Conference Realignment Update

June 11, 2010 by Dave Congrove

Nebraska and Boise State officially switched conference affiliations on Friday, becoming the second and third schools to do so in the past two days.

Boise State went first on Friday, announcing its switch from the WAC to the Mountain West in a move that will take effect on July 1, 2011. Later in the day, the Big Ten accepted Nebraska's application and the 'Huskers could be playing football in its new conference by 2011.

Those moves follow Colorado's announcement on Thursday that it is moving to the PAC-10 in an arrangement that is anticipated to begin with the 2012 football season. Nebraska's switch could move that date up a year.

In a school press release, Nebraska Chancellor Harvey Perlman said, "From both an academics standpoint and an athletics perspective, this makes sense for the future of our university."

Perlman added, "Other schools in the Big 12 some time ago began to indicate interest in moving to other conferences. With the presidents of the other Big 12 schools unwilling to make a long-term commitment to the Big 12, we realized that our first priority had to be acting in the best interest of Nebraska. Waiting to see what other Big 12 schools decided to do would have placed Nebraska in a vulnerable position.

Nebraska becomes the twelfth team in the Big Ten, and the conference could be headed toward sixteen. It's not difficult to imagine that Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Pittsburgh would be among those willing to be absorbed. Even Notre Dame becomes a greater possibility.

The PAC-10 is reported to be aggressively seeking additional membership. It is widely expected that the PAC-10 will ultimately attempt to grow to 16 schools with two divisions by siphoning off 5 more Big 12 schools, specifically Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A&M. Those schools would join Colorado, Arizona and Arizona State in a West Division alignment.

The University of Texas Board of Regents will meet Tuesday (June 15) to discuss its options.

Boise State's flight to the Mountain West means it will be leaving a conference it has dominated while earning two BCS bowl bids and winning both of those games. TCU, whom the Broncos defeated in last year's Fiesta Bowl, is a member of the Mountain West. Boise State also defeated Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl following the 2006 season.

Boise State enters the 2010 season on a 14-game winning streak. The Broncos also have streaks of 25 regular season wins, 26 home wins, 56 regular season home wins, and 42 straight conference home victories. BSU has never lost at home to a fellow WAC member (36-0). The Broncos' last home loss to a conference foe occurred in 1998 when they were a member of the Big West and fell to Idaho in the final regular season game. The Broncos are 4-1 in their last five matches against BCS conference schools.

Colorado is at the other end of the spectrum. The Buffaloes haven't won a conference championship since 2001 and claimed its last Big 12 North Divisional title in 2005 when it lost the conference title game to Texas by a humiliating 70-3 score. Since then, the Buffs have gone 16-33 overall and 10-22 in Big 12 games.

This new wave of expansion begs to ask many questions. Will the PAC-10 be called the PAC-16? Will the Big Ten keeps its name like it has done since growing to 11 schools with the addition of Penn State in 1993, or will it finally adopt a new name that resembles the math? Will the ACC and SEC begin aggressively seeking teams? Will the Big 12 disappear completely, or seek new membership? Could the Big East also be cherry-picked and eroded, at least for football? Will Kansas, one of the nation's top basketball schools, find a high-profile conference home? Will Notre Dame find itself with no other choice than to join the movement?

Stay tuned as answers to those questions and others could arrive quickly. "Proactive" appears to be the word of the moment as conferences look to "eat or be eaten".

Meanwhile, the media is rife with negative opinion on how this spate of realignment can be blamed on the almighty dollar. Yet, the majority of the media favors a national playoff and uses the potential monetary windfall as positive justification for a move in that direction.

Does realignment have everything to do with money? In a way, yes. But the motivation may not be as much about greed as it is about survival.

What I find more interesting to ask and consider is whether or not 16-team conferences can survive. The most recent attempt at such for college football came about in the 1990's with the WAC, and that experiment lasted only three seasons (1996-1998). The breakup led to the creation of the Mountain West.