Quiet Week for Conference Realignment turns into a Rumble
In the past week, there was a slow bubble of news coming out on realignment in college athletics. Wednesday the Northeast Conference announced NCAA Division II school Le Moyne would be upgrading to the Northeast Conference next season per Chris Carlson of Syracuse.com. Today Western Illinois, an all-sports member of the Summit League and a football member of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, announced it would be joining the Ohio Valley Conference. All sports, except football, will move this fall. The football program will join in 2024. This move will set off more realignment to replace Western Illinois, with schools potentially upgrading from Division II.
Too Big to Fail in Conference Realignment
On top of these announcements, the sentiments out of the Big 10 is they will not be expanding now. All indications are they do not want to be responsible for the demise of another conference. Washington and Oregon will now have to keep their hopes on the Pac-12 destructing from within to get a partial share of potential membership in the Big 10 at some point. The question is when will the super conference become too large to manage? In historical context, the super conference is not anything new.
The Southern Conference was founded from the remnants of one of the earliest conferences in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. The Southern Conference then spawned new conferences both of which are considered in the power five. In 1922 the Southeastern Conference was created from 13 schools leaving the conference. The Southern Conference then provided the schools to create the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1953.
In 1999, the Western Athletic Conference, the second most historic conference in the Western United States, was 16 members strong, having members from Oklahoma and west to Hawaii. This conference spanning half the country broke in two because of the unwieldy nature of travel from Hawaii to Oklahoma. The Western Athletic Conference broke up with the newer members staying in the Western Athletic Conference, and the long-time original members forming the Mountain West Conference.
Since that time the Mountain West has been the second-largest conference behind the Pac-12. The Western Athletic Conference dropped football as a sport in 2012 and has tried to reestablish itself as a future Bowl Championship Conference. The conference has been unable to get enough footing to become a solid option as a football conference and has had to team up with the ASUN to have a football conference. and was recently denied the option of creating a football-only conference made up of football-playing members from the ASUN and Western Athletic Conference.
The Future FBS
As of this hour, the Southeastern Conference will have 16 members starting with the 2024 football season and the Big 10 has 16 members with the addition of USC and UCLA in 2024. Now the Big 10 has also been linked to potentially adding Washington and Oregon. Brett McMurphy of Action Network HQ reported on 365 Sports that Washington and Oregon have been cleared by the Big Ten. The Southeastern Conference has been linked to possible current members of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Atlantic Coast Conference is contained in a binding Grant of Rights agreement through 2036.
With the financial valuation of Southeastern Conference or Big 10 future revenues, schools may look to vote to dissolve the Atlantic Coast Conference, and if eight or more vote to dissolve then the grant of rights, then the agreement would be terminated, and schools would be free to move to another conference. There is a strengthening storm that many have suggested could cause a vote to be held and the conference dissolved with members joining the Big 12, Big 10, or Southeastern Conference.
While it does not look like we will be having smaller conferences soon, the past could be a very strong indication of what happens when too many schools are spending too much of their athletic budget flying cross country or even cannot break the top 4 of a conference to access athletic championships in one sport or another. Schools will look for the next concept of the conference and potentially move to more geographic footprints.
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