As July 1st, Realignment Day, comes upon us, many of the effects of NCAA conference realignment will become official. When it comes to basketball and other so-called Olympic sports, the changes can largely be grouped into two classifications: Full Membership and Single Sport (the latter of which we’ll leave for another column). When it comes to basketball on its own, all of its changes coincide with full membership changes, as all D-I multi-sport athletic conferences sponsor the sport for men and women. While only a handful of conferences sponsor FBS, or even FCS, football, basketball is one of the few sports that every D-1 school can sponsor. All you need is a court, a team, a travel budget, and a dream. Here’s a look at the main changes in Division 1.
First off, we covered some of the all-sport changes in our previous football column, which I will briefly cover here. Syracuse and Pitt are heading to the ACC from what was the Big East (more on that later). UCF, Houston, Memphis, and SMU head to the American Athletic Association, or old Big East (again, later). Conference USA took Louisiana Tech and UTSA from the WAC and FAU, FIU, Middle Tennessee, and North Texas from the Sun Belt. The Sun Belt took Georgia State from the CAA and Texas State from the WAC. The Mountain West took Utah State and San Jose State from the WAC. The WAC took a vacation from football, one it may not return from for quite some time.
As mentioned above, the Big East changed its name to the American Athletic Conference, after suggestions of Conference USA Version 2.0 fell on deaf ears, and a new Big East rose from the so-called Catholic Seven: Georgetown, St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova, Marquette, and Depaul. These seven private schools eventually added Butler and Xavier from the Atlantic 10 conference, as well as Creighton from the Missouri Valley Conference. The Atlantic Ten would also lose Charlotte to Conference USA, and respond by pulling George Mason from the Colonial Athletic Association. The CAA, who would also lose Old Dominion to Conference USA and Georgia State to the Sun Belt, would only pull College of Charleston from the Southern Conference. The loss of Creighton to the new Big East meant that the MVC would need to look elsewhere, eventually settling on Loyola Chicago from the Horizon League, while the Horizon League would replace Loyola with Oakland of the Summit League.
The AAC, or American, or whatever everyone decides to call it, was initially left with only Louisville, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and South Florida, with Louisville to leave in 2014. The four previously mentioned additions helped it stay in business, as did the addition of Temple, whose football team had joined the Big East in its last year before the split. The ensuing snares mentioned above, for C-USA and the Sun Belt, thus arose from the newly created void.
The other major game changer was the near-total destruction of the WAC. With Utah State and San Jose State heading to the Mountain West, Louisiana Tech and UTSA heading to Conference USA, and Texas State and non-football Texas-Arlington heading to the Sun Belt, the WAC was already a shell of its former self. Once boasting 16 teams in all sports, including football, the WAC was down to four schools, only two of which played football. Two of those teams, Denver and Idaho, would also leave for the Summit League and Big Sky, respectively, in 2013 and 2014, respectively. Facing having only three schools in 2013, and just New Mexico State and Seattle after that, the WAC added teams from where it could.
Where it could was mainly the Great West Conference. After it abandoned football in 2011, the remaining five teams were reduced to four when Houston Baptist left for the Southland Conference, which also added independent New Orleans and Division II Abeline Christian and Incarnate Word. With the Great West conference already not qualifying for tournament bids before the attrition, three of the remaining schools – Utah Valley State, Texas-Pan American, and Chicago State – left for the new-look WAC, leaving NJIT alone to either keep up the Great West facade or find a new home. The WAC also picked up independent Cal State-Bakersfield, who had several sports in both the WAC and Great West. UMKC came over from the Summit League, apparently as some sort of trade for Denver and a college to be named later. Rounding out the new-look WAC is Grand Canyon University, a Division II call-up and the first for-profit university to join Division I.
Most of the rest of the 2013 conference changes happened in the northeastern US. The Patriot League added two quality schools in the Metro Atlantic’s Loyola Maryland and America East’s Boston University. The MAAC would respond by taking Quinnipiac and Monmouth of the NEC. (While Quinnipiac’s hockey teams were unaffected, the change required Monmouth’s football team to move to the Big South.) America East, on the other hand, would add UMass Lowell from Division II. Finally, in a move largely unrelated to the other moves, private school Pacific is moving from the now fully public Big West to the fully private West Coast Conference.
The changes to Division I’s makeup are great, especially along the east coast and in the west. While the usual changes in rivalries and domino effects have been prevalent, the changes have had some positive effects. The distillation of the Big East has created an elite non-football conference above the A-10, that will compete for the top tournament seeds year in and year out, while leaving another conference with plenty of basketball power in UConn, Cinci, and Memphis. Four former Great West teams, as well as two former independents, will join conferences and once again have an outside chance, however slim, at the NCAA tournament. Sadly, one of those independents, New Orleans, will have to wait a year to take advantage of their conference ties, thanks to a postseason ban for them, FIU, and 4 SWAC schools due to low APR. Sadly, a conference doesn’t by itself provide the tools to make the grade.