Conference lineups keep changing

Originally Published: May 31, 2012
By Andrea Adelson | ESPN.com

Introducing a new must-have for anybody who follows college football:

[+] EnlargeBoise State
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireBoise State will head east to join the Big East for football only.

A conference realignment cheat sheet.

How else to follow the moves that have shaken the sport in the last year? Twenty-four schools have changed conferences since last May. Go back to 2010, and 32 football-playing schools have either moved conferences or gone independent. Four schools have changed conferences twice.

Rich tradition and intense rivalries have been trumped in favor of dollar signs, self-interest and gerrymandered geography. Expansion has impacted all 11 conferences on the FBS level, some more than others. In the last year alone:

The SEC has expanded into recruiting hotbed Texas with Texas A&M and added Missouri to get to 14 teams, further strengthening the league for the future.

The Big East has been gutted once again, and left with only two members that were in the league when it began play in 1991. One of them, Temple, was readmitted into the Big East in March after being kicked out in 2004 because of underperformance.

Last rites were given to the Big 12, which lost Nebraska and Colorado in 2010 and then lost Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC in 2011. But would you look at the league now. With TCU and West Virginia in hand, the league has 10 programs and just announced a bowl agreement with the SEC.

The WAC has been decimated to near destruction. Idaho and New Mexico State are on the outside looking in, hoping for another conference home.

The Mountain West has lost its most successful programs in the last two years -- Boise State, San Diego State, TCU, Utah and BYU. Starting in 2013, it will look like the old WAC.

Conference USA lost four members to the Big East. It has since added Sun Belt schools FIU and North Texas and WAC school Louisiana Tech, plus three more. One, UT-San Antonio, is entering Year 1 on the FBS level. The other two, Charlotte and Old Dominion, will begin FBS play in 2015.

Dominoes that began falling in the SEC and Big 12 ended up impacting everybody else. The stronger conferences pick off the weaker ones -- a college football version of "Lord of the Flies."

Those inside college football will tell you that conference movement had always been part of the game. That is true. But there has never been a period that has seen as many moves as we have in the last year.

Nor as many moves that have left many scratching their heads.

You have outlier West Virginia in the Big 12.

You have outlier Missouri in the SEC.

You have outliers Boise State and San Diego State in the Big East for football only, making a mockery of the league's name.

"If we had this conversation five years ago, and I said, 'Do you see any way school X would join conference Y?' You would have said that will never happen," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said recently, being careful not to name anybody by name.

What has been business that occupied athletic directors and commissioners only on occasion has turned into a constant preoccupation. Cellphone batteries are dead at midday; conference calls are held year-round. For a league like the Mountain West, constant change has been the norm.

[+] EnlargeCraig Thompson
Otto Kitsinger III/Getty ImagesMountain West commissioner Craig Thompson has been frustrated by what he called "market-driven decisions."

After one membership change in its first 11 years, the league has added six members and lost five in the last two years. One, Boise State, has been added AND lost.

"For a century, people have changed leagues. It just seems to be drinking out of a firehouse recently for some of us," Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said. "I'm not as concerned about replacing members. What does frustrate me is being stewards of the game, the rivalries that may not happen. There are 10-plus games that have been played for over 100 years that are no longer scheduled. &

"Maybe that is a generational thing, maybe fans don't care. Maybe I'm too old school, but it's a frustration. These are market-driven decisions."

Decisions that have done away with games like Texas-Texas A&M; West Virginia-Pitt; Kansas-Missouri; Oklahoma-Nebraska, as Thompson mentioned.

Decisions that have many questioning whether college football is better today than it was even two years ago.

"To me, college football is as popular as any sport in our country. I just think it's sad we're screwing with it as much as we are because I don't think we have to," said Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes, whose program has endured years of long travel as members of the WAC.

"It's a great product. It's stood the test of time, and it's stood the test of time because it's been slow to change. Here we are having this drastic change. In the long run, I don't think this is the best thing for college football."

Expansion may not be over, either. Recent speculation has focused on the Big 12, Florida State and Clemson. The Clemson Board of Trustees and Florida State's Board of Trustees chairman Andy Haggard have both said they must explore options if a viable conference alternative is presented to them.

The recent bowl alignment between the Big 12 and SEC has not helped matters, either, painting doomsday scenarios for the ACC and Big East.

[+] EnlargeSonny Dykes
AP Photo/David J. PhillipLouisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes is against what he sees as drastic change.

Big 12 interim commissioner Chuck Neinas continues to maintain that his league is happy at 10. But if we have learned anything about the last year, it is the old refrain from "The X-Files."

Trust No One.

"We need to get to a time of greater stability," Swarbrick said. "Because one of the challenges with it isn't just that we've had change. It's that some of it hasn't played out in a way that is consistent with the ethos of colleges and universities in the United States. It's important to get a period of greater calm."

Not consistent with collegial values? Like Texas A&M changing its mind about the SEC a year after declining overtures? Like Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton serving as Big 12 board chairman while his school was exploring options to the SEC? Like Pitt voting against a new Big East TV deal last spring, only to turn around and leave for the ACC? Like West Virginia bullying its way out of the Big East without serving the required 27-month waiting period, filing suit against the Big East instead? Like Pitt filing its own suit to leave before the required waiting period?

Back-stabbing has become the norm, even with "University" attached to all these teams. Making moves is all about big business these days, regardless of hurt feelings or good ol' collegial ties.

The best deal wins.

That mentality all but assures the conference carousel will keep spinning.