I wrote this article originally on July 30, 2022 and have adjusted it based on recent developments in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of NCAA football.
James A. Rose, Publisher
As college football fans, we knew it was coming sooner or later: The next round of realignment in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Like it or not, the SEC is growing to 16 in the near future as Texas and Oklahoma bolt from the Big XII.
The B1G Big Ten swept UCLA, USC, Washington, and Oregon from the Pac-12. The Big XII has added Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF from the American Athletic Conference, along with current football independent BYU. The Big XII will now add Arizona, Arizona State, Utah, and Colorado from the Pac-12. The Atlantic Coast Conference is adding California and Stanford from the Pac-12 and SMU from the AAC.
The AAC raided Conference USA. The domino effect continues and has even impacted basketball.
A recent article from The Athletic noted that the Sun Belt could be on the rise as a Group of Five (G5) league with the additions of Southern Miss, James Madison, Old Dominion, and Marshall. Ticket sales are up as fans jump at old rivalries brought back to life and the ability to travel to see their teams live and in person on the road.
The bottom line is that realignment and schools shifting from conference to conference like hopscotch is nothing new. In fact, it happens every few years and has been a regular part of the sport. In my opinion, the ability of schools and leagues to join without any NCAA oversight hurts the game. No consideration is given to the sport as a whole when schools switch conferences. The only parties that are considered are the school itself and the conference. Not the entire NCAA. Not the rivalries and tradition treasured by fans. Not the level of competition from all parts of the FBS, including the G5 schools.
Basically, the Power Five is becoming more powerful and is consolidating into "super conferences", disintegrating the Pac-12. Schools are thinking of their bank accounts first. Championships perhaps become an afterthought.
For instance: Louisville Cardinal football. Stats from Wikipedia:
Many don't realize that prominent ESPN College GameDay analyst Lee Corso once coached the Cardinals (1969-1972) when they were a member of the Missouri Valley Conference. More recent Louisville football history indicates the uphill climb teams face when they move up in conference affiliation:
As a member of Conference USA from 1996-2004, the Cardinals won three conference titles and had a record of 74-46. During this era, they were a tough rival for my Memphis Tigers. From 2005-2013, Louisville was a member of the Big East, which became the American Athletic Conference for football. They won three conference titles and had a record of 93-45.
Since Louisville moved to the Power Five Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014, their fortunes on the field have changed. The Cardinals have never won the Atlantic Division, much less the ACC championship. Their record: 64-60.
The lesson: Moving up makes it harder to win conference championships. Texas and Oklahoma are "kings of the hill" in the Big XII. The dynamics of the SEC won't be as kind. UCLA, USC, Washington, and Oregon will face the same sort of situation once they transition to the Big Ten. Anyone thought of how Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF might fare in the Big XII? How about SMU in the ACC?
The look of an expanded College Football Playoff, conference championship games, automatic CFP bids, divisions, etc. remains to be seen. At the end of the day, the fans of some of these powerhouse programs, used to seeing lots of success in their current leagues, may have reason to become less interested and less passionate.
But money talks.
Until someone topples the Georgia Bulldogs of the SEC East and the Alabama Crimson Tide of the SEC West (the SEC will cease playing in divisions in 2024), they will continue to be in the national title conversation - regardless of other teams shifting from one conference to another.