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Bob Dylan and Conference Realignment - The Times They Are A-Changin'

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Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen,
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again,
And don't speak too soon,
For the wheel's still in spin,
And there's no telling who
That it's naming,
For the loser now
Will be later to win,
For the times they are a changing.

 

Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin'

Only heeding the words of Bob Dylan, here's my take on conference realignment.  There still a lot of pieces that need to fall into place, but things are quickly taking shape.

Happened:

Colorado joined the Pac-10, leaving the Big 12 with 11 schools and making Pac-10 expansion a reality.

Nebraska joined the Big 10, leaving the Big 12 with ten schools and giving the Big 10 twelve schools.

Boise State joined the Mountain West, effectively leaving them out of expansion talk.

The Oklahoman has announced Oklahoma will definitely be joining the Pac-10.

Reports say Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State will join the Pac-10 as soon as a formal offer is made.

The Future:

The Pac-10 is looking to expand to 16, and it's rumored Texas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State have all been offered slots.  With Nebraska leaving, people report that Texas wants out of the Big 12, probably taking the other Texas schools with it.  Baylor will be left behind, since the Pac-10 has qualms with accepting a religiously affiliated school (which might make Texas look elsewhere, but that decision should come later).  If those schools left, the Big 12 would be down to five schools, who would all be looking for new homes.

Pac-10:

Washington, Washington State, Stanford, Cal, UCLA, USC, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State.

The only caveat to this expansion are rumors that the SEC has interest in Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.  Both schools would significantly expand the SEC's TV market, so this is a real possibility.  If they were to turn down the Pac-10 for the SEC, I wouldn't be surprised if the Pac-10 reached out to any one of Utah, Brigham Young (if they aren't turned off by the religious aspect), and TCU to fill out the first super-conference.

Revised Pac-10:

Washington, Washington State, Stanford, Cal, UCLA, USC, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Utah.

With the Big 10 getting Nebraska, they could stop expanding right there, depending on Notre Dame's decision.  If Notre Dame accepts its invitation, they will probably look for three more schools to reach the "ideal" (the quotes imply the sarcastic tone I adopt when using favorable language to address conference cannibalism) 16 institutions.  While Missouri makes the most sense geographically and with regard to TV market share (hello Kansas City and St. Louis), they don't have an invitation yet.  The conference has a rumored interest in Maryland (probably for DC) as well.  I expect Missouri will join, followed by Syracuse and Rutgers (if Notre Dame turns them down) from the Big East (to try for a small piece of the Big Apple's market).  Pittsburgh could also work, but the Big 10 has made it known that expanding to Pennsylvania is not a high priority. 

Big 10:

Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Penn State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota, Nebraska, Missouri, Notre Dame, Maryland, and Syracuse

I think Notre Dame will accept the invitation if the Pac-10 goes to 16.  While it's nice to be a football independent, these super-conferences are too powerful to ignore..

Now this leaves Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Baylor without homes.  Frankly, I think Iowa State will have to join Conference USA (since neither their location or storied history seem to attract many suitors).  I think the other fates will be decided (indirectly) by the SEC.

Case 1: The SEC embraces expansion and takes Texas A&M.

Look out for the SEC to raid the ACC if it wants to.  So far both the ACC and SEC have remained quiet on expansion, but I think if the Pac-10 and Big 10 expand towards 16, they'll be forced into action.  With the new additions of the Cowboys and Aggies, the SEC would need three schools from the ACC.  Historically, the two best football schools are Miami and Florida State, but I think the SEC will leave both alone since they already have the Florida TV market (and I don't think Florida would sign off on empowering its rivals with more money...).  This leaves Georgia Tech, Clemson, Virginia Tech, and Maryland (even though I think the Big 10 will get them first) as real possibilities.  Realistically, I see the SEC choosing Georgia Tech, Clemson, and Virginia Tech.

I have left UNC off the list of possibilities (since they would bring a new market and plenty of fans) only because I'm a college basketball fan at heart, and I can't comprehend UNC and Duke not being in the same conference (throw in NC State if you want).  This might be naive, but there's no way I see the Tar Heels leaving Tobacco Road.

SEC:

Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi, Mississippi State, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, and Clemson

Case Two: The SEC embraces expansion later, leaving Texas A&M to the Pac-10 (far less likely).

While I think the first case is most likely for the SEC, they would need to grab four schools from the ACC if they don't get Texas A&M.  In that case, they'll probably snatch one of the Florida schools (probably Miami), which wouldn't expand their TV market nearly as much as adding the Cowboys and the Aggies.

SEC (Case Two):

Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi, Mississippi State, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami, and Clemson

Now the ACC has been left with UNC, Duke, Virginia, Miami, Boston College, Florida State, Clemson, NC State, and Wake Forest (possibly without Miami and Clemson).  I see them overcoming geographic differences and combining with Kansas, Kansas State, and Baylor from the Big 12.  This leaves the "ACC" needing four more schools to round out its 16 teams.  Their best option is to finish off the Big East, taking Rutgers, Pitt, Louisville, and Cincinnati (as awesome as it would be for Georgetown and Villanova to join, I think the Catholic schools from the Big East will break off and form their own conference).  West Virginia or South Florida could easily be added to that list as well.

ACC:

UNC, NC State, Duke, Virginia, Wake Forest, Miami, Florida State, Boston College, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Rutgers, Pitt, Louisville, UConn, and Cincinnati

ACC (Case Two):

UNC, NC State, Duke, Virginia, Wake Forest, Florida State, Boston College, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Rutgers, Pitt, Louisville, Cincinnati, UConn, and West Virginia

This leaves West Virginia, South Florida, and Iowa State without homes.  I hate to pile more bad news on UConn, but things aren't necessarily set for them either (I included them fairly arbitrarily when South Florida, West Virginia, and Iowa State probably have the same chance as UConn).  In the second case, West Virginia has a conference, but the first case is more likely (since it is most beneficial for the SEC). 

I think the Catholic schools from the Big East would remain a conference (Georgetown, Villanova, Depaul, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, and Marquette for sure), and might keep West Virginia, UConn, and South Florida as well.

One thing I have totally ignored is the issue of academics.  This is largely because the Pac-10 and Big 10 so far have ignored academics as well.  While I think academic fits might be the "tiebreaker" for a couple of schools, I don't think academic performance will have much effect, if any, on upcoming news.

Recap: here are the four super-conferences along with the leftovers that would have to find new homes.

The Pac-10 will add Colorado, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Utah (possibly replacing Utah with Texas A&M).

The Big 10 will add Nebraska, Missouri, Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Maryland (possibly adding Rutgers or Pitt if Notre Dame doesn't work out).

The SEC will add Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Texas A&M (possibly replacing Texas A&M with either Miami or Florida State).

The ACC will add Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Rutgers, Pitt, Louisville, UConn, and Cincinnati (along with either West Virginia either South Florida if the SEC takes two extra).

Finally, Iowa State joins Conference USA, and the Catholic remnants of the Big 10 form their own conference (maybe adding another school or the leftovers from the Big East). 

Conference realignment might not end up being this extreme (though, if the Pac-10 gets 16 schools, don't expect everyone else to set idly), but no matter what it promises to drastically affect college sports as we know it: geographic location is far less important in the new conferences, which would have to divide into two divisions for football (and sports that aren't financed as well).  Additionally, the BCS would have to be reevaluated entirely.  Personally, I think the four super-conferences would squeeze out the BCS and form a football playoff (unheard of!) with the four respective champions.  This would kill the smaller market teams, like Boise State, who aren't moving into a super-conference, but I hope people would find a way to make a "play-in" game for the lowest rated conference champ to allow the best small conference team a chance to make the playoffs.

Luckily, the basketball postseason shouldn't be affected nearly as much.  Assuming the four super-conferences stay in the NCAA (which they should, unless something really extreme happens), the tournament should come out virtually unscathed.  Unfortunately, the regular season will not be the same.  Old conference rivalries might not exist, and it's harder to play teams within the conference twice (just ask the Big East).  I hope the super-conferences try and keep the current rivalries intact by having rivals play twice every year by having each team play every team once and three teams twice during the regular season.  This would keep epic rivalries like UNC / Duke or blossoming rivalries like Kansas / Kansas State with at least two games for fans to chew on during the season.  Hopefully schools would use some of the regular season to play out their old rivalries (Kansas / Missouri for instance) to minimize the growing pains.

The truth is I don't like conference realignment any more than I liked the thought of NCAA tournament expansion.  But it's here, and it doesn't look like it's going to quit until four super-conferences materialize with TV networks to boot.  Hopefully we'll all be pleasantly surprised by what's to come, but a big change is on the horizon whether we like it or not.  Whatever you do, don't take the next couple of years for granted.  They might be the last chance you get to fully appreciate your conference the way it has been, for "the line is drawn, the curse is cast ... as the present now will later be past, the order is rapidly fading."

Come gather around people
Wherever you roam,
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown,
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone,
If your time to you
Is worth saving,
Then you better start swimming,
Or you'll sink like a stone,
For the times they are a changing.

Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin'

Submitted by Matt Patton, Special to Big 12 Hoops