Conference expansion and realignment is something which happens in the world of college football every ten years or thereabouts. Unless you have been living under a rock for the last couple of months, you are no doubt aware that the issue of conference realignment is about to come front and center once again, in a big bad ugly way.
Some of you out there may be hopelessly confused trying to keep track of all the changes and realignments that have swept across the college football landscape over the last couple of decades. And it is a daunting task, to be sure. So as a public service, your ever-faithful Jono and the staff here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion have done some research (Believe it or not, that actually happens around here from time to time. Who knew?) and put together this guide to help you keep track of how the college football landscape has changed over the last couple of decades, and how it may change in the next year or thereabouts.
–1992 Arkansas defected from the Southwest Conference to the SEC. The SWC was reeling at the time; they had had at least one school on probation going all the way back to the late 1970s. And don’t forget that SMU got the death penalty in 1986 and shut its program down completely for the 1987 and 1988 seasons. Thus the SWC was extremely vulnerable, and this defection set off a chain reaction that led ultimately to their dissolution by 1996.
Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor joined the Big 8, which became the Big 12. (Interestingly enough, the Big 12 considers itself a completely and totally new thing and does not claim any of the Big 8’s history.)
Rice, SMU, and TCU joined the WAC. Nevada, Tulsa, and San Jose State joined the WAC at the same time; this pushed its membership to 16 teams. Eight of those teams would later defect to form their own conference, the Mountain West. Since then, the WAC added Nevada-Reno, Boise State, and Louisiana Tech. TCU defected to Conference USA and then to the Mountain West.
Arkansas, as previously mentioned, joined the SEC. The SEC had been courting Florida State as well; Florida State turned them down and joined the ACC. This pushed the ACC to 9 teams. (An aside: I am still unclear as to Florida State’s reasons for this. Some say that Florida State was reluctant to join the SEC because they perceived the SEC as nothing more than a bunch of football schools, and when Arkansas joined that pushed Florida State over the edge and to the point of wanting nothing more to do with the SEC. Others say that Florida State joined the ACC because they knew they would have a lock on the ACC championship, and thus prime position to compete for the national championship, for at least the next decade.) At any rate, the SEC then invited South Carolina. That brought them to 12 teams, which paved the way for divisional play and a conference championship.
That left Houston out in the cold. In 1996 Houston joined up with a bunch of mid-majors from around the southeast and midwest to form Conference USA.
–2002 The ACC decided that they wanted to have divisional play and a conference championship. But in order to get there, they needed to expand to 12 teams. To accomplish this, they raided the Big East and got Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College.
This touched off another massive round of realignment. The Big East raided Conference USA to replenish its ranks. They brought in Louisville, Cincinnati, and South Florida, and drop-kicked Temple. Temple would later join the Mid-America Conference. Conference USA got Central Florida and Marshall from the Mid-America Conference, and Rice, SMU, Tulsa, and UTEP from the WAC. The WAC, in turn, raided the Sun Belt and got New Mexico State, Idaho, and Utah State. The Sun Belt responded by adding Troy State, Florida Atlantic, and Florida International when they moved up from Division 1-AA.
–2010 There are now rumblings that the Big 10 is about to expand to anywhere between 12 and 16 teams. All of this is speculation, so nothing is known for certain at this point. But it is widely believed that the Big 10 is intending to invite Notre Dame and Missouri, and possibly Nebraska and Rutgers.
If the Big 10 expands to 16 teams, they would become the mother of all revenue-generating monsters. The SEC would not sit idly by and let this happen. They would respond by expanding as well, most likely with a view to solidifying their footprint here in the Southeast. They would accomplish this by possibly inviting Texas, Florida State, and Georgia Tech. Texas A&M and Clemson have also been mentioned as possibilities.
The ACC would probably respond by raiding the Big East to replenish their numbers. This would probably put the Big East out of business–as a football conference, at least. More than likely, Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s, and all the other Catholic basketball powers would form their own basketball-only conference, and all the other football schools that don’t get snapped up by the ACC or Big 10 would be left out in the cold.
As for the Big 12, they would probably respond by raiding the WAC and the Mountain West. The Pac-10 is also looking to expand so that they can have divisions and a conference championship. So is the Mountain West, supposedly.
Also, note that the Big 12 is slightly vulnerable right now. This is because they have a different revenue-sharing mechanism than the SEC and other conferences. Rather than sharing all the revenue equally, they divide it into two separate pools. Half of the revenue is shared equally. The other half goes into what is called an “appearance pool”. Teams are paid out of this “appearance pool” based on how many times they appear on TV. This arrangement tilts heavily in favor of the schools that are on TV all the time, such as Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. All the other schools in the Big 12 get very short shrift under this arrangement. Thus, don’t be surprised if Missouri, Texas A&M, or any of the other middle-of-the-road Big 12 schools want out.
It will be VERY interesting to see how all this plays out. Stay tuned.