So technically this is July 2nd, and already the tide of “Everything changes today” and “It’s the end of NCAA Realignment” articles have begun to subside. The mainstream media written their stories, made their mistakes, and moved on to baseball, NASCAR, and fantasy football tips. The mass movement has taken place, and with a few notable exceptions, the future looks relatively calm, right?
Certainly, the top five football conferences say they’re satisfied with their rosters, the other five are looking to stabilize themselves (other than the Sun Belt, who’s just trying to keep together), and the massive changes that expansion by the Big Ten or SEC could spawn seem to be done for the next decade or so, as long as the Big Ten doesn’t find another sport to sponsor. Still, there’s a lot of unresolved situations, not to mention situations that administrators say are solved, whether they are or not. Here are a few of the questions that could cause ripples in the calm, if not outright waves.
The Big (10) 12: This is the sword of Damocles hanging over the small five conferences, and to some extent everyone below the big five. The Big 12 has, on multiple occasions, stated how happy it is at ten teams and how it isn’t worth expanding. Granted, there are great arguments for staying at 10 teams, since splitting the pie two more ways won’t make the slices any bigger. Still, the prospect of restoring their football playoff game, as well as the meaning of their conference name, must be tempting, not to mention how lonely West Virginia must seem with everyone else in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, or Iowa. My hopes for a West Virginia for Louisville trade seem less and less likely, so I’d imagine Cincinnati would be a near lock for #11, should they go to 12. As for the other spot, Boise is a bit of a reach geographically, and UTEP isn’t at that level, so I could see BYU, Houston, SMU, or New Mexico, in descending order of the Big 12′s desire. I could see all 4 being swept up if they needed to make a run at the Big 16, but not any time this decade.
The American Remainders: Cinci isn’t the only school unhappy about being in what is now the American Athletic Conference. UConn is outright shocked to be on the outside looking into the ACC. I would be too after the amazing success their basketball teams have had. However, UConn is most likely in the Missouri role there, waiting for the ACC to add Notre Dame or Army’s football team, or a worn-out West Virginia, to let them be the 16th team in football, perhaps 17th elsewhere. USF was also left behind, but after an early surge, they’ve been in the middle of the pack for a while, so they’ll probably stay and renew their rivalry with UCF.
Lacrosse: With the Big Ten starting lacrosse, and the Big East and Patriot Leagues taking Denver and Loyola, respectively, ECAC Lacrosse is a dead man walking. Yesterday Hobart, officially the male half of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, announced it was joining the NEC for the 2014 season, instead of the expected 2015 when the conference will likely expire. With Fairfield already going to the CAA, this left Bellarmine and Air Force the only teams without a 2015 home thusfar. From the looks of everything, both will join the Atlantic Sun, though I still hold out hope for the Patriot League, however much that won’t ever happen. On the women’s side, the ALC will be gutted by the Big Ten after the 2014 season, so Florida and Vanderbilt may have to hook up with other conferences. While Vanderbilt may content themselves with adding onto the Atlantic Sun conference, Florida has a hot team (on the field, at least. I haven’t had the chance to see them in person), and they require a conference that can challenge them. The Big East will be down to just Georgetown, UConn, Villanova, Cinci, and Marquette, so they’ll be looking for a 6th, and maybe a 7th if Vandy joins them.
Sun City Stress: Both of the nearest universities to my adopted home are in less than ideal situations, conference-wise. UTEP is in Conference USA, and while that conference has added a couple of semi-close colleges (UT-San Antonio and North Texas), the conference’s heart is in the South, with 7 non-Texas schools situated in former Confederate states. El Paso has always been a different area, equal parts Texas, New Mexico, and old Mexico, and it’s more of a Mountain Time school than a rival for the Longhorns. UTEP wasn’t even in the old Southwest Conference, but spent many years in the WAC, and I think when it’s all said and done, they’ll end up in its successor, the Mountain West. Speaking of the WAC, New Mexico State has to be feeling like the kid that got left back a grade. All of last year’s WAC schools left except for Idaho and Seattle, even the ones they added last year, and the new crop is the old Great West with Bakersfield, Grand Canyon, and UMKC thrown in for good measure. With Idaho taking off next year for the Big Sky, NMSU is going to be a really big fish in their small pond, and I don’t just mean Las Cruces. None of the other schools they’ll play in men’s basketball this season had better than a .500 record last season. (UT-PA was 16-16) I see NMSU looking for a hookup, especially if they can hitch a ride with UTEP.
Summit talks: The Summit League ended up a loser after Creighton left the MVC for the Big East, Loyola Chicago left the Horizon for the MVC, and Oakland left the Summit for the Horizon. They got a bit of a bump when they swapped UMKC with the WAC for Denver (I’m guessing Chicago State needed a rival), but they’re still at 8 teams, one less than the 9 they had last season. They could re-poach UMKC, or take Chicago State, from the WAC, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much left in D-I to poach, as far as the Midwest goes anyway. If too much expansion takes place, you may end up seeing the Summit rejoining the Horizon, or both of them joining the MVC and splitting into two entities: football schools and non-football schools. That’s 12 football schools (including Pioneer League) and 15 non-football, so there may be a bit more rebalancing, but that might solve a few things. Then again, the WAC is right up there with the Atlantic Sun on the death watch board, so that may add a whole nother set of teams into the mix. Speaking of which:
Atlantic Sunset?: Down to eight teams, with the CAA, SoCon, and Big South still looking for replacement limbs, the Atlantic Sun could be in trouble. The Atlantic Sun has always been a conference of transition, with 32 different permanent members over its 35-year history. The problem is that there may no longer be any more D-II teams looking to make the jump to D-I. Kennesaw State is the next likely frog to jump, with its new football team already going to the Big South, and Stetson and Florida-Gulf Coast looking more inviting by the day. The biggest question here, however, is whether the Big East will take Dayton and Saint Louis, as well as whether the A-10 decides to expand whether or not they lose the two private universities. The domino effect could easily end the Atlantic Sun, putting the CAA, SoCon, Big South, and even OVC into a semi-Thunderdome situation. If five men enter and four men leave, the fifth will be the Atlantic Sun, mark my words.
Other thoughts: I’d imagine NJIT will eventually find a home in the MAAC, the NEC, America East, or one of those other low-D-I conferences in the northeast. NYIT’s baseball team will follow NJIT wherever it ends up, and the MEAC women’s soccer teams will have to find a conference to join or make their own conference. The NCHC and WCHA will end up swapping a hockey team or two every now and then as competition rises and falls. Denver will join the Mountain West, taking the place Hawaii’s other teams would take were they in the conference. California schools will start to take up men’s lacrosse, solving the Denver/Air Force dilemma, and within a decade or two Stanford or USC or Pepperdine or someone else Californian will make the playoffs. The NCAA will clean up its act and keep the big conferences under their umbrella, at least until the next shocking scandal rolls out. Finally, when the grant of rights deals come up for debate in the 2020′s, there’ll be enough ways schools have challenged, gotten around, or just plain ignored the ruling to change conferences that the new grants will be even stricter and hailed as bringing stability to the conference landscape. Which it will. For a few years, anyway.