the resurgence of Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State will quickly chip away at Boise's recruiting edge—eliminating the Broncos' great depth, taking away their ability to hold on to leads and dominate the second half of games vs. western opponents. They will fall out of the top 15 by 2013 and won't make it back for the rest of the decade.
11. San Diego State, Fresno State, Idaho, Utah State, and Hawaii will be the strongest teams in the WAC from 2015-2020. Look for the WAC to ride split division scheduling to earn BCS Bowl slots four times in the next decade.
10. Boise's Kibbie Dome will be expanded to seat 25-30,000 by the end of the decade. It will be considered the best home field advantage in the WAC and the loudest stadium in the conference.
9. By 2020, FCS schools Montana, Montana State, UC Davis, Weber State, and Sacramento State will all be actively seeking WAC membership. FCS football will die a miserable, lingering death in the next decade, and schools like the above, as well as UMass and most of the CAA, will curse the fact they didn't start taking action when schools like Hofstra and Northwestern shut down their programs. Their window of opportunity will be closing.
8. Bristling under a loss of control and TCU football dominance, Charlotte, ECU, Marshall, UCF, UAB, and Mississippi State will break away from the western CUSA schools by 2020 to form their own conference. They will add Troy, Temple, St. Louis, and Florida International to become a nine-football member/10-basketball member conference. They will be allowed to take the Conference USA name. The Louisiana Tech and the Texas Seven will become the new Southwest Conference.
7. The MAC will not make a BCS bowl in the next decade. Northern Illinois and Toledo will come close however.
6. The MAC will see two of their schools, Eastern Michigan and Kent State, forcibly reclassified to the ranks of the FCS. Both schools will end up becoming full members of the MVC and will become somewhat less unsuccessful at that level.
5. The MAC will raid the Sun Belt for replacement schools to retain their conference title game. Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky will join the MAC.
4. The MAC will continue their comparatively liberal approach to expansion. They will be approached by a number of schools about moving up, and will be on the verge of becoming a 16 member conference by 2020. Youngstown State, Eastern Kentucky, Wayne State, and Grand Valley State will all be approved.
3. Passed over by Conference USA/The SWC for TCU, North Texas will see in 2020 as a member of a gutted Sun Belt Conference. The Sun Belt's refusal to get in front conference movement by pre-emptively expanding will doom the conference, causing it to remain the worst conference at the FBS level (With more competition for fewer body bag games, ULM will not be able to afford to remain at the FBS level and will be back in the FCS or out of football by 2018). UNT, UL Lafayette, Southern Alabama, Arkansas State (stAte), Florida Atlantic, Arkansas-Little Rock will likely be partnered with Florida A&M, Georgia Southern, and Jacksonville State by 2020 in a conference that will still be under siege.
2. A resurgent UNT will win at least two Sun Belt titles in the next 10 years. UNT will have at least eight winning seasons in the next 10, but may not win a Sun Belt title until Troy and Middle Tennessee are poached. Look for Todd Dodge to put together two-to-three winning seasons until Baylor comes for him. UNT AD Rick Villarreal, a Southern Miss Alum, will then hire former Southern Miss coach Jeff Bower. With a cutting edge LEED stadium in hand, a full load of talent inherited from Dodge (a good recruiter), and a Sun Belt that is being poached, Bower will not have much trouble keeping the team over .500 most years.
And finally...I went out on a limb for No. 1 and fleshed it out more than the others. Enjoy.
1. Denied entrance into the Sun Belt, the Southland to FBS trio—Texas State, UTSA, and Lamar—will create their own conference, The "Texas League," known in coaching circles as the "I Hate the Sun Belt Conference." The trio will be joined by Central Arkansas, UT-Arlington, and TAMU-CC. Central Arkansas will be a core member of Division I by 2017 or 2018 if memory serves, and the conference basketball automatic qualifier rules allow a two year cushion, so those six schools could likely break away by 2016 and land an AQ basketball bid.
TAMU-CC and UT-Arlington would go with the four breakaway Southland football schools because they are small budget programs that would be very much regionally isolated by remaining in the Southland. Plus, the money and exposure is generally better being a non-football school in an FBS conference than in an FCS one (especially a football-centric conference like the Southland).
Central Arkansas will start the process to move up to the FBS level and will give the group 4 football playing members. At the turn of the decade the new conference will be well into negotiations to add ULL, NMSU, StAte as football playing members. The multiple exposures to Texas recruits, the lucrative Texas TV markets, and the cheap travel, will lead these three conference outliers to imagine a future as the Boise State or Troy of this new conference.
UNT will also be offered a slot, but might initially pass hoping against logic for a slot in the new SWC. UNT may feel real pressure to join the Texas League or risk further isolation in the region. UT Pan American will be offered a slot only on the premise that they add FBS football. Their consistently underfunded and unorganized athletic program will be scrambling to generate funding for a stadium. Likewise, DII schools TAMU-Kingsville and Central Oklahoma will also be considered as all sports members pending status upgrades. Denver, Houston Baptist, Utah Valley University, and Oral Roberts will be under consideration as non-football members.
So what are your predictions for the next decade? Where have I gotten it wrong? Who is going to move up to the FBS level? Who is going to move down? Will the NCAA forcibly downgrade any schools?
I look forward to your insights.