College Sports Shake Up: Conference Realignment and its impacts

College Football has been shaken up like never before, with new teams joining different conferences all around the country. This past season we saw new additions to the Sun Belt with James Madison, Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss. We also saw other schools get accepted to join different conferences in the future, so what exactly does the future hold? What teams will be joining what conferences and in what season? Let’s take a look at the future shake up of NCAA sports.

Big 12

The Big 12 is going to have the most shakeup out of every conference in the near future. Four new teams are joining this season, while two are exiting next season. What will this mean for the conference going forward?

The conference is welcoming BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, and Houston starting July 1st, 2023. Oklahoma and Texas will be leaving the conference as of July 1st, 2024. Losing Oklahoma and Texas is a huge loss for the conference as they are the top two schools in revenue in the Big 12. These two schools also have the most rankings in the top 10 in every sport and the most national championships.

What does adding the new schools do for the conference? Besides adding two amazing venues in Orlando and Provo to the conference it also brings in more competition. Cincinnati, UCF, and Houston have been in the top three in the American Athletic Conference in all major sports for five seasons now. Most notably football and basketball. Cincinnati most recently became the first Group of Five squad to make the College football playoff and UCF had an undefeated season and so called “National Championship” in 2019. Houston basketball is constantly at the top of the country with two elite eight appearances and a Final Four appearance in recent years. With the Big 12 already being the most competitive basketball conference, adding Houston will make the conference schedule even more brutal.

BYU is an interesting school in an interesting situation. They have been independent in football since they left the Mountain West conference in 2010 and have never been in a Power 5 conference before. BYU basketball competes in the West Coast Conference with teams like Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga– with the Cougars’ departure, the WCC will lose a lot of its strength as a conference. BYU will be interesting to watch in the new Big 12, but I think they will compete in football and possibly baseball the best.

American Athletic Conference

The American continues to rebound and reload on teams after losing some of its best members. With the departure of Houston, Cincinnati, and UCF many thought the AAC would no longer be king of the Group of Five conferences until they added a whopping SIX new members to the conference. Now, what does this mean for the future?

The six new teams joining the AAC for next season in athletics are UTSA, UAB, Rice, North Texas, Charlotte, and FAU. Out of these six schools, four made a bowl game last season but only one of them won. Charlotte has now joined the FBS and moved conferences in an eight year span, and Florida Atlantic finds itself in its fourth new conference. Yes these four teams are MUCH weaker than the three that left the conference, but it is a good sign that six have joined.

UTSA has been a staple in the C-USA for the last two seasons with two conference championships and 11 win seasons, but they have never won a bowl game. UAB competes in one of the hardest recruiting markets in sports in Alabama, but their basketball program has lots of upside potential with Houston leaving the AAC. Speaking of basketball programs, FAU is currently ranked in the top 20 of the AP poll this season within the C-USA. The Owls can build some momentum heading into next basketball season and possibly compete as a top four team right out the gate. North Texas is an interesting team, as they were once members of the Sun Belt and C-USA.

The UTSA and UNT rivalry is safe with both teams moving to the AAC, so that is an overall positive for the stability and recognition of the conference. I fully expect the AAC to remain the king of the Group of 5 with the Sun Belt being very close behind it. As for C-USA, where all six of these teams got poached from, the future is very bleak. However, that opens the door for brand new FBS teams to enter Division 1-A play in football.

Conference USA

The C-USA got the short end of the stick when it came to conference realignment. This conference lost six of its members to the AAC this season after losing three last season to the Sun Belt. How did they rebound? Well, they added two FBS programs to the conference and three schools made the FCS to FBS jumps. The C-USA is by far the weakest Group of 5 conference, but it has set itself up to be the gateway to FBS football.

Let’s start with the two FBS teams: Liberty and New Mexico State. Both of these teams were independent in football, but Liberty competes in the A-10 conference for other sports and NMSU competes in the WAC. NMSU basketball has dominated the WAC and now they will be leaving for the MUCH weaker C-USA so I do not expect much change in their dominance in that sport.

On the gridiron, the Aggies have struggled to compete with an independent schedule, but a conference schedule should see them improve after a 7-6 season and a bowl win in 2022. Liberty has been dominant in their football schedule being ranked three times under former head coach Hugh Freeze, but after his departure, what is ahead for them? New head Coach Jamie Chadwell brought Coastal Carolina to relevance in his years there, so there is no evidence suggesting Liberty will suffer a terrible fall off this season in the C-USA.

The two brand new members to the FBS are Jacksonville State and Sam Houston State. JSU has competed in football at the FCS level but not to the extent of SHSU. SHSU is a three time FCS national champion and will most likely be a top team in the C-USA next season. JSU will compete better in basketball and baseball. JSU’s basketball program won the A-SUN regular season conference title last season and should be a top 2 team this next season. The Gamecocks baseball team has always competed in their conference and should continue that level of competitiveness. The conference will also add Kennesaw State in 2024.

Other Realignments

Along with these conferences gaining and losing teams, there are two other major moves that need to be addressed. The two biggest conferences in football, the SEC and Big 10, are going to have two new teams.

Oklahoma and Texas are joining the SEC in the 2025 season, or possibly earlier depending on the TV partnerships they have. This is good for the SEC as it adds more competition to the conference. With the addition of these two teams, the SEC is moving to division-less football with the top two teams making the conference championship each year for football.

USC and UCLA are joining the Big 10 starting in 2024. This was a weird move to hear about, having two California teams compete with a bunch of midwest teams, but when you look at the money involved then you see why. USC and UCLA helped the Big 10 land a deal with CBS to cast their games. Yes, the SEC on CBS will no longer be a thing– it will now be the Big 10 on CBS. The Pac-12 loses two of its most valuable programs, but at least they get to keep Oregon for now.

Other rumors surrounding conference realignment involve Oregon and Washington joining the Big 10 in the future, Notre Dame permanently joining the ACC, and a possible disbanding of the PAC12. Nonetheless, college sports are in for a wild future.