Skip to main content

College Football 2012 Realignment Breakdown

College football realignment dominated the headlines last summer and if you thought it was over, think again. More movement in college football could be coming this summer, especially with the mixed messages coming out of Tallahassee with Florida State. Are the Seminoles content to stay in the ACC or are they interested in the Big 12? If Florida State does make the jump to the Big 12, the domino effect will be felt across all of college football. 

It's anybody's guess what will happen with realignment this summer, but a lot has changed since last season. Here's a primer on what has happened for all 11 conferences and Independent teams and what could happen this summer if more moves begin to take place. 


What’s Happened: The ACC made an early strike in conference realignment last season, plucking Pittsburgh and Syracuse away from the Big East. The conference is scheduled to become a 14-team league, with the Panthers and Orange expected to join in time for the 2013 season. Pittsburgh will join the Coastal Division, while Syracuse has been placed in the Atlantic.

What’s Next: The first domino in the next round of realignment could fall with Florida State. The Seminoles joined the ACC in 1991, but could be looking to explore membership in the Big 12. If Florida State leaves the ACC, it may not come alone, as Miami and Clemson have also been mentioned as possible Big 12 expansion candidates. If the Seminoles decide to stay, the ACC will proceed with its 14-team alignment, but could look to add Rutgers and Connecticut in the future.

Big East

What’s Happened: The Big East has been a punching bag through this round of realignment. Pittsburgh and Syracuse left to join the ACC, while West Virginia bolted for the Big 12. With those defections, the conference was left with just five teams. The Big East should have expanded in previous years, but secured eight schools to join over the next couple of seasons. Temple was brought aboard for 2012, while Houston, SMU, UCF, Memphis, Boise State and San Diego State will join in time for 2013. Navy is scheduled to join in 2015.

What’s Next: Although the Big East is in a better position than it was in October, the conference could be facing more defections. If Florida State leaves the ACC, Connecticut and/or Rutgers could be targeted to replace the Seminoles. Louisville is interested in joining the Big 12, while Boise State and San Diego State could be forced to return to the Mountain West. Unless the Broncos can find a home for their other sports, they will have to depart the Big East, and the Aztecs will certainly follow. Boise State is expected to apply for membership in the Big West, and if accepted, would guarantee the Broncos play in the Big East for 2013. The conference is also going through a transition period, as John Marinatto is out as commissioner and Joseph Bailey is working on an interim basis. The Big East can’t feel too secure about its future until Boise State’s situation is resolved. Also, the conference is still looking for another Western member, which could be BYU, Air Force or UNLV.

Big Ten

What’s Happened: The Big Ten added Nebraska in 2010 to get to 12 teams and stage a conference championship game.

What’s Next: The Big Ten is in no hurry to expand and isn’t in any danger of losing teams. The conference will always keep a spot open for Notre Dame, but is there a clear 14th team? Unless there is a shift by the other BCS conferences to get to 16 teams, the Big Ten is likely to remain quiet on the realignment front.

Big 12

What’s Happened: Realignment talk has dominated the Big 12 for the last two years. The conference lost Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12 in June 2010. The Big 12 decided not to expand after losing the Cornhuskers and Buffaloes, choosing to stay at 10 teams for the 2011 season. Realignment dominated the conference early in the year, as Texas A&M and Missouri bolted for the Big 12, while the conference got back to 10 teams with the additions of West Virginia and TCU.

What’s Next: The top priority for new commissioner Bob Bowlsby is the decision on expansion. Does the Big 12 want to expand to 12 teams or stay with its 10-team alignment? Texas – which has a large voice in the conference – does not want to expand. However, there is interest from the other teams to get back to 12. If Florida State wants to join the Big 12, the conference would have a hard time saying no to one of college football’s top 20 programs. If the Seminoles do make the jump from the ACC, Louisville is a strong candidate to be team No. 12, while rumors around the Big 12 have suggested Clemson and Miami might be interested in the Big 12 as well. Much of the next round of realignment will hinge on Florida State and the Big 12. Even if the Seminoles pass on the Big 12, the conference could look to expand by adding Louisville and BYU. If the Big 12 decides not to expand, realignment talk should quiet.

Conference USA

What’s Happened: Conference USA lost four teams to the Big East – UCF, Memphis, Houston and SMU – which was the league’s first change in football membership since 2005. The Tigers have struggled on the gridiron, but was the conference’s top basketball program. SMU is a team on the rise, while Houston was on the doorstep of playing in a BCS bowl this season. UCF is located in a valuable market (Orlando) and won three East Division titles since joining the conference in 2005.

What’s Next: Conference USA and the Mountain West discussed a merger, but decided to operate as separate conferences. With only eight members in the league for 2013, Conference USA expanded to include FIU, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and UTSA. UNC Charlotte will join in time for the 2015 season, and Old Dominion has announced its intentions to jump to the FBS level. Conference USA will be a 14-team league once UNC Charlotte and Old Dominion join. 


Army – The Black Knights’ participated as a member of Conference USA from 1998-2004, but decided to return to Independent status. Although Army could be targeted by the Big East for future expansion, it’s unlikely the Black Knights will give up Independence.

BYU – The Cougars had a successful first season of Independent scheduling, recording a 10-3 record with a victory over Tulsa in the Armed Forces Bowl. BYU was targeted by the Big East for expansion, but decided not to join, at least for now. The Cougars have been mentioned as a candidate for Big 12 expansion, but with the rumors of Florida State’s possible interest in leaving the ACC, BYU could be slipping down the pecking order. The Cougars are content to remain an Independent, but their access to the BCS/playoff system won’t change.

Navy – The Midshipmen will play as an Independent the next few seasons, but will join the Big East in time for the 2015 season.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

Notre Dame – Although the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC could try to pull the Irish into a conference, it’s very unlikely Notre Dame will give up its Independence. The new college football playoff requirements won’t force the Irish to join a conference, so barring some drastic change in the next couple of years, Notre Dame will remain Independent. 


What’s Happened: After playing with 13 teams and unbalanced divisions since 2007, the MAC was set to become a 14-team conference in 2012. UMass is making the jump from FCS and will play a full MAC schedule this season. However, Temple decided to return to the Big East, leaving the MAC with 13 teams once again.

What’s Next: Expect the MAC to explore expansion to get to 14 teams. Candidates could be at the FCS level or could the conference take a look at Idaho? There’s no easy fit for the MAC, so the conference will be selective in choosing a 14th team – and it may not be anytime soon. 

Mountain West

What’s Happened: With TCU, BYU, Utah in the conference and Boise State on the way, the Mountain West appeared on the verge of earning an automatic spot into the BCS. How quickly things have changed. TCU and Utah left for BCS conferences, and BYU chose to go Independent. Boise State and San Diego State are slated to join the Big East in time for the 2013 season, provided the Broncos can find a home for their non-football programs. The Mountain West raided the WAC two years ago, pulling in Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii to have 10 football members for 2012. Utah State and San Jose State will join the Mountain West in time for the 2013 season.

What’s Next: Commissioner Craig Thompson has at least 10 teams secured for 2013 and isn’t in a hurry to expand. If Boise State is unable to find a home for its non-football sports, the Broncos and San Diego State could return to the Mountain West. If both teams stay in the Big East, the Mountain West could revisit adding Idaho and New Mexico State to get to 12 teams, but it’s unlikely either will be extended an invitation this year.


What’s Happened: Aggressive has been the word surrounding Larry Scott’s tenure as Pac-12 commissioner. Since taking over in 2009, Scott has helped the Pac-12 land a solid television deal, while starting up a conference television network. Scott added Utah and Colorado to get the conference to 12 members. He also made an unsuccessful run at Texas and Oklahoma, hoping to create college football’s first 16-team BCS conference.

What’s Next: Oklahoma and Oklahoma State expressed interest in joining the Pac-12 last season, but talk of that has quieted down since things in the Big 12 have stabilized. Scott is aggressive, and at the first sign of changes across the landscape, he will look to add more teams. Boise State could be a possible target in the future, but outside of BYU – which seems unlikely to ever join the Pac-12 – there are no logical fits out West. Unless the Big 12 becomes unstable once again, the Pac-12 should be quiet when it comes to expansion. 


What’s Happened: An opportunity to expand into Texas and the St. Louis/Kansas City markets was simply too good for the SEC to pass up. For the first time since 1991, the SEC invited new members, as Texas A&M and Missouri jumped from the Big 12 to join college football’s top conference.

What’s Next: The SEC is in no hurry to add any teams. And it may be a while before we see the conference make the jump to 16 members. Whenever the SEC looks to expand, it will be about new markets. NC State and Virginia Tech are possible new teams and markets, but neither has expressed any interest in leaving the ACC. The SEC expanded to 12 teams in 1991 and moved to 14 in 2012. Considering the conference will be very selective with any future membership, it may be 20 years before the SEC expands again.

Sun Belt

What’s Happened: Until recently, the Sun Belt Conference had been quiet on the expansion scene. South Alabama is bringing its upstart football program from the FCS ranks this season, which will give the conference 10 teams for 2012. Former WAC commissioner Karl Benson was appointed as the head of the Sun Belt earlier this year and has been aggressive with exploring expansion possibilities. Georgia State and Texas State will join the conference in 2013, but FIU and North Texas are departing for Conference USA.

What’s Next: The Sun Belt is not finished with expansion. UT Arlington has been rumored as a possible candidate, while Appalachian State is interested in making the move from the FCS ranks, but seems to be aiming for a Conference USA invite. Liberty recently announced its intentions to move to FBS play and could be a target for the Sun Belt. New Mexico State and Idaho previously played in the Sun Belt and could look to join as football-only members.


What’s Happened: The WAC has been picked apart over the last couple of years and could be entering its final season as a football conference. Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada all jumped to the Mountain West, leaving Idaho, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Texas State and UTSA as its members for 2012.

What’s Next: With Karl Benson leaving to be the commissioner of the Sun Belt, the WAC is in total disarray. Texas State is slated to join the Sun Belt in 2013, while Louisiana Tech and UTSA are moving to Conference USA. Utah State and San Jose State are joining the Mountain West next season. Idaho and New Mexico State are the only two football schools slated to participate in the WAC next season and both are exploring options with other conferences. The Aggies have been mentioned as a possible candidate for Sun Belt expansion, while the Vandals are still searching for a home on the FBS level. Unless the WAC can convince a handful of FCS schools to move up to FBS play, this conference won’t have a football schedule next year. 

By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

Related College Football Content

Athlon's Top 25 Countdown for 2012