Conference Expansion: A Look Into The Future Of College Football, Part 1
Let's cut to the chase.
We all know conference expansion in major college football is on the horizon, it is just a matter of when and where the dominoes fall. We all know why the conferences are looking to expand, so no lengthy diatribe on market appeal or academic fit will happen here.
No need to rehash theories. No need to go into detail how things might happen.
Here, today, I am going to tell you how it will all shake out. How your school and your conference will look at the beginning of the 2013 football season.
There will be no moving past the 12-team conference format. It splits the money-pie up more that way, and 12 teams has proven to work. The idea is to make money, not hand it out.
Without further ado, here are your 2013 college football conference lineups. So sit back, relax, grab a cold one, and enjoy the show.
No Change is Good Change
The SEC and ACC stay "as is." They will not gain, nor will they lose any teams.
They chose wisely in previous editions of conference expansion, and now they look like geniuses. Well, the SEC does anyway.
The New Big Ten
The Big Ten will take Rutgers. I saw a reference to Big Ten expansion a year or two ago in which the writer whose article I was reading discussed naming the two new Big Ten Conference divisions after Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes.
I couldn't find the original story to give appropriate credit, but it sounds good to me, so we will call them the "Bo Division" and the "Woody Division."
In the "Bo," we will place Michigan (obviously), Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Rutgers, and Penn State.
In the "Woody," we will place Ohio State (again, obviously), Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern, and Purdue.
The New Pac-10
The Pac-10 needs two teams to achieve the 12-team format that brings about the ability for the championship game, and as everyone has expected, they will bring in Utah and Colorado.
No clever names for the divisions here in Pac-10 land. No, just the tired old "North" and "South" divisions.
In the North we will place Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State, Colorado, and Utah.
In the South we will place Southern Cal, UCLA, Stanford, California, Arizona, and Arizona State.
The New Big 12
The Big 12 will need a replacement for Colorado, and BYU will do the trick. The same North and South Divisions will remain intact, only with BYU moving into Colorado's newly vacated spot in the North.
Simple enough. Lose one market, bring in another.
TCU does not give anything Texas doesn't already give the Big 12, so why not add a market with a passionate fan base that actually draws more than 50,000 fans per game, not to mention will bring the interest of Mormons from around the country to focus on Big 12 football.
Plus, the BYU-Baylor games should be interesting.
The New Big East
At this point, the only BCS conference that would not house 12 teams and a championship game would be the Big East.
You can bet that if the other five BCS conferences have 12 teams and a championship game, they will make it a requirement to fit that mold to remain a BCS conference.
After losing Rutgers to the Big Ten, the Big East football schools will finally see the light and separate from the "basketball-only" schools. They will need to add five teams to get to the newly requisite 12 teams.
I know I said we would not get into market specifics, but I would be remiss if I did not at least make mention of the fact the Big East's biggest asset in the future will be the television markets its geographic footprint will cover, especially after losing several markets by separating from the Catholic basketball schools.
Look for the Big East to bring in Houston, Central Florida, and Memphis from Conference USA; Texas Christian from the Mountain West Conference; and Temple from the Mid-American Conference.
The Big East is adding some crazy television markets with the addition of those five programs, and that will give the conference its best shot at garnering a decent contract from the likes of ESPN/ABC and CBS—which is really what expansion is all about in the first place.
The Big East will have two divisions, and just for creativity we will call them the "Blue Division" and the "Red Division."
Now, immediately thoughts will go to northern schools being in so-called blue states, and southern schools being in so-called red states, and that is a clever way to look at it, but the Big East will caution that the divisional names refer to the conference's two official league logo colors, red and blue.
The Blue Division will consist of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Connecticut, West Virginia, Temple, and Cincinnati.
The Red Division will consist of Louisville, South Florida, Houston, Texas Christian, Memphis, and Central Florida.
The appeal for the Big East to move into Texas will be market share, recruiting, and the overall potential that the schools show.
The appeal for Houston and TCU to move to the Big East will be gaining an automatic bid into the BCS by becoming part of a BCS conference.
No More Mountain West
With the defection of Utah to the Pac-10, BYU to the Big 12, and TCU to the Big East, the appeal and strength of the Mountain West Conference (MWC) will be gone. The remaining schools will make a play to bring in schools like Boise State that had wanted to move to the MWC for several years, but had not been extended an invitation.
Now, with a critically wounded MWC scrambling to regain its footing, the appeal for Boise State and any number of once aspirant WAC teams has vanished.
The Mountain West Conference will limp to its ultimate demise, and the BCS will stand over its carcass applauding as its loudest detractor dies a quick, yet painful, death.
The New WAC
With the weakened MWC gasping for breath, the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) will move swiftly to strengthen its position and ranks. They will take in UNLV, San Diego State, and New Mexico from the MWC.
And, in a welcome move by all parties involved, they will quickly trade Louisiana Tech for UTEP from Conference USA (CUSA).
It will be interesting to see if the new WAC will make a play to take over the MWC's cable channel, The Mountain, once the MWC is completely disbanded.
The new 12-team WAC will have a (surprise, surprise) North Division and a South Division.
The North will house Idaho, Boise State, Utah State, Nevada, San Jose State, and UNLV.
The South will be home to Fresno State, San Diego State, Hawaii, New Mexico, New Mexico State, and UTEP.
UTEP, New Mexico, and New Mexico State will make a great trio of close geographic rivals and will eliminate high travel costs that resulted from periodic trips to visit Louisiana Tech while they were a member of the WAC.
The New Conference USA... Sort Of
Hit hard by defection to the Big East, CUSA will actually rebound quite nicely, bringing in some strong teams some might suggest are better than what they lost.
Claiming the last remaining MWC holdovers, CUSA will bring in Colorado State, Air Force, and Wyoming. As a result of its trade with the WAC, they will also now be home to Louisiana Tech.
The key thing for CUSA will be how its Eastern members respond to the addition of schools farther out west than is ideal for them.
It is likely that there will be an inevitable separation between the Western CUSA schools and the Eastern CUSA schools. Schools from the conference in both parts of the country have been vocal about travel costs, and not having to charter flights halfway across the country for a track meet will be a welcomed change by all schools involved.
The splitting of geographical factions would probably result in CUSA (which is headquartered in Texas) becoming a mid-western based conference, and there is certainly potential for that to occur.
So after the split, the new CUSA would most likely contain Colorado State, Air Force, and Wyoming (from the MWC), Tulsa, SMU, Tulane, and Rice (from CUSA), Louisiana Tech (from the WAC), Arkansas State and North Texas (from the Sun Belt).
By the year 2013, UT-San Antonio and Texas State will become members of FBS football. These two upstart programs would be ideal additions for this new mid-western version of CUSA, and would eventually bring membership to 12 full members.
Bringing those two schools (UTSA and Texas State) into a conference that features some already recognizable and competitive programs such as Colorado State, Tulsa, and a rising power in SMU under June Jones, will only further give credibility to their programs as they continue to grow.
The New Sun Belt
Although there will be some detractors from fan bases of schools that believe their school is too good for membership in the Sun Belt, what they will need to realize is that their school belonging to the Sun Belt raises the profile of the Sun Belt to heights it has previously never been. This will not be the same old Sun Belt your nephew grew up with.
No, this will be a new and improved, stronger even, Sun Belt Conference. This Sun Belt will still feature old Sun Belt members such as Florida International, Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee, Troy, Western Kentucky, Louisiana-Monroe, and Louisiana-Lafayette.
However, it will also now house East Carolina, Marshall, Southern Mississippi, and Alabama-Birmingham from the old CUSA line up. It will also be home to soon-to-be (2013) FBS member, the University of South Alabama, giving the Sun Belt a full 12-team roster and subsequent championship game.
This 12-team conference line up will be far more travel-budget friendly, and will offer the opportunity for new regionally-close programs to develop strong conference rivalries.
Better and more plentiful bowl affiliations will become available to the Sun Belt as a result of its new membership, and regional television packages will become more accessible as a result of schools being in closer proximity to one another, generating more regional fan appeal and demand for games.
The Mid-American conference, aside from losing Temple and the Philadelphia market to the Big East, will remain unchanged.
Army, Navy, and Notre Dame will continue to operate as independent schools, as only they seemingly can.
Although it will initially seem like a bad dream for all the schools that currently make up the FBS level of athletics—as well as those that are in the process of moving up from FCS to FBS—after the dust settles and the smoke clears, if things come to pass as I have heretofore suggested in this article, all FBS schools will be better off than they were before realignment.
Hard to imagine that being the case, but we will have to wait and see.
FCS and Its Future Among FBS Giants
As for the schools moving up from FCS football to FBS football, once the NCAA imposed moratorium on schools moving up in athletic classification comes to an end in August 2011, we may see even more changes—and maybe even a new FBS conference formed.
Rumors are rampant that there could be as many as 20 schools moving up to FBS football by the 2020 season.
In Part 2 of "Conference Expansion: A Look Into The Future Of College Football," I will address the FCS level schools looking to make a move, and discuss whether it actually makes sense for a school to pursue a step up in the level of competition they face on the field.
One thing is for certain, what you see today in the college football world is not what you are going to see in the future.
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