Conference Realignment: The Future Look of College Football
After five years of relative stability following the ACC Expansion of Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College, 2010 looked to hold a massive exodus of several college teams from their respective conferences. Many predicted that by the end of the summer, there would be 16-team super conferences consisting of all the major college football programs.
While there was significant change, the overwhelming change that many expected did not happen after last minute back room meeting saved the Big 12 from extinction.
Was 2010 the end or just the first cracks in the coming change of the college football landscape?
Rumors continue, athletic directors refuse comments, conference commissioners say nothing... but in all that is not said, there is no topic more discussed than the possibilities of conference realignment in college football.
Most will agree that something big will happen, but who will go where? Let us look at some of the possibilities.
It all starts and ends with the SEC.
The ACC and Big East will be subject to the SEC's presence in the east; the Big XII and the Pac-12 will be left waiting to see how far west the the SEC is willing to come.
What will they do?
Many stories suggest that the conference wants a piece of the Texas market and that Texas A&M is the most likely target in that respect. TCU was recently available, but settled in the Big East starting in 2012.
If the Aggies came on board, a second addition would be needed to keep the divisions even. The ACC would be the most likely to be targeted for team No. 14.
Not all ACC teams fit the SEC mold.
Only Clemson, Florida State and Miami have stadiums that seat 70,000-plus with enough football tradition to be a good fit. Virginia Tech could also be a SEC type team, but may be too far north to fit in a traditional SEC footprint.
Clemson already has natural rivalries with South Carolina and Georgia and recently has played some exciting games with Auburn. Some doubt, however, that Clemson would make the move due to "academic" guidelines pushed by the university leadership.
What if the SEC expands to 16 teams?
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would give the SEC more of a presence in the Midwest but would come as a package deal and will most likely not agree to any deal that separates them.
Most likely scenario:
Team No. 13 - Texas A&M
Team No. 14 - Clemson
Team No. 15 - Oklahoma
Team No. 16 - Oklahoma St.
Other possibilities: Florida State, Virginia Tech, Miami
Likely New Conference Divisions:
SEC- East SEC-West
S. Carolina Oklahoma St.
Tennessee Ole Miss
Kentucky Texas A&M
Vanderbilt Miss. St
If the SEC wanted to really shake things up, they could do a "North/South" format and completely change the divisions.
The ACC has seemed to be merely watching the current round of expansion after dominating the headlines in 2003-2005 with the additions of Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech from the Big East. The leadership have been quoted as saying they are happy with the 12 team setup and have no plans to expand further at this time.
If the ACC loses Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech or Miami, it will have a few decent choices to choose from to restore themselves to championship game status.
If the worst happened and the ACC lost all four of the above teams, the most likely teams to be chosen to fill the open spots would be:
Team No. 9: West Virginia
Team No. 10: Syracuse
Team No. 11: South Florida
Team No. 12: Pittsburgh
Other possibilities: East Carolina, Central Florida
Catching a theme here? The ACC has the edge on the Big East for teams looking for something better but who are not good enough or are too far north for the SEC.
If event of catastrophic defections, the ACC and Big East could merge creating a mid-level football conference but a powerhouse basketball conference.
If the ACC once again raids the Big East, the conference will be reeling.
After landing Texas Christian for the 2012 season, a string of defections would be devastating and would leave its status as a BCS conference in serious jeopardy.
The conference would have to look to the Conference USA and to other smaller conferences to fill the void and would likely end up with a weak football conference dominated by TCU.
Possible additions: Too numerous to name.
The Big East will likely get many interested schools due to its BCS status.
The 10-team Big 12 (Don't even get me started on conferences names) barely survived the 2010 round of expansion after losing Nebraska and Colorado.
In a questionable move, the leadership decided not to invite any teams to restore itself to 12 teams and keep its championship game.
If the SEC were to take Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, the conference would have only seven teams remaining and few choices to restore its credibilty.
Arkansas: would restore Southwest Conference ties but very unlikely due to the revenue of the SEC
TCU: If the Big East is robbed of BCS status, the Horned Frogs would be on the market
The Texas Longhorns machine has also grown so large that Texas could split off and go independent. If this happens, the Big 12 is doomed.
The 12 team Big Ten (there go the conference names again) was one of the big winners in the expansion of 2010, adding Nebraska to give the conference eligibility for a championship game.
The most common knowledge in all of college football is that the Big Ten would do anything to add Notre Dame.
Notre Dame, for better or worse, has clung to its independent status but if it ever did join a conference, the Big Ten is the most likely benefactor, but would likely need to add another team to prevent division imbalance.
Likely team No. 16: Pittsburgh
If Pitt is not involved in the ACC by this time, it would be a natural fit for the Big Ten.
The Pac-12 was also a big winner in the 2010 expansion game.
Adding Colorado and Utah, the West Coast conference will also soon host its first championship game.
If the Big 12 disbands, any of the unclaimed teams may get calls from the Pac-12.
The top four on the wishlist would be:
Team No. 13: Texas
Team No. 14: Oklahoma
Team No. 15: Oklahoma St.
Team No. 16: Boise St.
If this happens, the conference would have a huge geographical footprint, which would be excellent for exposure but difficult on logistics.
If some of these colossal conference shifts happen, the smaller conference will share the biggest blow. The top teams in each will most likely be poached by better conferences, leaving league commissioners scrambling to maintain viability.
Many of these smaller conferences will fall, while some will capitalize and could perhaps even join the BCS if the Big 12 or Big East disbands or merges.
If any of these colossal shifts in college football take place, it will give the sport a very different feel. Some rivalries will die, others will be renewed. Some teams will flourish, others will move from conference contender to cellar dweller.
In either case, the world of college football is on edge waiting for the first domino to fall.
Who will make the first move and who will be left watching from the sidelines?