College Football Conference Realignment

Updated Nov 28, 2012 (Louisville to ACC, New 4 Conf Scenario)

I have long been more interested in NCAA sports conference realignment than with NCAA sports, though when younger I followed hoops and some college football. With the B1G 10 admitting Maryland and Rutgers, this stuff just got personal. I grew up a Maryland fan, and as such, an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) superioritarian. That is, if the Terps did not win the Conference, it was just because the ACC competition was superior. This of course really only applied in basketball. I taste the bitterness of Maryland with Albert King and Buck Williams facing off against Ralph Sampson, Jr. (not III) of Virginia, or Duke.

Now Maryland has been raptured into the B1G 10 Conference, so as a Minnesotan I might actually see them more often, but it is wrong somehow.

It is not especially wrong from a geographic perspective. The distance from Nebraska to Rutgers is 1292 miles. The driving distance from Boston to Miami is 1505 miles, so the ACC is not more compact than the Big 10, though this move makes the Big 10 less compact, and increases the moment of inertia of the ACC. But the issue is more than miles, it is also time zones. Until the Notre Dame addition, all members of the ACC were in states that were entirely Eastern Time Zone. The Big 10 was split between Eastern and Central time zones. With the late addition of Nebraska, they now contain a state in the Mountain Time Zone. Of course from television product, and start times, having a multiple timezone spanning conference could be profitable, since it staggers the games.

It is wrong from an historical perspective. The Big 10 was the Western Conference (in contrast with the Ivy League’s Eastern Conference). But now it is East (in terms of Rutgers) from several Ivies (Penn, Princeton, Cornell).

As has been widely noted, it is wrong mathematically (the Big 10 has 14 members, the Big 12 has 10 members).

It is wrong from a tradition-preservation perspective. Even if the Maryland-Virginia football game is not as bitter-fought as the Georgia-Georgia Tech game, the Terps against Duke in basketball was notable. While realignment is not new (Where is the University of Chicago now? Just a husk of its former self now that it no longer competes in the Big 10, an unimportant school of little import.), it ought not be encouraged if you want to preserve my youth and allow me to relive it for a few weekends every Fall.

Everyone says televised football is the driver here, and no one cares about televised college basketball, but I don’t think that’s true, not in the northeast, where college football sucks and college basketball does not.

Most importantly it is wrong, or at best short-sighted, from a long-term economic perspective.

Everyone seems to believe that the current model of Cable TV channels paying big bucks to conferences, which depends on the current model of Cable TV surviving, will sustain. What happens with Internet Television, a la carte programming, etc. Will ESPN (as a live programming “channel”) even be around in 15 years? This feels a lot like when the Dodgers and Giants left New York to go to California for Pay Television, among other reasons, in the 1950s (Pay Television wasn’t viable until the late 1970s). Having a “channel” in a “market” makes little sense in a world where anyone can watch anything live (for a fee or for commercials).

Who should be concerned about whether the Big 10 Network will be carried in a particular state or metro area? Anyone will access the programs from anywhere. There needs to be some gatekeeper for funding the coverage, but that can be done without TV networks, and that will change the economics enormously, which makes worrying about these networks at best transient.

There is no stability here. This is what “Gales of Creative Destruction” are all about.

The most stability you could achieve is if the teams in a conference are all roughly equal, so no one is free-riding off the others, and no one is feeling like they are supporting the others. But that assumes that a club of 9, 10, 12, 14, or 16 schools can somehow maintain that level of no cross-subsidies for an extended period. The number of colleges may be roughly fixed (and this of course assumes colleges and universities are stable in a decade or two, and that is doubtful too), the number of permutations and combinations of those colleges is enormous.

Carriage of the Big 10 Television Network (BTN) on the right tier of local cable systems, which is supposedly the source of the push behind the eastward thrust of the Big 10 will soon seem as irrelevant as Betamax vs VHS. Carriage is not going to be a scarce commodity in 10 years, much less the 20 or 40 years conferences should care about (since that is the timeframe when Alumni of my age might think about donating to their alma mater, and tradition breaking does not make one fonder).

Not only is television changing, it is highly likely sports will change. Football is not likely to be with us in its current format in a few decades.

Nothing is permanent, everything changes. The past is gone. Get over it.

I previously fixed the college football playoff system. I still believe this is close to the end state once college football moves from a 4 team to an 8 team playoff (though apparently the Sugar Bowl will get dibs instead of the Orange Bowl for the Semi-Finals). This is why there 6 bowls in the current arrangement, 4 for quarter-finals, 2 for semi-finals, and then 1 for the finals, which will be new.

Below are my schemas for what used to be called Division I conferences (and now FBS) assuming irreversibility (Humpty Dumpty will not be reassembled) and the crack-up of the Big East (the BB schools expel the remaining football schools and build a new elite BB conference) and the WAC. (With all thanks to Matt Peloquin and his website for background.) That is, this is the best that can be done assuming 5 major conferences. If we go to 4, see below, assuming we pass through the 5 conference scenario first. While these are not the conferences I want, I think this maximizes stability going forward, across the dimensions of historical stability, geographic sanity, and approximate similarity in quality of football play.

Comments on the 5 conference scenario. This is roughly where we are, with UCONN Louisville going to the ACC, the Big 12 going to 14 with Cincinnati, Air Force, Boise State, and BYU (perhaps football only), and the Pac 12 adding Hawaii and UNLV, the next best Western state schools. I know the Pac 12 would consider raiding the Big XII (for OK, TX, TT, OSU, or Kansas), but I think that is not worth doing in the end, for all the reasons it failed last time. I also assume CUSA and the Mountain West have a friendly realignment, perhaps going to a 2 game playoff sequence. The MAC gets overly large picking up the rest of the Big East football teams and the academies.

Comments on the 4 conference scenario. This is roughly 16×4+2 that would make nice symmetry. Here the ACC cracks up. (The alternative is the Big XII cracks, but given current money flows, it looks like the ACC will break first). I just think there are at least 66 schools in the system that will need to be in the majors for a playoff system. One could promote some of the other MINORS schools (maybe from the ACC or Big East), but none of them are strong enough to force their way in for football (the best are Syracuse, Pitt, or Connecticut, but they are weaker than the weakest team in the MAJORS except for Vanderbilt, Baylor, or Northwestern, which all already in). The Big 10 goes for east coast markets with TV carriage and for elite land grant schools (NC, UVA, GT). The Big 12 goes for second schools in SEC states, + Notre Dame. The Pac-16 bites the bullet and admits Boise State and BYU. The SEC picks up the rest of the ACC football schools (second tier state land grants, NC State and Virginia Tech) in states they don’t already have schools.

The champions of the 4 conferences, plus 4 top-ranked wild cards will be in the playoffs. Big 10 will align with Fox, Big 12 with NBC, SEC with CBS, and PAC 12 with ABC/ESPN for a few years before football is abolished and the networks disemboweled.

5 Conference Scenario

MAJORS
ACC BIG 10 BIG 12 PAC 12 SEC
Clemson ACC Illinois Big Ten Baylor Big XII Arizona PAC 10 Alabama SEC
Duke ACC Indiana Big Ten Iowa State Big XII Arizona State PAC 10 Arkansas SEC
Florida State ACC Iowa Big Ten Kansas Big XII California PAC 10 Auburn SEC
Georgia Tech ACC Michigan Big Ten Kansas State Big XII Oregon PAC 10 Florida SEC
NC State ACC Michigan State Big Ten Oklahoma Big XII Oregon St PAC 10 Georgia SEC
North Carolina ACC Minnesota Big Ten Oklahoma St. Big XII Stanford PAC 10 Kentucky SEC
Virginia ACC Northwestern Big Ten Texas Tech Big XII UCLA PAC 10 LSU SEC
Wake Forest ACC Ohio State Big Ten Texas Big XII USC PAC 10 Mississippi SEC
Virginia Tech ACC Penn State Big Ten West Virginia Big East Washington PAC 10 Mississippi St. SEC
Miami ACC Purdue Big Ten TCU MWC Washington St PAC 10 South Carolina SEC
Boston College ACC Wisconsin Big Ten Cincinnati Big East Utah MWC Tennessee SEC
Syracuse Big East Nebraska Big XII Air Force MWC Colorado Big XII Vanderbilt SEC
Pittsburgh Big East Maryland ACC Boise State Big East Hawaii WAC Texas A&M Big XII
Notre Dame Ind Rutgers Big East BYU MWC UNLV MWC Missouri Big XII
Louisville Big East
MINORS
BIG EAST FOOTBALL MAC CONFERENCE USA MOUNTAIN WEST Sunbelt
No more Akron MAC Central Florida Big East Air Force MWC Georgia State Sunbelt
Ball State MAC Charlotte Colorado St MWC Florida Atlantic Sunbelt
Bowling Green MAC East Carolina CUSA Fresno State WAC Arkansas State Sunbelt
Buffalo MAC Louisiana Tech WAC Nevada WAC Louisiana Lafayette Sunbelt
Central Michigan MAC Marshall CUSA New Mexico MWC Troy Sunbelt
Eastern Michigan MAC Memphis Big East San Diego State Big East Middle Tennessee State Sunbelt
Kent State MAC Old Dominion San Jose State MWC Louisian Monroe Sunbelt
Miami (Ohio) MAC South Florida Big East Utah State WAC Western Kentucky Sunbelt
Northern Illinois MAC Southern Miss CUSA Wyoming MWC South Alabama Sunbelt
Ohio University MAC Tulane CUSA Texas State Sunbelt
Toledo MAC UAB CUSA UTEP CUSA Texas Arlington Sunbelt
Western Michigan MAC Florida International UTSA CUSA New Mexico St. WAC
Temple Big East North Texas CUSA Idaho WAC
U Mass MAC SMU Big East
Navy Big East Houston Big East
Army Ind./Patriot Rice CUSA
 UCONN  Big East Villanova Big East Tulsa CUSA

4 Conference Scenario: Big XII Survives, ACC Destroyed

MAJORS
BIG 10 BIG XII PAC 12 SEC
Illinois Big Ten Baylor Big XII Arizona PAC 10 Alabama SEC
Indiana Big Ten Iowa State Big XII Arizona State PAC 10 Arkansas SEC
Iowa Big Ten Kansas Big XII California PAC 10 Auburn SEC
Michigan Big Ten Kansas State Big XII Oregon PAC 10 Florida SEC
Michigan State Big Ten Oklahoma Big XII Oregon St PAC 10 Georgia SEC
Minnesota Big Ten Oklahoma St. Big XII Stanford PAC 10 Kentucky SEC
Northwestern Big Ten Texas Tech Big XII UCLA PAC 10 LSU SEC
Ohio State Big Ten Texas Big XII USC PAC 10 Mississippi SEC
Penn State Big Ten West Virginia Big East Washington PAC 10 Mississippi St. SEC
Purdue Big Ten TCU MWC Washington St PAC 10 South Carolina SEC
Wisconsin Big Ten Cincinnati Big East Utah MWC Tennessee SEC
Nebraska Big XII Louisville Big East Colorado Big XII Vanderbilt SEC
Maryland ACC Florida State ACC Hawaii WAC Texas A&M Big XII
Rutgers Big East Clemson ACC UNLV MWC Missouri Big XII
Georgia Tech ACC Miami ACC Boise State Big East NC State ACC
North Carolina ACC Boston College ACC BYU MWC Virginia Tech ACC
Virginia ACC Notre Dame Ind
MINORS
“Big Atlantic” MAC CONFERENCE USA MOUNTAIN WEST
Duke ACC Akron MAC Central Florida Big East Air Force MWC
Wake Forest ACC Ball State MAC Charlotte Colorado St MWC
Syracuse Big East Bowling Green MAC Fresno State WAC
Pittsburgh Big East Buffalo MAC Louisiana Tech WAC Nevada WAC
Connecticut Big East Central Michigan MAC Marshall CUSA New Mexico MWC
Temple Big East Eastern Michigan MAC Memphis Big East San Diego State Big East
U Mass MAC Kent State MAC Old Dominion San Jose State MWC
Navy Big East Miami (Ohio) MAC South Florida Big East Utah State WAC
Army Ind./Patriot Northern Illinois MAC Southern Miss CUSA Wyoming MWC
Villanova Big East Ohio University MAC Tulane CUSA
 East Carolina  CUSA Toledo MAC UAB CUSA
 Tulane  CUSA Western Michigan MAC Florida International NEW SOUTHWEST DIVISION
UTEP CUSA
SUNBELT UTSA CUSA
Georgia State Sunbelt North Texas CUSA
Florida Atlantic Sunbelt SMU Big East
Arkansas State Sunbelt Houston Big East
Louisiana Lafayette Sunbelt Rice CUSA
Troy Sunbelt Tulsa CUSA
Middle Tennessee State Sunbelt
Louisian Monroe Sunbelt
Western Kentucky Sunbelt
South Alabama Sunbelt
Texas State Sunbelt
Texas Arlington Sunbelt
New Mexico St. WAC
Idaho WAC

4 Conference Scenario ACC Survives, Big 12 demolished

MAJORS
BIG 10 ACC PAC 12 SEC
Illinois Big Ten Duke ACC Arizona PAC 10 Alabama SEC
Indiana Big Ten Wake Forest ACC Arizona State PAC 10 Arkansas SEC
Iowa Big Ten Syracuse Big East California PAC 10 Auburn SEC
Michigan Big Ten Pittsburgh Big East Oregon PAC 10 Florida SEC
Michigan State Big Ten Connecticut Big East Oregon St PAC 10 Georgia SEC
Minnesota Big Ten Georgia Tech ACC Stanford PAC 10 Kentucky SEC
Northwestern Big Ten North Carolina ACC UCLA PAC 10 LSU SEC
Ohio State Big Ten Virginia ACC USC PAC 10 Mississippi SEC
Penn State Big Ten NC State ACC Washington PAC 10 Mississippi St. SEC
Purdue Big Ten Virginia Tech ACC Washington St PAC 10 South Carolina SEC
Wisconsin Big Ten Cincinnati Big East Utah MWC Tennessee SEC
Nebraska Big XII Louisville Big East Colorado Big XII Vanderbilt SEC
Maryland ACC Florida State ACC Hawaii WAC Texas A&M Big XII
Rutgers Big East Clemson ACC UNLV MWC Missouri Big XII
Kansas Big XII Miami ACC Oklahoma Big XII Oklahoma State Big XII
Iowa State Big XII Boston College ACC Texas Big XII Kansas State Big XII
Notre Dame Ind West Virginia  Big XII
MINORS
Little East MAC CONFERENCE USA MOUNTAIN WEST
Akron MAC Air Force MWC
Memphis Big East Ball State MAC Charlotte Colorado St MWC
Central Florida Big East Bowling Green MAC Old Dominion Fresno State WAC
South Florida Big East Buffalo MAC Louisiana Tech WAC Nevada WAC
East Carolina CUSA Central Michigan MAC Marshall CUSA New Mexico MWC
Temple Big East Eastern Michigan MAC Florida International San Diego State Big East
U Mass MAC Kent State MAC UAB San Jose State MWC
Navy Big East Miami (Ohio) MAC Southern Miss Utah State WAC
Army Ind./Patriot Northern Illinois MAC Wyoming MWC
Villanova Big East Ohio University MAC  BYU  MWC
 Tulane  CUSA Toledo MAC  Boise State  Big East
Western Michigan MAC
SOUTHWEST
SUNBELT UTSA CUSA
Georgia State Sunbelt North Texas CUSA
Florida Atlantic Sunbelt SMU Big East
Arkansas State Sunbelt Houston Big East
Louisiana Lafayette Sunbelt Rice CUSA
Troy Sunbelt Tulsa CUSA
Middle Tennessee State Sunbelt  Baylor  Big XII
Louisian Monroe Sunbelt  Texas Tech  Big XII
Western Kentucky Sunbelt  TCU  MWC
South Alabama Sunbelt  UTEP  CUSA
Texas State Sunbelt
Texas Arlington Sunbelt
New Mexico St. WAC
Idaho WAC