The latest wave of major conference realignment comes ashore this week, bringing with it geographical contradictions, upended traditions and financial gains.
Welcome to the Atlantic coast, Louisville.
Time to get to know the Great Lakes, Maryland and Rutgers.
Meet your new neighbors, schools of the American Athletic Conference. The footprint of the former Big East now covers nine states, from Connecticut to Texas, with Tulane in the mix to add some Louisiana flavor.
Change in league memberships has dominated college sports the past decade as much as the chase for national championships, with power conferences competing for multimedia revenue and recruiting exposure and the dominoes that fall in line behind them.
As of Tuesday, 12 more football teams in the NCAA’s bowl subdivision will have new affiliations. The American replaces Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) with Conference USA-departing Tulane, East Carolina and Tulsa. Maryland, a 1953 ACC original, bolts for the Big Ten.
Of the 128 schools to play at the FBS level this season, more than 40 percent have made at least one move in the past decade. That figure doesn’t even include the shake-ups of the mid-to-late 1990s that produced the Big 12, Conference USA and Mountain West. Flip the calendar back 25 years, and only 48 teams have stayed put. That means more than 62 percent switched during that span.
There aren’t other major moves on the immediate horizon. Might this mean administrators, coaches, athletes and fans can finally take a deep breath and start getting used to the new landscape?
“Hopefully we’re starting one of those periods where we’re all intact and can reach our full potential,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said.
Legal and practical reasons point to a lull. NCAA revenue sharing rights and the pay-for-play debate are the current attention-getters. All five major leagues — the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern — have long-term television contracts in place. These “grant of rights” agreements generally prevent further departures and make additions that force revenue division into smaller shares less attractive.
The court fight between the ACC and Maryland offers another discouragement of destabilization. After the ACC filed a lawsuit over Maryland’s requirement to pay the full exit fee of approximately $52 million, Maryland filed a $157 million counterclaim against the league.
“Change is never easy. But I think over time people will accept it, and everything will level and even out,” said former Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi, who was a part of planning for the 2011 addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten that touched off the last big boom.
Four of the five second-tier FBS conferences — the American, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt — will play with odd numbers in 2014 and thus leave one or more teams out of league play every weekend all season.
And consider this quirk of a 14-team Big Ten: Minnesota opened TCF Bank Stadium on campus in 2009, and Indiana will make its first visit there in ... 2018. Minnesota’s visit to Indiana in 2013 was the only one scheduled in a 12-season span.
The big winner in all of this could be Louisville. The Cardinals have developed a top-tier football team to accompany their basketball powerhouse, and they’ll introduce their flourishing programs and sparkling venues to the ACC this fall.
“It’s just been remarkable what has been accomplished there. You couldn’t help but pay attention to what was happening at Louisville,” Swofford said.