With July 1st marking the official end of the 2012-13 NCAA season, as well as the beginning of the 2013-14 season, all conference realignment for the coming year will officially take place on that day. In this series of posts, we will summarize the announced conference changes in football, basketball, hockey, and other sports. In today’s post, we look at Division I football, where the WAC is no more, the Big East is now The American, and the SEC still rules the roost, to the chagrin of Big Ten fans like me.
The 2013 NCAA football season will be a very different animal from 2012. Sure, Alabama is still the favorite to win it all, but with one less conference and a slight shift in the power structure, the lines have been redrawn and rivalries have been changed forever. Or in some cases, until next year. The SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and MAC conferences will have the same lineups this year, though at least the Big Ten will be changing in 2014. Without further ado, let’s look at the conferences that will change, starting with the one that lost football entirely.
WAC: Last year was the swan song of WAC football, and nearly the end of the WAC altogether. Unable to draw FCS teams from the Big Sky willing to make the leap, the WAC ended football sponsorship, being unable to sustain its two remaining teams, Idaho and New Mexico State. Both of those schools will spend 2013 as independent schools before joining the Sun Belt in 2014. As for the other five teams, Utah State and San Jose State will join the Mountain West, Louisiana State and 2012 addition UT-San Antonio will move to Conference USA, while fellow one-year wonder Texas State will move to the Sun Belt.
ACC: The ACC came out the cleanest from realignment this year in football by adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh, while losing nobody. Syracuse has been a consistant team lately and should be fairly competitive in the conference. Pitt has been on a downswing lately, but has a strong football history, even though it’s had to leave its Backyard Brawl with West Virginia behind last year after the Mountaineers left for the Big 12.
Big East/The American/AAC/Whatever: The conference formerly known as the Big East sold its name to the so-called “Catholic 7″ as they left to form their own non-football conference. With Pittsburgh and Syracuse leaving for the ACC, the newly christened American Athletic Conference invited four schools with reasonable second-tier success to join the six Big East holdovers (Rutgers and Louisville, who will both leave next year, Temple, who rejoined last year for football, as well as Connecticut, Cincinatti, and South Florida). SMU and Houston were both members of the old Southwest Conference, and have played football at very high levels. SMU’s heights in the 80′s were followed by the lows of the NCAA’s “Death Penalty”, with bowl success just starting to return over the last few years. Houston had some major success over the last few years with their prolific quarterback Case Keenum. Central Florida has been a major contender in Conference USA lately, playing in last year’s C-USA championship game, and should be able to restore their rivalry with USF. Memphis has always been more of a basketball school, and their football team has been an afterthought in FBS, having won only two minor bowl games since 1971.
Conference USA: With the losses of UCF, SMU, Houston and Memphis reducing numbers to 8 football teams, C-USA picked up replacements from the best of what was left. Louisiana Tech and UT-San Antonio both came from the disintegrating WAC. Louisiana Tech fought hard for the final WAC title, only losing to Texas A&M before their last two games brought close losses to Utah State and San Jose State, relegating them to third place. UTSA, while ineligible for the WAC title in their only year there, started their season 5-0, finishing a respectable 8-4 while winning the I-35 Rivalry game with Texas State. From the Sun Belt, C-USA pulled Florida Atlantic, Florida International, North Texas, and Middle Tennessee. Middle Tennessee brings in the lucritive Nashville market, replacing Memphis, and has a decent mid-range football team. FAU and FIU help replace UCF, though UCF had almost twice as many wins as FAU and FIU combined last year. North Texas has had some past success, but it’ll be hard for them and UTSA to replace SMU and Houston.
Mountain West: The Mountain West’s 2013 was originally going to be much different, as Boise State and San Diego State were initially going to leave for the Big East. With the dissolution of the Big East and the departure of four of its football schools between this year and next, first Boise, then SDSU decided to stay in the Mountain West. Thus, the only changes in 2013 are the additions of Utah State and San Jose State, the final WAC champion and runner up, respectively. Both schools should compete in the middle of the pack, though Utah State’s fortunes have been happier overall lately, while San Jose’s major draw has been the location over the team quality.
Sun Belt: Losing four schools to C-USA, the Sun Belt responded by adding the last WAC school, FBS newcomer Texas State. Texas State may struggle in the Sun Belt, having won only four games last year to Stephen F Austin, Idaho, NMSU, and Houston. In addition, Georgia State will come in from the FCS Colonial Athletic Association (where they spent only one losing season), and is transitioning to FBS so they will be ineligible for bowl games until next year. The majority of the Sun Belt’s expansion will take place next year, growing to 11 teams for 2014 and possibly looking for a 12th by 2015 to field a conference championship.
FBS Independents: With the end of WAC football, Idaho and New Mexico State will spend 2013 as independent teams before joining the Sun Belt in 2014. With less-than-stellar football teams and out-of-the-way locations, these schools found themselves on the outside looking in. Each team was able to cobble together 12-game schedules, and will face each other in their season finale, but neither team looks to be on its way to a bowl game any time soon.
FCS: Georgia State leaving for the Sun Belt conference was not the only change in FCS football. Old Dominion will be leaving the CAA for Conference USA this year in most sports, but will spend 2013 as an independent team in FCS before joining the FBS over the next two years. The CAA was able to replace Georgia State and Old Dominion with Albany and Stony Brook, both joining as football-only members. Both full members of America East, Albany joins from the NEC, while Stony Brook comes from the Big South. Monmouth’s football team, heading to the Big South in 2014, will spend 2013 as an independent after leaving the NEC in all sports. The Southland Conference is adding four schools, three of which will sponsor football in 2013, but since Incarnate Word and Abeline Christian will be transitioning from Division II and Houston Baptist will be playing an exhibition schedule only, none will be counted as FCS teams until 2014. (New Orleans, while leaving open the possibility, does not currently sponsor football.) Finally, three schools will launch new football teams in 2013. Mercer and Stetson of the Atlantic Sun conference will launch teams in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, with Mercer scheduled to jump to the SoCon in 2014, and Charlotte will have an independent team in 2013 as it transitions to FBS and Conference USA. While highly unlikely, the new PFL members will have a shot at the FCS title, along with their PFL partners, as the PFL champion will get a berth in the FCS playoffs, starting this season.