- College football conference realignment has been going on unchecked since 1990.
- The Pac-12 has completely collapsed following a wave of exits to the Big Ten, Big 12, and ACC.
- SMU is joining Cal and Stanford in the ACC.
In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court decided NCAA vs. Board of Regents, declaring that the NCAA was in violation of American antitrust laws by dictating individual school television rights deals.
According to the high court, schools and conferences should be free to negotiate their own media deals. That was the free market at work, after all.
Nobody knew it at the time, but the Supreme Court’s decision had unleashed the winds of change on modern college football. Less than 10 years later, the wheels of college football conference realignment started to turn.
They haven’t stopped since.
College Football Conference Realignment Is Here… Again
Conference realignment is exactly like your favorite horror movie – no matter how dead and gone you think the killer is, another chapter is only right around the corner.
This time, with the USC, UCLA, and Colorado all departing the Pac-12, the stage was set for a total collapse of one of the most storied conferences in college athletics.
Now, only Oregon State and Washington State remain as Pac-12 schools that have yet to announce a new destination.
Meanwhile, the Big 12 – once maligned as a conference totally left for dead – has become the preeminent conference west of the Mississippi River.
Then again, it’s rarely that simple, is it?
Conference Realignment History: Every Power Football Move Since 1990
|Year||Team||Old Conference||New Conference|
|1991||Miami (FL)||Ind.||Big East (formation)|
|1991||West Virginia||Ind.||Big East (formation)|
|1991||Virginia Tech||Ind.||Big East (formation)|
|1991||Pittsburgh||Ind.||Big East (formation)|
|1991||Syracuse||Ind.||Big East (formation)|
|1991||Boston College||Ind.||Big East (formation)|
|1991||Temple||Ind.||Big East (formation)|
|1991||Rutgers||Ind.||Big East (formation)|
|1993||Penn State||Ind.||Big Ten|
|1996||Texas||Southwest||Big 12 (formation)|
|1996||Texas A&M||Southwest||Big 12 (formation)|
|1996||Texas Tech||Southwest||Big 12 (formation)|
|1996||Baylor||Southwest||Big 12 (formation)|
|2004||Miami (FL)||Big East||ACC|
|2004||Virginia Tech||Big East||ACC|
|2005||Boston College||Big East||ACC|
|2005||Louisville||Conference USA||Big East|
|2005||Cincinnati||Conference USA||Big East|
|2005||South Florida||Conference USA||Big East|
|2011||Nebraska||Big 12||Big Ten|
|2012||Texas A&M||Big 12||SEC|
|2012||West Virginia||Big East||Big 12|
|2012||TCU||Mountain West||Big 12|
|2014||Rutgers||Big East/American||Big Ten|
|2024||Arizona State||Pac-12||Big 12|
College Football Drives Conference Realignment
Long gone are the days when conferences had any semblance of geographic sensibility. A conference with origins in Texas and Oklahoma – the heart of central time – will soon share its standings with three EST teams and five MST teams.
It’s hard to say whether or not this model is smart, or well-reasoned, or good for collegiate athletics.
But that all went out the door long ago anyway. Conference realignment is driven these days by college football. There are explicit media rights deals and implicit inter-conference rivalries to live by.
Conference Realignment Predictions: Where Do We Go Next?
When it comes to the current cycle of conference realignment, the only thing we can be absolutely sure of is that we haven’t heard the end of it.
The Pac-12 cannot exist as a power conference in its current two-team format, which means it must either grow or be destroyed. Oregon State and Washington state will need to raidthe Mountain West, redirecting realignment pain down to the G5 and FCS levels as we have seen so many times before. Perhaps they’ll just leave for the Mountain West themselves, shedding the Pac-12 brand completely.
The SEC and Big Ten may consider even more additions in order to power yet another growth cycle.
The SEC could add Clemson, Florida State, or Miami. The Big Ten could add… the northeastern schools? The remainder of the ACC could merge with the Sun Belt.
I mean, this all sounds completely ludicrous, but when did any of this make sense ahead of time?
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