Conference realignment

Ray Watts, UAB President

UAB’s lack of football complicates its status as a member of Conference USA


With the UAB President Ray Watts making the decision last year to eliminate three sports, most notably football, there was an uproar within the UAB community. One aspect of the move that may have been overlooked by the decision-makers was how the lack of a football program would impact UAB’s standing within Conference USA.

The conference has a bylaw that members must have a football program that plays in Conference USA (or in the case of Charlotte, will participate), which could mean trouble for UAB. According to a report from the conference has let the powers that be at UAB know that said bylaw will not be amended to accommodate the school’s other programs.

What that means for UAB is that unless there’s some move to bring back football, it will in all likelihood have to find a new home for its athletic programs.

Conference USA’s executive committee meets in June and will formally vote on UAB’s future. But there is not interest from two-thirds of C-USA’s presidents to change the league’s bylaws requiring football as a condition of membership.

Assuming UAB doesn’t reinstate football for 2016, the school will most likely be a C-USA member for one more academic year in 2015-16, given the short timeframe for the Blazers to find a new home. C-USA is reluctant to kick out UAB and leave its sports without playing schedules.

When Conference USA was established in 1995 four members, Charlotte, DePaul, Marquette and Saint Louis, did not have football programs but all four were gone by 2005. Charlotte and SLU moved on to the Atlantic 10 that year, with DePaul and Marquette being two of the five C-USA members scooped up by the Big East.

Charlotte has since returned (2013), as the football team will play its inaugural season as an FBS and C-USA member after playing the last two seasons as an FCS independent.

While the article notes that Watts asked C-USA members to keep UAB in the fold despite the loss of its football program, you have to wonder if the possibility of looking for a new conference was considered during studies conducted to look into whether or not they would get rid off football. Because if the league presidents vote as expected in June, UAB will likely have a year to find a new conference.

And from a basketball standpoint, this question does head coach Jerod Haase no favors as he looks to build upon last season’s NCAA tournament appearance and win over No. 3 Iowa State.

Maryland, Atlantic Coast Conference come to agreement on exit fee

Maryland Announces Move to Big Ten Conference

When the members of the ACC agreed to increase its exit fee to more than $52 million, Maryland was one of the schools not too fond of the move. Of course that occurred before Maryland, a charter member of the ACC, decided that the financial rewards of joining the Big Ten were too much to pass up. What ensued was a lengthy legal battle, with the ACC unwilling to budge on its exit fee and Maryland unwilling to pay that much money to leave.

Friday the two sides announced that they’ve come to an agreement on the exit fee, with Maryland “paying” just under $31.4 million to the ACC. However that amount represents the money being withheld from Maryland by the ACC in lieu of their legal battle, so the settlement simply means that Maryland won’t have to give the ACC another dollar.

“I commend our Council of Presidents and specifically [University of Miami] President Donna Shalala for steering us to this resolution,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said in the release. “This agreement allows everyone to fully focus their energy and efforts on prioritizing the student-athletes, especially in this significant time of change within the NCAA restructuring.

“We wish the University of Maryland well and appreciate their past contributions as we collectively look toward the future.”

Many seem to believe that the wheels have slowed down (or even stopped) when it comes to conference realignment, with the “Power Five” leagues having the members they need in order to secure their future. And for the ACC the renewed sense of security didn’t come from the raised exit fee so much as it did the grant of rights agreement that was approved in April 2013. That contract runs through the 2026-27 season, meaning that if any school were to leave the conference their media rights would be controlled by the ACC.

The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 all have similar grant of rights agreements in place, and the SEC is in a position where it would likely take a moment of sheer lunacy for a member to leave at this point in time.

Realignment Catchup: More changes come on July 1

Mark Turgeon, Kevin Anderson

July 1, 2013 was a busy day on the college sports landscape, with a “new” league (American Athletic Conference) coming into existence and some 46 schools moving from one conference to another. But while the major shifting took place on that day, today — July 1, 2014 — hasn’t lacked for moves, with the majority of those shifts coming at the mid-major level.

Will this be the end of realignment for the foreseeable future? Or is this all just the tip of the iceberg, with NCAA issues such as the Ed O’Bannon and Sam Keller lawsuits and the threat of unionization possibly changing the structure of intercollegiate athletics? Only time will tell.

Below is a summary of each move that has taken place, with the ACC, American, Big Ten and SoCon among the conferences adding and/or losing members.


American Athletic Conference: Mike Aresco’s league loses two members in Louisville and Rutgers (Big Ten), but gains three as East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa make the jump from Conference USA. Basketball-wise this is a tough “trade” for one reason: the loss of Louisville. Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are off the the ACC, where they’ll be a contender from the start. Of the three basketball programs joining the conference Tulsa’s best positioned for immediate success, with the Golden Hurricane returning the majority of their rotation from last season’s NCAA tournament team.

Atlantic 10: Last year the A-10 lost programs to the American (Temple), Big East (Butler and Xavier) and Conference USA (Charlotte) while adding one in George Mason, and they’ll add another program this summer with Davidson on board. Bob McKillop’s Wildcats were an excellent program during their time in the Southern Conference, making them a quality addition to the Atlantic 10.

ACC: For the second time in its existence the ACC will be losing a school, with charter member Maryland moving to the Big Ten with economics playing a major role in the decision. In place of the Terrapins will be Louisville, who have experienced greater success on the basketball court in recent years. With a now stable membership, the ACC will look to live up to the “best conference ever” chatter that began with the arrivals of Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

Atlantic Sun: The A-Sun lost two members on July 1, with East Tennessee State and Mercer both moving to the Southern Conference. Those are big losses, especially when considering just how good Bob Hoffman’s Mercer Bears have been in recent years. Those moves make the A-Sun an eight-team league with FGCU expected to lead the way. And only seven of the eight teams will be eligible for the conference tournament, with Northern Kentucky still a transitional Division I member.

Big Sky: An 11-team league last season, the Big Sky moves to 12 members with the arrival of Idaho. The Vandals, whose football program will be a part of the Sun Belt, took one of the biggest hits in realignment with the Mountain West picking apart their former home (WAC).

Big South: The Big South loses one program, as VMI will join the Southern Conference. The Keydets may not have reached the NCAA tournament in recent years, but Duggar Baucom’s program played an entertaining style of basketball that led to a lot of points being scored.

Big Ten: Jim Delany’s conference doesn’t lose any members but they gain two in Maryland (ACC) and Rutgers (American). Maryland will be under some pressure in its first season in the league, with Mark Turgeon yet to lead the program to the NCAA tournament during his tenure in College Park, and they’re talented enough to end that streak. As for Rutgers, year two of the Eddie Jordan rebuilding project looks to be a difficult one. But on the bright side for the conference, adding Rutgers means another state with quality high school programs (New Jersey) is now within the conference’s “footprint.”

Colonial: The CAA was another league hurt by conference realignment, with Old Dominion, VCU and George Mason moving on in recent years. The CAA won’t lose any members this summer but they do gain one, as Elon’s moving in from the Southern Conference. Elon is the second school in as many seasons to move from the SoCon to the CAA, with the College of Charleston doing so last year.

Conference USA: Three more programs are leaving C-USA, with ECU, Tulane and Tulsa all moving on to the American. Conference USA adds one member this summer, with Western Kentucky making the move from the Sun Belt. Ray Harper’s Hilltoppers didn’t reach the NCAA tournament last season but they did in each of the two seasons prior.

Southern: No conference will experience more change on July 1 than the SoCon. Final count: four schools out, and three schools in. While Davidson (A-10) and Elon (CAA) have made their moves for basketball reasons, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will both join the Sun Belt with football being the catalyst. The three entrants are ETSU, Mercer (both from the A-Sun) and VMI (Big South).

Southland: The Southland loses a member this summer, with Oral Roberts moving back to the Summit League after spending two seasons in the Southland.

Summit League: Just two years after beginning play in the Southland Conference, Oral Roberts is headed back to the Summit League. So obviously there will be some familiarity, and the return of ORU gives the Summit League another solid program to compete with the likes of Denver, North Dakota State and South Dakota State.

Sun Belt: The Sun Belt loses one member in Western Kentucky but gains two as Appalachian State and Georgia Southern move in from the Southern Conference. Appalachian State will have a new head coach as well, with former Davidson assistant Jim Fox taking over for Jason Capel.

WAC: The WAC loses a member as Idaho’s moved its non-football programs to the Big Sky (football is in the Sun Belt). Grand Canyon remains a transitional Division I member, meaning that the Antelopes won’t be eligible for the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament in 2014-15. Seven of the eight remaining members will be able to play in the conference tournament next March.

And here’s the full list of schools changing leagues on July 1:

  • Appalachian State: Southern to Sun Belt
  • Davidson: Southern to Atlantic 10
  • East Carolina: Conference USA to American Athletic
  • Elon: Southern to Colonial
  • East Tennessee State: Atlantic Sun to Southern
  • Georgia Southern: Southern to Sun Belt
  • Idaho: WAC to Big Sky
  • Louisville: American Athletic to ACC
  • Maryland: ACC to Big Ten
  • Mercer: Atlantic Sun to Southern
  • Oral Roberts: Southland to Summit League
  • Rutgers: American Athletic to Big Ten
  • Tulane: Conference USA to American Athletic
  • Tulsa: Conference USA to American Athletic
  • VMI: Big South to Southern
  • Western Kentucky: Sun Belt to Conference USA

Kentucky entertained thoughts of joining ACC during 1990s


While the last decade or so have resulted in a great deal of instability at the Division I level from a conference alignment standpoint, the first major changes to the system began in the 1990s. Less than a decade after a landmark Supreme Court case removed NCAA-imposed limits on how often schools could appear on national television (it’s a long read), schools began moving around with football (same at it ever was) serving as the catalyst.

Penn State joined the Big Ten, Florida State moved to the ACC and Miami joined the Big East in what were considered to be the three biggest moves by schools that were independents when it came to football. And according to a story written by Mark Story in the Lexington Herald-Leader there was another move up for consideration: Kentucky leaving the SEC to join the ACC.

Former Kentucky athletic director C.M. Newton had some interesting comments on the situation, which consisted of quiet discussions between he, then school president Dr. Charles Wethington and ACC leaders, including how he saw Kentucky’s connection to the SEC and that of Florida State to the ACC.

Among the officials he met with, Newton said, were then-ACC Commissioner Gene Corrigan and then-Duke Athletics Director Tom Butters.

“They wanted us to come on and join their league,” Newton said. “I thought, with the way (UK) football was (struggling in the SEC), that might have been the best path for us. I always felt like (Florida State) was an SEC school in the ACC and Kentucky an ACC school in the SEC.”

Given the amount of success enjoyed by Kentucky’s basketball program a move to the ACC certainly would have captivated college basketball fans, with the Wildcats having the opportunity to play conference games against the likes of Duke and North Carolina. But there’s also something to be said for the rivalries the school enjoyed in the SEC, and while money has been the biggest factor in conference realignment the dollars weren’t as plentiful during the 1990s as they are now.

A move to the ACC could have benefitted Kentucky, but as Newton pointed out in the story it would have been very tough to leave a league as strong (and as lucrative) as the SEC.

h/t Kentucky Sports Radio

Conference realignment could have resulted in merger of Big 12, Big East schools

Los Angeles Galaxy v Houston Dynamo

Just three years ago collegiate athletics looked to be headed towards significant changes due to the specter of conference realignment. With talk of conferences moving to 16 members running rampant, more than a few schools found themselves searching for answers. Among those schools were many programs that called the Big 12 and Big East home, with the possibility of a Pac-16 robbing the former of some of its most powerful programs (Texas and Oklahoma among the options) and the latter reeling from the loss of Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC.

That led to the consideration of a possible solution, one that was sparked by the desperation to avoid falling off of the map of major collegiate athletics. In a story written by Brett McMurphy of, West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck discussed his early conversations with Big 12 athletic directors about the possibility of the remaining Big 12 and Big East members coming to together to form a conference.

Luck even referred to the possibility as his “favorite story that hasn’t been written.”

“I didn’t know those guys from Adam,” Luck said. “I knew the schools. I told them, ‘Your conference may fall apart. You guys look like you might get left behind. Why don’t we take all of you and TCU, which was kind of homeless.”

Luck’s plan, which also had the support of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, was also to add UCF for a 12-team Big East divided into two divisions: West: Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, TCU and Louisville; East: UConn, Cincinnati, Rutgers, West Virginia, South Florida and UCF.

Obviously this didn’t happen due in large part to the then Pac-10 adding two schools (Colorado and Utah), thus meaning that programs such as Texas and Oklahoma remained in the Big 12. One thing to consider is whether or not those conversations with Big 12 leaders set the stage for West Virginia to join the conference.

There may not have been much familiarity at the time, but tossing the ideas of a Big 12/Big East merger likely helped strengthen the relationships between the parties involved. Now the Big 12 is comfortable with ten members, which allows for a full round-robin in basketball and a nine-game conference slate in football. From a basketball standpoint that merger idea would have been good if deemed necessary, but the Big 12 is better off with its current group.

ACC’s league schedule highlights the flaws of massive power conferences


The ACC has released their conference pairings for the next two seasons as they add Louisville into the mix and expand to 15 teams.

Click the image to enlarge

The way the schedule breaks down is that each team will be assigned two permanent rivals that they will play twice every season and two more league opponents that each team will play a home-and-home with, rotating annually. After that, the last ten games on the ACC schedule will be filled with five home games and five road games, one each against the other ten programs in the conference.

Some of the notable pairings:

  • Duke is permanent rivals with North Carolina and Wake Forest, meaning they will play home-and-homes every year, but they are not with N.C. State. UNC will get Duke and N.C. State twice every season while N.C. State and Wake will also face-off twice annually.
  • Louisville will draw Pitt and Virginia as their permanent rivals while Syracuse gets Pitt and Boston College.
  • Notre Dame got lucky, as their annual home-and-homes will come against Boston College and Georgia Tech.

But the new ACC schedule highlights the issue of having such an inflated conference. For example, Duke is likely going to be the favorite in the ACC next season, but it stands to reason that the two biggest challengers for the Blue Devils will end up being Louisville and Virginia. The Blue Devils only play them once each, with both games coming on the road.

It’s part of the reason that Virginia won the ACC this past season. That’s not to say the Cavs weren’t good or weren’t the best team in the conference, but it certainly didn’t hurt them that they only played Syracuse, Duke, Pitt, North Carolina and N.C. State once each.

But such is life in major college basketball these days.