Conference re-alignment may be beneficial for all


When I was a freshman at University of North Carolina, the big news on campus was the possible expansion of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) from nine teams to 12. At the time, there were many in the traditional nine schools that felt it was near sacrilege to speak of adding universities to the ACC. However, within the next year, Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech all joined. This enabled the conference to add an ACC championship game, which not only increased revenue for all the schools involved, but also increased the standing of the league in the eyes of the Bowl Championship Series.

Seven years ago, this was a dramatic shift in the landscape of collegiate athletics. For better or worse, the shift of those three schools triggered an acceptance of major schools freely switching conferences. Just last year saw two schools leave the legendary Big 12, Nebraska (for the Big 10) and Colorado (for the new Pac 12). Smaller perennial powerhouses Utah and Boise State also switched conferences, and recently Texas A&M is attempting to leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference (SEC).

With the announcements last week that Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., and Texas were considering leaving the Big 12, and that Syracuse and Pittsburgh are moving to the ACC, there is little doubt that collegiate athletic competition will look quite different in the near future.  Before, there were six major conferences that have almost always represented the NCAA in championship games. But with the suspected dissolution of the Big East and Big 12 looming, we are entering a period where there will instead be four major conferences of up to 16 teams each.

This represents a changing of the guard in competition, where it will be even more difficult to reach championships if you do not belong to the ACC, Pac 12, Big 10, and SEC because of the strength of schedule and recruiting/marketing capabilities such mega-conferences will generate. To some fans, it will surely signal the end of traditional competition, where everyone starts the year 0-0 with a chance to run the table and hoist the champion’s trophy.

However, for those 50 or so teams in the new mega-conferences, life is about to get even better. More money, more prospects, and more television exposure await the schools that join, as the area they cover will encompass more of the country than ever before. The ACC is poised to control the entire eastern seaboard, the SEC the entire south and Texas, the Big Ten the Midwest, and the Pac 12 the entire western portion of the country.

While traditionalists will surely dismiss these re-alignments as greedy power plans by large, money hungry universities, I do think that it is important to look forward to the increased level of exposure and competition that could result from the joining of such storied programs.