Texas and Oklahoma began a new game of conference realignment dominoes when those schools announced last year that they would leave the Big 12 for the SEC. Naturally, the Big 12 had to save itself from extinction so the conference quickly went out and secured commitments from three programs out of the American Conference - UCF, Houston, Cincinnati - as well as a major independent program in BYU.
And the game was on with College Football bets of who would be next.
By the time the final domino had fallen, a multitude of Football Bowl Subdivision schools had switched their league affiliations. In addition, a passel of Football Championship Subdivision Schools were absorbed into the FBS.
With the American Conference losing three of its highest profile schools, that league turned to Conference USA and picked its bones clean. The American snatched Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Texas-El Paso.
On the surface, that might not sound like much, but it gave the American Conference several major markets for viewership. Not only did it grab the largest market in both of the Carolinas (Charlotte), it also secured access to south Florida (FAU), the Dallas (North Texas) and Houston (Rice) areas, the largest market in Alabama (Birmingham), and the largest market in west Texas (El Paso).
Conference USA continued to get piled on when Marshall, Old Dominion and Southern Miss decided to abandon the ship and move to the burgeoning Sun Belt. In doing so, the SBC became a clear winner in the realignment sweepstakes as it grew from ten to fourteen teams when it also accepted a powerhouse FCS program in James Madison.
Not that long ago, the Sun Belt Conference was derided as one of the weakest conferences in the nation - if not THE weakest. That perception has changed in recent years with the breakout success of Coastal Carolina adding to the ongoing notoriety of Appalachian State and Louisiana. The Sun Belt used to be the conference that programs left to find greener pasture elsewhere. Now, it's a conference that attracts other schools to migrate to it. a la the incoming Herd, Monarchs, Golden Eagles and Dukes.
Meanwhile, Conference USA was down from fourteen members to five. Left in full scramble mode, CUSA,managed to convince Liberty and New Mexico State to leave the independent ranks. The conference also welcomes 2020 FCS champion Sam Houston State, as well as FCS member Jacksonville State which defeated Florida State last September.
If you're keeping count, that's a whopping twenty schools that will make moves between the upcoming 2022 season and 2025. It's the largest overhaul of NCAA conference affiliation since a wave of changes occurred between 2011 and 2014.
Naturally, the Power 5 conferences made out. The SEC will ultimately grow from 14 teams to 16 with its addition of Oklahoma and Texas. And all the turmoil did nothing to disturb the memberships of the ACC, Big Ten or Pac-12.
Nebraska briefly flirted with the idea of leaving the Big Ten, but that idea was quickly squelched. A handful of Mountain West members were also fast to decline the overtures of the American Conference while the Mid-American Conference completely avoided the fray,.
That's not to say that more changes aren't likely to happen in the foreseeable future. Where conferences used to be assembled to accommodate regional rivalries, sheer economics has become the sole motivating factor in dictating who goes where and who stays put.
The only remaining independent members of the FBS will be Notre Dame, Army, UMass and UConn. While brand identity affords the Irish and Black Knights the luxury of surviving on their own, common sense would seem to dictate that the Minutemen and Huskies need to seek a conference affiliation to reap the benefits of revenue sharing to support and grow their athletic programs.
So who will be next? Wanna bet?