Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The World According to D -- College Sports Edition, 2020

Okay, one last post on college sports realignment and it's a doozy. This time, let's project the condition of the battlefield once it's all done. Here is a somewhat educated guess on how I see it happening, and what I imagine it will look like by, say, 2020.

This is all about money. Traditions don't mean much unless you want them to, and there's no evidence that anyone as unsentimental as Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany or Mike Slive (his counterpart in the SEC) will care much about it.

There will be four megaconferences, 3 of which will be made by conscious choice. I predict that the Big Ten will have 20 teams in two divisions, as will the SEC. The Pac 12 will have 16, while the final conference, which will be geographically scattered and containing the schools left behind on the dance floor, will also have 20 in two divisions. All of these schools will play football and they will, in the end, be the schools in the new version of the BCS.

The Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East and the Big XII will essentially be destroyed. The three megaconferences have too much power and will be able to dictate things going forward. Having said that, some traditional rivalries will remain in the new system, because of the way it will break down.

Smaller D-1 schools, like the schools in the Mid-American Conference, will no longer be part of the equation. This year Kent State is a Top 25 school. That won't happen again after this is all done.

The Big Ten will get most of what they want, which will be the bulk of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Maryland has new playmates for now, but when it's all done they'll find themselves playing some very familiar foes.

The SEC will get just about everything they want. Football dominance will not change much, since the SEC will get three of the biggest prizes on the board.

The Pac-12 will add the best of the West, but there isn't much of it. Geography is a challenge and it will limit their options. In the end, they'll have a strong 16-team league, though.

So how will it turn out? Let's start with the Big Ten:

As you've read, Maryland and Rutgers are on board. To get to 20, the next two teams to the Big Ten will be Georgia Tech and Notre Dame. GT is actually a better fit in the Big Ten, especially academically, than it is in the SEC. Notre Dame will not have many options left after some of the other moves take place, so it will finally have to accept the Big Ten's embrace. That brings the conference to 16 teams. The four teams that take the Big Ten to 20 will be Virginia, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Duke. All of these schools are academically solid, with N.C. State being the weakest. But given the affinity and long-standing rivalries involved, it makes the most sense for the Wolfpack to go to the Big Ten. The Big Ten will then split into two 10-team divisions, which will likely break as follows:

Big Ten East (a/k/a the "ACC under new management"):
North Carolina
North Carolina State
Georgia Tech
Penn State
Notre Dame
Ohio State

Big Ten West:
Michigan State

You could see a few switches here and there among the divisions, especially since Ohio State wouldn't be that happy about being in with the eastern schools, but it would be the cleanest organizational structure. The advantages are obvious -- geographic contiguity, preservation of traditional rivalries and most of the schools sharing a strong academic heritage.

Next, let's go to the SEC. According to my theory, the football-rich SEC would get richer, adding traditional football powers Clemson and Florida State in the East, and Texas and the Oklahoma schools in the west. The one traditional football power left out of the equation is Miami, which would be one of the few bright spots in the left-out league that would remain. The divisions would go as follows:

SEC East:
Florida State
Virginia Tech
South Carolina

SEC West:
Ole Miss
Mississippi State
Texas A & M
Texas Tech
Oklahoma State

This will be a dominant league with great teams. Texas and Florida State are the headliners, with Oklahoma being a strong contender as well. Missouri will continue to wish they'd cast their lot with the Big Ten, but it's too late for that. I think Miami would not be a part of the SEC, but I could be wrong about that. If Miami were to join, I'd guess that Texas Tech or Vanderbilt would be the odd team out.

Now, let's look at the Pac-12. The pickings are slimmer in this area, because many of the western schools are smaller. They'll take the best of what's available, with Boise State being the prize. I predict it will look like this:

Pac-12 North:
Washington State
Oregon State
Boise State

Pac-12 South:
Arizona State

This would seem disappointing to the Pac-12, but their top quarry (Texas) would make a lot more sense in the SEC. Hawaii and UNLV would be thrilled to join this company and seem like the most likely of the smaller schools to make the jump to the big time.

That leaves what I'll call the Island of Misfit Toys Conference. There are some good teams here, but just not as good as the other leagues. It would be split between East and West, as follows:

Misfit Toys East (a/k/a what's left of the Big East, with a smattering of ACC):
West Virginia
South Florida
Boston College
Wake Forest

Misfit Toys West (a/k/a what's left of the Big XII, plus a few spare parts):
Iowa State
Kansas State
Texas Christian
Southern Miss

If you look at it now, the Misfit Toys East is actually a pretty good league with some good teams and outstanding traditions. It wouldn't have the glamour of the other leagues, but it wouldn't be bad. The Misfit Toys West? Not so much, but what do you do? At least the schools would still be in the game.

Add it all up, and you have 76 major college programs. That's about the total number of schools that can realistically support major college football. Of the 76 programs listed, probably the most dicey one is Tulane, but they have a very proud history and New Orleans is still a good-sized market. The other team that I left out of this matrix, which could replace Tulane, is Temple. But I don't see Temple as a major player in college football long term and Tulane has a better history.

I would assume that, for basketball, you would end up with another league of prominent schools that don't have big-time football, which would largely include Big East teams like Georgetown, Providence, Villanova, St. John's, Seton Hall, Marquette and DePaul, with a few potential strategic additions like Virginia Commonwealth and Butler. Some of the stronger Atlantic 10 schools (Xavier, Dayton, LaSalle, St. Joseph's) would be candidates, as well as the aforementioned Temple. I don't think the structure for college hoops will really change that much, given the special magic of the tournament and the bracket.

I think this is pretty tidy. What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Schools like Duke that don't have a rich football tradition may not get invited if your theory is correct. I see that you have already bounced Wake Forest to never-never land. Why would Duke necessarily be included? The only way I could see that happening is if it was a condition for North Carolina entering the conference. Remember that this about television sets and not about mass inclusion. Too many small schools water down the take for the bigger ones.

Mr. D said...

The only way I could see that happening is if it was a condition for North Carolina entering the conference.

That's my assumption in this case. Duke is a weak sister in football but it is a major brand name otherwise. Wake? Not as much. Duke/Carolina is a big deal, though.

The alternative in that case might be Miami. The connection between Miami and Wisconsin (via Donna Shalala) might have an impact.