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Realignment Continues

TCU to join Big East Conference for 2012:                                                   

                                                                    

On November 29th Texas Christian University (TCU) accepted a long rumored offer to join the Big East conference as an all sport member for the 2012-2013 season. This brings the Big East to 9 football playing members for the first time joining Syracuse (1979), Connecticut (1979), Pittsburgh (1982), West Virginia (1991), Rutgers (1991), Cincinnati (2005), Louisville (2005), and SouthFlorida (2005). With 17 members in baketball the Big East will continue to play every school once andnow 2 teams twice instead of 3 with 16 schools. Long time Big East member Villanova (1980) also has a standing invitation to the Big East football conference and is expected to accept an offer by end of next April to become a 10th football member starting in 2014 after a 2 year transition period.

The Big East was authorized by its presidents to expand to 10 football playing members. The motivation was two fold for this expansion. First by adding the large Dallas-Ft. Worth TV market and potentially the large Philadelphia market for football the Big East is adding value to its football TV contract. Secondly by adding TCU not only does it give the Big East another strong team at the top of the standings it also benefits the league in scheduling by reducing the number of buy games each Big East school has to order from non-AQ or FCS leagues to fill out the schedule saving in turn each football member guarantee money.

TCU to the Big East is very much a win-win for both parties as TCU will have an opportunity to play in an automatic qualifier conference and in large eastern media markets. The success of Villanova as a franchise in men's basketball will translate into football fan interest when they decide to move their successful FCS level program to the Big East conference.  It could be a rocky first few years for Villanova hosting Big East games at an off campus stadium but with a facility plan in place in time Villanova could build an on campus stadium on its suburban philadelphia campus. 

The 2010 round of realignment triggered by the Big Ten'sthreat of exploring expansion started with a small crack in the BCS power structure. Nebraska was invited to the Big Ten and the PAC had an offer on the table to accept Texas and Oklahoma schools in the formation of a super conference.

All appeared to be settled this summer until BYU did the unthinkable and announced its independence from MWC and led to the MWC accepting Boise and Fresno, placing the WAC on life support. The result has been an expansion earthquake in the rockies that has now trickled down all the way to the Big Sky Conference and beyond. A total of 22 schools have now moved (or had serious discussions toward doing so) as a result of the Big Ten-PAC10-BigXII standoff. A quick recap of the great realignment of 2010-11 thus far below:

 

Big Ten (1)

-Nebraska

 

PAC-12 (2)

-Colorado

-Utah

 

Mountain West (4)

-Boise State

-Fresno State

-Nevada

-Hawaii (Football Only)

 

West Coast/Independent (1)

-BYU

 

Big East (2)

-TCU

-Villanova (Pending)

 

Northeastern Conference (1)

-Rhode Island (Football Only)

 

Mid American (1)

-Massachusetts (Pending)
 

 Western Athletic (5)

-Denver

-Texas State

-UT-San Antonio

-Lamar (Pending)

-Seattle (Pending)

  

Big Sky (4)

-Southern Utah

-North Dakota

-Cal Poly (Football Only)

-UC Davis (Football Only)

 

Missouri Valley (1)

-South Dakota (Football Only)

 

Latest News (12/28/10):

                                                                    

The Mountain West sitting at 9 schools with Utah, TCU, BYU exiting decided on December 11, 2010 to add Hawaii for football only to go along with the additions made last summer of Boise State, Fresno, Hawaii . Other Hawaii sports would play in the California based  Big West Conference. It is rumored that the MWC will also seek potentially an 11th or 12th football playing school at a conference meeting scheduled on January 24-25th 2011.

With this move to 10 football playing schools, essentially the MWC has become WAC plus with the top of the WAC merged into the more solid bottom half of the MWC. The membership in the MWC slated for 2012 at 10 teams is very close to what the league had in 1995 with10 members, this time with Boise, Nevada, UNLV instead of BYU, Utah, and UTEP. We all of course know what happened in 1996 when SJSU, UNLV, Tulsa, Rice, SMU, and TCU were added; it became a bloated 16 team disaster.

 

NCAA Tourney Automatic Qualifiers in Danger:

The MWC and WAC also face a threat to their automatic bids to the NCAA tourney and loss of earned tourney units if either conference loses another school.  The reason for this is that In order to ensure continuity as an automatic qualifier to the NCAA tourney a conference must maintain 6 members that have held membership in the conference for 6 consecutive seasons.

The WAC no longer has 6 years of continuity with 6 members as only 5 schools (San Jose State, Idaho, Utah State, New Mexico State, and Louisiana Tech) have been togetherfor the required length of time to retain the NCAA automatic bid. The MWC has for continuity purposes San Diego State, UNLV, Wyoming, Colorado State, Air Force and New Mexico.

The WAC is pushing legislation with the NCAA to eliminate the continuity rule. If this legislation passes the NCAA Management council a conference will only need to have 8 full members (no less than 7 at one time over previous 2 year period) to maintain its NCAA autobid. The WAC right now only has 7 football members onboard for 2012 with UTSA forced to jet up to the FBS level at an unprecedented pace. The WAC will lose voting rights as an FBS conference with only 7 members but would be able to continue to participate in the BCS system as a non-automatic qualifier conference and the money earned from that agreement.  

The MWC's biggest threat to its automatic bid is if Air Force decides to declare itself an independent.The considerable NCAA basketball tourney revenues built up by the MWC would then be dissolved. This is a problem for the MWC. There is another problem in that the Mountain TV network which supports the MWC financially would be furtherdamaged with the loss AFA. For the Mountain West, Air Force has already voiced displeasure at playing in a 10 team MWC and may considering to go the independent route in lieu of the departures. AFA has traditionally been tied with Utah and BYU two quality academic schools and TCU in the MWC represented a third quality academic institution.

The West Coast conference where BYU decided to place its other sports has stated that it would consider a non-religious school among its membership but not a public school. Air Force basketball in the WCC would bring out servicemen at military bases along the west coast and add generally to the prestige of the conference. Denver and Seattle have cast their lot with the WAC at this point so their is really no competition for that 10th spot in the WCC, if Air Force desires to move there. A 10 team WCC with BYU, Gonzaga, St. Mary's at the top should make for a hoops league as formidable as the current A-10.

Ultimately, Air Force will likely stay in the MWC. AFA has long been associated in a conference with the eastern rockies schools and needs those bus rides to New Mexico and Colorado State to contain travel costs. Also as evidenced by the lack of a major financial deal for Navy and Army, Air Force is not a strong enough franchise to demand a TV rights deal for itself above and beyond what they currently are receiving through the MWC.

MWC Rebuilds:

The MWC is now sitting at 10 football playing members but with a big gaping hole in between the western and eastern schools. There are a lot of potential advertising dollars for the MWC TV contracts on the table in the state of Utah making the addition of Utah State to regain a presence ther critical. Utah State also has very good basketball to offer the MWC and fits in academically as a land grant school. Its almost inevitable that USU will have to be added at the heart of the league.

Once the MWC expands to 11, quite frankly it doesn't really matter that much who is #12. Any #12 school is going to pull its weight in TV dollars bringing a championship game to the table. Then you also have to look at who is going to want to be part of the league and how do you split up the divisions.

With CUSA recently signing a 5 year, 38 million dollar deal with Fox to go along with the TV deal it has in place with CBS College Sports I wouldn't expect any schools to be heading west. In fact some of those coveted Texas schools may be heading east like TCU if the rumors are correct. The MWC while retaining its football advantage over CUSA will be taking a big hit in basketball strength without Utah/BYU. 

Then the prefences of existing MWC members need to be considered. Boise State does not want to be in a division with the pacific schools and to balance the football strength it makes sense to have them play in a division with Wyoming, Colorado State, Air Force and New Mexico. The idea not really discussed is why not add San Jose State as the #12? They have a large TV market and San Jose is an easy trip for the CA and NV schools.

I: Hawaii, San Diego St, Fresno St, San Jose St,  Nevada, UNLV

II: Boise State, Utah State, Wyoming, Colorado State, Air Force, New Mexico 

Boise State will run through its division easily for years with this set up and that is probably best for the MWC until the eastern mountain schools improve. The pacific schools will be very competitive and provide a strong champion to play Boise in the MWC Championship. The MWC Championship game could be in Denver figuring Boise will travel well for it and if they aren't in it then CSU, AFA, WYO fans could easily get to the Mile High City and support it.

 

The WAC Survives:

The WAC when its all said and done will likely receive that lifeline legislation from the NCAA about the continuity rule. Something interesting is begining to happen with the WAC andthe membership merry-go-round. After the last 2 decades of primarly going after a better piece of the Pacific Coast, the WAC is now becoming a Texas based league.

After the additiional subtractions to WAC membership that I have outlined above the league will consist from East to West of La. Tech, Texas State, UT-San Antonio, New Mexico State, Denver, andIdaho. To this group the league is on the verge of offering Lamar, yet another school in the old SWC footprint. Talks are now ongoing to add NorthTexas (more excited with the large number of Texas schools) and UL-Louisiana (excited to get away from UL-Monroe). Primary western candidates UC-Davis and Montana have rejected membership so its clear the WAC whether it likes it or not is forced into its new SWC type direction

I: UL-Laf, La Tech, Texas St, Lamar, North Texas, UT-San Antonio, New Mexico St, Denver, Idaho

In another way to put it, this is going to be like the southland conference part II. The planning here would be that if CUSA ended up taking some hits (e.g Houston, UCF BE, Memphis MVC/Ind) this league would be an attractive landing pad for the remaining CUSA-West schools, particularly UT-El Paso. Idaho and Denver would have a place to hang around until the favored spots in the MWC and WCC come calling.

The WAC as it stands right now is down to only 1 bowl tie-in for 2012 (Humanitarian). This is not of grave importance because with the new FBS schools coming on board the league will be justified in adding a new bowl game somewhere in Texas (the MAC would be willing to tie-in) and possibly make a run at the Independence bowl for its champion.

Idaho may be best to just get back into the Big Sky and play independent in football. A lot of schools desperate for a 1 for 1 series will schedule the Vandals. Down the road the Big Sky could be interested in making a wholesale move up to FBS and Idaho would be in the perfect position then to take advantage of it.

 

The SBC responds:

The SBC has been given a lot of credibility for how its outmanuvered the WAC thus far and the expanding southern markets that it has unlike the MAC. It has the lowest academic profile of any FBS conference with UL-Monroe, Troy, A-State, UALR, WKU, MTSU being US World and News Report "master's universities" and not rated as national univerisites(usually an indicator of whether a school is FBS material). That is another reason why there is a good chance of UL-Laf and UNT eventually acepting a move from the SBC (Dukes of Hazzard Country) to a more regional, academically respectable WAC. It is forgotten that this league was very much on life support like the WAC 10 years ago and forced to add all these subpar academic schools just to stay in buisness.

The league though to its credit is becoming more tightly knit (even more so if UNT leaves) and it would attract a few programs in the region looking to move up. Both Georiga State and Appy State would fit right into that SBCfootprint with eventual hopes of maybe moving onto CUSA when the time is right. CUSA could also implode down the road if Houston, SMU, Memphis, UCF, ECU leave and the SBC would be a nice landing pad for a Marshall or UAB.

I: UL-Monroe, UALR, Arkansas St, MTSU, WKU, Troy, South Alabama, Georgia St, Appy St, Florida Atlantic 

This alignment gives the SBC 9 members in football, 10 in basketball which is where I think the SBC wants to stay for the time being. The commish of the SBC has stated that going beyond this number of schools will just reduce revenue for the participants. This way the league also has room in the Inn to accomadate a few stragglers from CUSA. If Marshall was moving up from FCS to FBS today instead of 15 years ago the SBC would have probably been the conference The Herd would have aspired to join, not CUSA.

 

The MAC grows:

                                                                    

According to an article in the Boston Globe on December 17th, MAC officials have made a campus visit to UMass to become the 14th member of MAC football. The offer to join the MAC is rumored to be contingent on whether Temple agrees in principal to become a permanant football member of the MAC with 2 years remaining on its contract with MAC football.

The MAC's football growth may not stop at 14.  It was recently mentioned in an article to go along with the University of Massachusetts (UMass) the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and James Madison University (JMU) are looking to possibly join the ranks of the FBS. The University at Stony Brook (USB) located in the Long Island region of New York is also a logical rival for University at Buffalo in the MAC and discussed as a candidate. USB is currently on a short term contract with the Big South Conference (much like Temple with the MAC) and is in the process of stepping up its schedule with FBS schools.

The key though is are these schools interested in joining the MAC where a 22 million dollar athletic budget is average and 6 core sports are required (Football, Volleyball, M. Basketball, W. Basketball, Baseball, Softball). This is why growth in the MAC has occurred at such a slow pace compared to other mid major conferences.

The MAC has always been picky about who to let into the conference. Youngstown State has a MAC worthy football program but was denied in the 90's for academic reasons. Same with Western Kentucky back in 2005 though they may have had a better shot had Middle Tennesse become interested. The MAC decided to sign Big East cast off Temple instead of moving in a more southernly direction.

Its in the best long term interest for the MAC to add more schools in the northeast to convince Temple that the MAC is more viable than CUSA and to lower Temple's travel cost if they were to become an all-sport member. The MAC should offer Temple, UMass, USB all sport memberships, with football only to start if they prefer. That would give the MAC a block of schools in the northeast that are unlikely to get into the Big East, and would not want to leave for CUSA because of their relatively isolated northeast location. The MAC in turn provides the northeast schools with an established conference, extensive TV agreement with ESPN, established bowl agreements (including BCS coalition), and quality neutral site championships in football (Detroit, Ford Field) and basketball (Cleveland, Quicken Loans).

For the 16th school, I recommend Florida International University (FIU). They would add to the MAC's regional TV package into South Florida. The MAC already has the Orlando and Tampa markets broadcasting the game of the week so FIU would fit right in there. FIU has expanded their football stadium to 23,500 and has vastly improved on the football field since hiring Mario Cristobal in 2007. This past season FIU won the MAC hosted Little Ceasar's Bowl over Toledo and set a new record attendance average of 16,544 for the season.

FIU also has a very solid academic profile with research expenditures 89.1 million and an endowment of 138 million as of 2007 and is defined as a First Tier research university by the Florida legislature. The school offers engineering, law, and medicine. This school has more in common academically with the more research oriented MAC schools than the rank and file "Masters College" SBC member. It would help to get FIU's name out in the east coast by joining the MAC East. Culturally, FIU is unique and perhaps in someways more suited to East Coast than what you find in the Arkansas-Alabama Sun Belt footprint.

I: UMass, USB, Temple, Buffalo, Kent State, Akron, Ohio, Florida Int.

II: Northern Ill, Ball State, WMU, CMU, EMU, Toledo, Bowling Green, Miami

With 16 football members the MAC has the potential of leveraging better bowls in the future. The new Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium that is currently set up as Big East #4 vs. Big XII #7 is vulnerable now that the Big XII has lost Nebraska and Colorado and can't regularly provide a #7. The MAC-16 could send its #2 selection to the Pinstripe (basically ensuring the MAC East Champion) there while sending its #1 to the Liberty Bowl, BCS game, or other choice bowl opportunity. This would give the Pinstripe Bowl a quality regional matchup of the Big East vs MAC East with both participants in the 8-10 win range and possibly ranked. The MAC can also look at starting a 2nd bowl in Miami with FIU as a member.

If eventually it could happen, Temple and UMass into the MAC would make a big difference for MAC basketball with greater TV markets and recruiting territory. Both schools at the present time are comfortable in the A-10 but MAC membership in football could facilitate MAC membership in basketball down the road especially if USB and FIU decide to go down the path of all sport members.

There has been a lot of speculation that it makes sense for the CAA to move up and become the non-BCS conference of the eastern seaboard potentially affecting the MAC in the long term. A new start up Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) FBS football league would have to start everything from scratch.

UMass is not in the CAA for basketball, nor do they want to be. Temple and USB have no relationship at all with the CAA. Temple has thus far performed successfully in MAC football and USB at least shares a connection to the University at Buffalo in the state legislature as both are deemed by law state flagship universities. With the MAC having a block of northeastern schools together without Big East potential or CUSA ambition that should prevent a CAA raid in the future. The CAA FBS league would not at start up have admission into the BCS non-AQ structure, and another reason to prevent MAC schools leaving to other conferences in the future.

 

Atlantic Ten...A-10 membership has a very unstable future:

University of North Carolina at Charlotte (Charlotte) is starting an FBS level program and would be a better geographical fit in the CAA. Fordham University is looking to move to 65 scholarships with an interest in CAA football and should consider their basketball conference too with their failings in the Atlantic 10. Saint Louis University has talked about membership in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) and I have long conjectured that Xavier University and the University of Dayton would be as well off heading to the MVC as its a stronger basketball conference top to bottom. The A-10 has too much dead weight at the bottom and is a hodge podge of southern, midwestern, northeastern, public, private institutions. Its become a temporary island for programs to sit on while they are waiting for a better conference to come along united by the tradition that exists at the top A-10 basketball schools.  

Adding USB, Temple, UMass, and FIU for all sports will be in steps and take several years to complete. As far as the MAC is concerned, that should be okay. If UMass, or USB wants to join MAC football before they have all the facility upgrades in place, that is okay too. They don't have to spend the rumored 100 million over the next 5 years to move up to the FBS level in football or Big East level budget numbers to do so. The MAC will let them join for free and if they need to put up temporary aluminum bleachers in the end zones to meet the FBS rule of 15,000 paid attendance so be it. UMass and UNH played in Gillette stadium to the tune of almost 33,000 spectators so I can't foresee attendance being a barrier. The move to FBS will justify football program support by donors to then later complete a bigger move to the Big East down the road should that opportunity present itself.

Then the Atlantic 10, what becomes of the former non-AQ basketball superconference after it loses Xavier, Dayton, St. Louis, Temple and UMass? It would make sense for Charlotte to consider the CAA as its starting up an FCS football program. Fordham is in the Patriot League for football but is now offering scholarships in the sport and will be looking for a new home. They have really struggled in the A-10 basketball conference and could use a move down 

Richmond was in the CAA but likely feels that its program is on par academically more with the Patriot League as a small private school.  George Washington is kind of a unique school in that its private but its a large and professional oriented like a public university. It doesn't really have very much in common small conference private schools like those in the Patriot League but it may prefer playing there with its northeast orientation and local D1 rivals Richmond and American University are part of that league.

Rhode Island is reducing the number of its football scholarships and is heading to the Northeast Conference in football but for other sports should consider the American East to play with Maine, Vermont and Boston University.

This leaves Saint Joseph's, Duquense, and La Salle to find a new home. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference has a lot of institutions with solid D1 tradition as the league mainly consists of like minded catholic schools.

In short the A-10 dissolution breakdown:

To the BE basketball conference (Xavier, Dayton, St. Louis)

To the MAC (Temple, UMass)

To the CAA (Charlotte, Fordham)

To the Patriot (George Washington, Richmond)

To the America East (Rhode Island)

To the Metro Atlantic (Duquense, Saint Josephs, La Salle)

 

Future Conference Strength:

If the Atlantic 10 and MWC disappear from the scene as I'm outlining above, where does this leave the hierarchy of non-AQ football and men's basketball? Below I have ranked the top 5 non-AQ football and basketball leagues post realignment of 2010-11.

 

Top 5 non-AQ basketball leagues

1. BE Basketball

2. West Coast

3. Mid American

4. Missouri Valley

5. Conference USA

 

Top 5 non-AQ football leagues

1. Mid American

2. Conference USA

3. Sun Belt

4. Western Athletic

5. Big Sky (FCS)

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