By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
As we hit the midpoint of the college football season, it's time to take a conference-by-conference look at where things stand in realignment/expansion.
Added: Pittsburgh, Syracuse
The addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse came as a surprise, and moves the ACC to a 14-team conference. Both teams are slated to leave the Big East in 2014, but an early buyout could be negotiated. The ACC’s moves were due in part to the potential of Texas and Oklahoma joining the Pac-12, creating college football’s first BCS super conference. With those moves by the Pac-12 on the table, the ACC didn’t want to be left behind in the race to get to 16.
What’s next: Barring any changes across the landscape, the ACC is likely to stay at 14 teams for now. Connecticut and Rutgers have been mentioned as possible future candidates, and the conference would definitely be interested in Notre Dame, should it want to give up independence. The ACC isn’t likely to lose members, but the SEC could have interest in Virginia Tech or Florida State as its 14th team.
Lost: TCU, Pittsburgh and Syracuse
In this round of realignment, the Big East has been one of the biggest losers. The conference lost three teams and faces an uncertain future. West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Florida and Rutgers are locked into the conference for 2011, and the Big East intends on keeping Pittsburgh and Syracuse around until the 2014 season. However, could a buyout occur if the Big East expands?
What's next: The Big East is looking to expand to a 12-team conference, with Boise State, Air Force, Navy, SMU, Houston and UCF on the radar. Will the news of the Mountain West-Conference USA alliance prevent those teams from joining the Big East? Also, if Missouri leaves for the SEC, Louisville or West Virginia could be on the radar to be the Big 12’s 10th team. If the Big East is able to pull Boise State, Air Force, Navy, SMU, Houston and UCF into the mix, the new 12-team conference should provide a little stability, but this conference will always be under fire as long as the buyout remains low (currently $5 million).
The Big Ten is one of the most stable conferences in college football. Unless Notre Dame is interested in joining, it’s hard to imagine the conference expanding in the near future. Rutgers and Missouri are two candidates on the radar, but the Big Ten will be very selective and work on its own timetable whenever it’s interested in expanding again.
Added: TCU (2012)
Lost: Texas A&M
Once thought to be on its deathbed, the Big 12 looks to be a viable conference for the next 7-10 years. Despite the loss of three teams over the last year, the Big 12 is in good shape going into 2012. TCU was a great addition as the conference’s 10th team and can be a top 25 team under coach Gary Patterson. The schools (other than Missouri) have granted their television rights to the Big 12, which should prevent future defections.
What's next: Missouri has decided to explore its conference options and could bolt for the SEC. Even if Missouri leaves for the SEC, the Big 12 will have options to add, including West Virginia and Louisville from the Big East. The conference will stick with 10 teams for 2012, but could move to 12 in the future.
Added: Formed alliance with Mountain West
The decision to form an alliance with the Mountain West is an interesting idea, but there are a lot of question marks that still must be answered. UCF, SMU and Houston could depart for the Big East. If those three teams, will Conference USA look to add Temple and Louisiana Tech to help bolster their division? Although the alliance with the Mountain West is intriguing, let’s see how it works out before calling it a success or something that helps the conference champion earn an automatic spot into the BCS.
Army: The Black Knights received some interest from the Big East, but decided to remain an independent. Considering Army’s lack of success when it joined Conference USA, independence is the best option for the Black Knights to be competitive.
BYU: The Cougars were in the mix for the Big 12, but the conference’s invite went to TCU. BYU is supposedly very happy with independent status, but would have to seriously consider a BCS invite from the Big 12 if that happens in the future. However, some reports indicated that may require some concessions from BYU for the Big 12 to extend an invite.
Navy: The Midshipmen are interested in joining the Big East, but want to see the buyout increased to provide stability. Air Force and Navy aren’t necessarily a package deal, but if the Falcons choose to stay in the Mountain West, it could have an impact on the decision of the Midshipmen. If Navy turn down the Big East, all signs point to remaining an independent.
Notre Dame: Anytime a BCS conference is looking to expand, it’s a safe bet the Irish will be mentioned as a candidate. However, Notre Dame is secure as an independent and barring a drastic shift across college football’s landscape, it seems unlikely the Irish will be joining a conference anytime soon.
Added: UMass (2013)
Temple was on the radar for Big East expansion, but some reports indicated Villanova did not want another school from Philadelphia in the conference. Could the Owls be on the radar for any Conference USA/Mountain West expansion? UMass is scheduled to join the MAC in 2013, which would bring the conference to 14 teams, provided there are no defections.
Added: Formed alliance with Conference USA
The football-only alliance with Conference USA is intriguing, but what does it really mean? There’s no guarantee of an automatic BCS bid, but this does give both conferences some stability, especially if Boise State, Air Force, UCF, Houston and SMU depart for the Big East. The Mountain West and Conference USA is trying to get this alliance in place for 2012, but more likely for 2013. If the Mountain West’s division loses Boise State and Air Force, don’t be surprised if Utah State and San Jose State are invited to join. Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii decided to join the Mountain West in time for 2012 from the WAC last season.
The Pac-12 nearly became the Pac-16 earlier this fall. Oklahoma, Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech were on the verge of leaving the Big 12, but the Pac-12 decided not to expand. The conference scored a huge television deal and none of its members are interested in leaving. The Pac-12 is near the top of college football in terms of conference stability.
Added: Texas A&M (2012)
The SEC didn’t need to expand to remain the best conference in college football, but it was too hard to pass on adding Texas A&M. The Aggies won only one Big 12 title, but bolsters the SEC’s presence in Texas, particularly in the Houston market.
What's next: Although the SEC is committed to a 13-team setup in 2011, it’s unlikely that will continue for very long. Missouri has announced its intentions to explore a new conference, and the SEC is squarely on its radar. With Columbia, Mo. halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City, the SEC is very interested in adding the Tigers for television sets and their academic value. If Missouri isn’t the SEC’s 14th team, keep an eye on West Virginia or Virginia Tech.
The Sun Belt seems to be a secure conference. However, keep an eye on FIU, Troy, FAU and North Texas in any Mountain West/Conference USA expansion. South Alabama is slated to join the Sun Belt in 2013.
Added: Texas State, UTSA (2012)
Lost: None (since the start of 2011 season)
The WAC was hit hard by expansion last season, losing Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii to the Mountain West. The conference responded by inviting Texas State and UTSA to join in 2012. The conference is still in a fight for survival, as Louisiana Tech, Utah State and San Jose State could be potential expansion candidates for the new Mountain West/C-USA conference. If the WAC is raided once again, it’s uncertain if the conference could survive, especially if no FCS teams are willing to jump to the FBS level.