The Future of College Football Conferences
The college football landscape teeters on the verge of a major shakeup. If, in the wake of Texas A&M's departure, Texas and Oklahoma make a move, the resulting chain reaction will shake up the current conferences, resulting in substantial movement and the dissolution of at least two conferences.
While this could prove, like last year, to be a tempest in a teapot, superconferences are on their way—if not this year, some time very soon.
Here's how it will play out.
The PAC 16
I've seen and heard predictions that Boise State will go to the PAC-16 but, while that move delivers a solid football program, adding a team from Idaho doesn't do much to expand the PAC's media market. Poor Colorado will spend a few seasons enduring taunts of "Thought you could run away from us, huh?" as the Texas and Oklahoma teams grind them into the turf.
The SEC is not Missouri's first choice, but while the Big "10" wastes time on another futile courtship of Notre Dame, the SEC swoops in and grabs the St. Louis television market. Virginia Tech beefs up the East division while giving the league stronger inroads into Virginia. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt keeps its head down and hopes no one notices it's still in the room.
The Atlantic 16
Either the ACC or the Big East is going down, and it could go either way. If Notre Dame shocks the world and moves into the Big East, Boston College likely jumps ship and the Big East takes the upper hand, holds onto TCU, makes a play for the service academies and perhaps even snatches up Kansas and Kansas State.
In that scenario, the ACC could poach from Conference USA and maybe live to fight another day. The prediction here is that the Big "10" snags a couple of Big East members, and South Florida and West Virginia, aware of the attention that has been given to the Big East's on-field performance and its lack of BCS-worthiness, will be more than happy to fill the slots in the ACC vacated by FSU and Virginia Tech. With its conference falling apart, TCU heads back west and the remaining teams combine with the ACC to form a 16-team conference aligned geographically.
The Big "Ten"
When Notre Dame once again turns it down for a prom date, and Missouri gives up on true love and is seduced by the SEC's fancy sports-car-and-big-spending ways, the Big 10 will act fast. It will grab the Kansas teams, Pittsburgh as a favor to Penn State, and one more Big East team. Heaven only knows how it will organize and name its new divisions.
The Big 16
San Diego State
The predicted breakup of the Big 12 might be the impetus of the college football shakeup but, once the dust settles, it will still exist as a conference due to the simple fact that the Big 12 is an automatic qualifier. Even if, as I predict, everyone cuts and runs, leaving Baylor and Iowa State manning the fort, the Big 12 still exists and still has a BCS bid.
The Mountain West teams are hungry for automatic qualifier status, and any who receive an invite will jump at the chance to join the Big 12, which will make a quick move to expand to 16 and cement its membership. Boise State, BYU and TCU give the conference some legitimacy, and membership is filled out with the "best" of the Mountain West and Conference USA. Hawaii is certainly a stronger team than several of the above, but I'm predicting travel costs and the potential for better regional rivalries will lead the Big 16 to look elsewhere.
Also, it's entirely possible that the Kansas teams will stay put, in which case the Big 10 snags two eastern teams and the service academies join the coastal conference in whatever form it takes.
Hawaii will go independent for football, but will join the remainder of the Mountain West and WAC for all other sports.
On the Outside Looking in
ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN
The MAC—This conference has some good teams, but none of them have sufficient appeal to merit inclusion in one of the new mega-conferences. The MAC might pick up a few stragglers or rising FCS teams, but won't see a major change in membership or status.
CONFERENCE USA, MOUNTAIN WEST, WAC, SUN BELT—The Sun Belt dissolves. Its easternmost teams join the members of Conference USA's current East Division to form a new C-USA. The remaining teams will join forces to form one or two new conferences out west, depending on how many FCS schools move up. None of the new conferences will be given serious automatic qualifier consideration.
Championship and Bowl Games
The top two teams, as determined by a ranking system similar to the current one, will compete in the championship game. Instead of the current BCS arrangement, the champion of each super conference will be tied to a particular bowl game. (A bowl that loses its conference champion to the championship game will get its pick of hosts from its designated conference.) Notre Dame will, of course, be part of the arrangement, and the Rose Bowl will continue to demand, and receive, special treatment. This will anger the Cotton Bowl, which hoped to be the Big 16's designated game.
Non-AQ schools and other independents will technically be eligible for the championship game or an at-large bid, but won't be given serious consideration.
Sugar Bowl- SEC
Orange Bowl- Atlantic 16
Rose Bowl- PAC 16 and Big "Ten"
Fiesta Bowl- Big 16
That's my post-alignment scenario. What's yours?