How the conference realignment changed the map

It’s a time of change in college football.

The calendar switches from June to July, which means the composition of several conferences across the sports landscape is officially changing.

The latest wave of realignment began in July 2021 when news emerged that Oklahoma and Texas would be leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. The monumental move won’t take effect until next summer, but it has caused a major ripple effect in college athletics as conferences race to provide stability.

Among the impending changes are UCLA and USC’s cross-country journey from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten. While that move won’t officially materialize until July 2024 (there’s also the college football playoff expansion to 12 teams in 2024), 14 FBS schools will officially move the conferences to Saturday, July 1.

Here’s a look at what’s different in 2023 and what might be on the horizon.

Big 12 officially adds 4 new members

With the exit of its two most prominent members, Oklahoma and Texas, the Big 12 was in a precarious position. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby had to act quickly with his league faced with the prospect of being reduced to just eight members – or imploding altogether.

And that’s exactly what he did. Bowlsby, who has since retired, was quick to add BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF to the Big 12. The official invitations were announced on September 10, 2021, less than two months after the Houston Chronicle’s initial report signaled the dawn of a new wave of realignment.

BYU had been operating as an FBS independent since the 2011 season after leaving Mountain West and seeking to join a power conference. The other three are expected to transition from the American Athletic Conference. Houston has seen recent success — particularly in men’s basketball — and is a natural geographic fit with the other Texas-based Big 12 members. Cincinnati also has a rich basketball history and has been a constant football contender with UCF atop the AAC. The addition of UCF also brings Big 12 football to Florida’s fertile recruiting grounds.

For the 2023 season, the Big 12 will operate as a 14-team conference with Oklahoma and Texas playing one final year before heading to the SEC.

AAC welcomes 6 new members

Once three of the top schools in the American Athletic Conference were attacked by the Big 12, the trickle-down effect continued with the AAC reaching Conference USA.

First, the AAC sued Mountain West members like the Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, and San Diego State. In October 2021, all four chose to stay loyal to MWC.

From there, the AAC (which was down to just eight members) pivoted and reached agreements with six members of Conference USA: Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA.

On October 21, 2021, the news became official, creating a 14-team conference for football. These six C-USA schools will join East Carolina, Memphis, Navy, South Florida, SMU, Temple, Tulane and Tulsa for football. Navy is a football-only member. Wichita State is also a member of the AAC but does not have a football program.

With the new teams added for 2023, the AAC has eliminated splits and will play an eight-game league schedule.

Sun Belt previously added several C-USA schools

With the departure of these six schools for the AAC, C-USA was down to eight members. Three of those remaining members — Southern Miss, Old Dominion and Marshall — didn’t want to wait to see what would happen with Conference USA. Instead, they jumped at the chance to join the Sun Belt.

Before the end of October 2021, all three became official members of the Sun Belt. In the months that followed, they all sped up their C-USA releases in time to make their Sun Belt debut last fall.

The Sun Belt also added FCS-level James Madison to create a 14-member conference.

Conference USA left to pick up the pieces

Conference USA was left on the brink of complete collapse with six members leaving for the AAC and three more heading to the Sun Belt. That left five members remaining – Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, UTEP and Western Kentucky.

Central Tennessee and Western Kentucky later flirted with MAC, but decided to stick with C-USA as the conference struggled to add new members. Liberty and New Mexico State joined after being independent from FBS. The conference also added Jacksonville State and FCS-level Sam Houston.

With the addition of Liberty, NMSU, Jacksonville State and Sam Houston, C-USA will operate as a nine-team football conference in 2023. Additionally, Kennesaw State will transition from FCS to FBS and join the conference in 2024 to complete the 10 -Team setup.

For 2023, the league will have no divisions and will play an eight-game round-robin conference schedule. And just like the MAC, C-USA will get national spotlight by playing many of its games on weeknights, starting in October.

Pac-12 media rights deal looms large in next phase of realignment

All eyes are on the Pac-12, which is in a vulnerable state.

The conference scrambled to secure a new media rights deal. This was true even before UCLA and USC decided to leave for the Big Ten. These departures have meant that the overall value of the league’s broadcast inventory has taken a huge hit, and it has also increased the urgency of trying to get a deal done.

The Big Ten’s new deal with Fox, CBS and NBC begins July 1. SEC-exclusive ESPN deal begins next year. The Big 12 reached an extension to 2030-31 with ESPN and Fox. The ACC rights grant has him in media purgatory until 2036.

The Pac-12’s impending broadcast deal will play a major role in determining the course of its future. If Commissioner George Kliavkoff can strike a deal worthy of the Big 12 (about $32 million a year for its members), the remaining 10 conference members could opt to stay together. Otherwise, some of its members might look for other alternatives to secure more revenue.

As always, finances are the main motivation here, and the Big 12 could be ready to pounce.

The Big 12 is open to further expansion, commissioner Brett Yormark said at the end of the league’s spring meetings in early June. According to multiple reports, Colorado had conversations with the Big 12, which allegedly eyed CU with Arizona, Arizona State and Utah.

Other schools like UConn, Memphis, and Gonzaga have appeared in the media as possible options for further Big 12 expansion. Gonzaga is a West Coast Conference basketball powerhouse that does not have a football program. UConn, the defending men’s basketball national champions, left the AAC for the Big East in basketball and is playing football as an independent.

“We have a plan,” Yormark said. “We want to be a national conference in our composition from coast to coast. We love our current roster, love the four new schools coming next month. However, if the opportunity arises to create value, we will seize it. This is one of our lines of work. »

There’s also San Diego State’s statute, which has informed the Mountain West that it plans to leave the conference. SDSU has long been tied to the Pac-12 (which wants to maintain a presence in Southern California), but the lack of a new Pac-12 media rights deal appears to have stood in the way of the Pac-12’s exit plan. SDSU.

The ACC’s 14 members are bound by the conference’s ESPN deal that runs until 2036. This isn’t an ideal situation as other leagues will again be able to renegotiate their media deals before the expiration of the granting of ACC rights. Many ACC schools are unhappy, as evidenced by the new revenue split model coming into effect in 2024, but there are plenty of legal hurdles to overcome for any of them to break free. the conference.

Meanwhile, the SEC and Big Ten — which have now distanced themselves from the rest of the pack in terms of revenue — loom quietly in the background.

The Oklahoma-Texas and UCLA-USC starts came out of left field, so perhaps the best advice as we move into a new era is to expect the unexpected.

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