Pacific 10/12 Conference (Pac-10) - The Pac-10 recently invited both Utah and Colorado into their conference, making twelve. As with the Big Ten, this presents logistical problems when it comes to dividing the schools. Their three options are north-south, east-west (more-or-less), or divisions devoid of geography. The N/S would have the Washington and Oregon schools combining with the two newbies for one division and the California/Arizona schools in another. This is exactly what the California schools want, but the other schools want to be able to play in recruit-rich California as often as possible and would be dead-set against being in a division that won’t have them playing in California every year and will have them playing in southern California only 2 of every 6 years. An east-west division would put the socal schools in a division with the Arizona schools and the newbies. The California schools won’t like that because they want to all play one another every year.
The last option is to go ageographical that split up all of the rivals (USC vs UCLA, Cal vs Stanford, Washington vs WSU, Oregon vs OSU, Arizona vs ASU, and Utah vs Colorado) and have them playing cross-conference every season. This is not unlike what the Atlantic Coast Conference does. Of course, the ACC had visions of Florida State and Miami playing one another every year for the championship and instead got Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.
What I Think the Pac-10 Should Do: Go east-west. The California schools will still play one another frequently and schools outside of California are also likely to be satisfied. It’s the ultimate split-the-difference. Going ageographical makes divisional standings much more difficult to remember and follow (I follow college football and the ACC and still couldn’t tell you which schools are in the “Atlantic Division” and which are in the “Coastal Division”). It’s not perfect because it does put the socal schools together with Arizona (the second best recruitment area in the conference), but it’s still worth a shot. If it becomes too imbalanced, as the Big-12 did, you can explore other options later.
What I Think the Pac-10 Will Do: Ageographical. I think they think that everyone is so fascinated with their conference that they will remember the divisional alignment.
Big Ten Conference (Big Ten) - The Big Ten recently added Nebraska as its twelfth team. This means divisions and a conference championship. The problem is that if you divide the teams up east-west (the only way that makes geographic sense), you have three of their best teams (Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State) in one division and only one first-class team (Nebraska) in the other. The only other option is to disregard geography, which carries all of the problems listed under Pac-10.
What I Think the Big Ten Should Do: Go ahead and give east-west a try. Consider changing it later if it doesn’t work. The Big 12’s problems (where its Texas-based southern division dominated) was systemic because so many of the recruits come from Texas. The divisions in the Big 12 started out equal but became more segregated over time. I think the opposite is possible for the Big Ten. Having their own division will give the western schools room to get better. And, while the top-tier teams split 3-1 in favor of the east, the second-tier teams (Wisconsin and Iowa) are both in the west with Northwestern (also in the west) not far behind. Given time and room, they could become much better programs.
What I Think the Big Ten Will Do: Ageography. Like the Pac-10, they believe everyone is obessed with them. Their argument is actually stronger than the Pac-10’s (despite the fact they are an inferior conference), but I still don’t think it’s true.
BYU (Brigham Young University) - The key player in all of the MWC-WAC chaos. Having been left behind by Utah, which is headed for the Pac-10, they decided to go independent for football rather than remain members of the MWC. The MWC does not allow for members that do not play for four core sports (football, men’s and women’s basketball, and volleyball) in the conference, so BYU was going to join the WAC for all other sports. When the MWC secured the membership of two prime WAC teams, however, the plan fell by the wayside. Now BYU has to make the decision to stay with the MWC or to go independent with the rest of their sports joining a football-free conference called the West Coast Conference (WCC), which mostly consists of small, private, religious colleges.
What I Think BYU Should Do: It depends entirely on the numbers. Going independent can create some logistical nightmares. BYU is one of the few schools that could pull it off and financially excel, but it’s not a given that they will be better off. It depends mostly on scheduling. Every team will want to host BYU, but few of the big boys will want to go to Provo, Utah. The BYU’s flirtations with the WAC were an attempt to address this issue with a mutual agreement to play 4-6 WAC opponents per year. With the WAC possibly insolvent and the MWC piqued at them, they will have lost most of their regional opponents (who would gladly go to Provo for a chance at hosting BYU). The Pac-10 is all that’s left. Even before all of this with only 4 OOC games, BYU has had scheduling troubles. This will likely make it worse. However, if ESPN throws millions of dollars at them a year, it could be worth it anyway. If I am BYU and I am looking at 4 million dollars a year in TV revenue, I probably take the risk. Probably.
What I Think BYU Will Do: I think they’re going to do it. Maybe not this year, but next. The key thing to look out for is if the MWC immediately expands to 12 if they stay. If so, the MWC is expecting them to stick around (and probably has a reason to do so). if they stand pat at 11 (a terrible number for a conference, too many for a round-robin schedule but too few for a championship game) then they’re expecting BYU to depart once they have their act together. For the 2011 season, they have to make a decision by 9/1.
Mountain West Conference (MWC) - The Mountain West Conference was formed when long-serving members were dissatisfied with a cumbersome 16-team WAC with a lot of new programs that they had no real bond with. So essentially the best WAC programs formed the MWC back in the late 90’s. The MWC was on the cusp of having a shot at BCS status (the ability to play in premier bowls year in and year out and not, as currently, just when their champ has an undefeated season), but when Utah left for the Pac-10 those hopes were damaged. The MWC invited Boise State from the WAC earlier this year. When they got word that BYU’s departure was imminent, they invited the remaing two WAC powerhouses (Fresno State and Nevada) and sent (rejected) overtures to a mediocre team in BYU’s footprint (Utah State) and cut the WAC of at the knees. Their plan was successful in that BYU is reconsidering its options. However, if BYU stays then they have 11 teams, which is not desirable. Then, depending on whether they think BYU is going to stay for the long haul or not, they can stay at 11 and wait for the shoe to drop or they can expand to 12 by picking up one of four candidates from the WAC or Conference USA (Utah State, UTEP, Houston, or SMU). If BYU does leave, they can either stand pat at 10 or they can expand by two from the same pool of candidates.
What I Think the MWC Should Do: If BYU goes, hold tight at 10 for now and find out what adding two schools will do for you. If you have to expand by two, Houston and UTEP are the two most attractive candidates. Don’t take USU unless (b) Utah State’s addition is part of their contract with their sports network and keeping USU keeps them from having to undergo an unfavorable renegotiation (this is the rumor in some circles, the Utah is one of the states that they must have a team in to avoid renegotiation). If BYU stays and is looking to stay indefinitely, add Houston. If Houston does not accept, add UTEP. Don’t invite Utah State unless either BYU demands it. If they do demand it, you should probably do it.
What I Think the MWC Will Do: Probably exactly what I’ve described except that they might invite Utah State even if BYU doesn’t demand it. Utah State fits the conference profile far better than Houston or UTEP and they may be comfortable with “one of their own.” On the other hand, they did invite TCU last time around and the same applies to them.
Western Athletic Conference (WAC) - The WAC has been around for a lot of time, initially including most of the current MWC. They’ve been the victim of every realignment that has occurred since the 90’s. They lost the MWC schools in 1998, lost a bunch of schools to Conference USA in 2005, and have now lost their three remaining good programs. In the past, they have always had candidates with which to reload, but this time they don’t. They currently have six teams and need 8. Their candidates are mostly teams in the I-AA division (the next one down) looking to make a transition: UC-Davis, Cal Poly, Texas State, the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), Montana, and Montana State.
With the exception of Montana, there is little reason to believe that any of these schools are going to be able to compete at the next level (UTSA doesn’t even have a team yet). But they can keep the conference alive. Maybe. If Utah State gets an invite to the MWC, they’re down to five teams. If one Conference USA team (Houston, UTEP, or SMU) gets an invite, they likely lose their eastern-most team, Louisiana Tech, to Conference USA. At that point, you may have to bolt the doors to prevent New Mexico State from going back to its previous conference, the Sun belt, and keep Hawaii from going independent.
The real losers here are Idaho, San Jose State, and either Louisiana Tech or Utah State if they don’t get invited. Louisiana Tech can almost certainly get into the southern-based Sun Belt, but for a variety of reasons it simply doesn’t want to go there. Utah State and Idaho are former Sun belt members themselves, but that was when the Sun Belt was desperate enough to take any team that they could to get up to the number 8. They’re comfortably at 8 now and I don’t know that they are enthusiastic anymore about taking the far-flung teams. Given the goodwill that Utah State has amongst both the WAC and the MWC, they may be able to schedule independence. Idaho, meanwhile, may have to drop back down to I-AA football. The good news for Idaho is that they actually won games at that level. San Jose State recently almost killed their football program. Choosing to do so now will almost certainly be a consideration.
What I Think the WAC Should Do: Pray. Hard.
What I Think the WAC Will Do: Pray. Hard.
Conference USA (C*USA) - Conference USA was founded as a pan-eastern league primarily located in large cities. When they were looted by the Big East in 2005, they became a mostly southern-based conference (with UTEP in the southwest and Marshall in West Virginia). They’re considerably better than the lowly Sun Belt Conference, but worse than both the MWC and WAC on the field. However, they have programs that had a lot of success in the past and some stellar academic institutions. Their role in all of this is whether they take Louisiana Tech from the WAC. Louisiana Tech was a candidate during the last expansion, but was edged out by UTEP. If a vacancy opens up, Louisiana Tech is one of three possible candidates along with Temple (which has the disadvantages of only bringing their mediocre football program and geography) and Charlotte (which has the disadvantage of not having a football program yet). There are also a couple of Sun Belt Conference teams they could grab, such as Troy and Middle Tennessee, but while they have good (for the SBC) football programs they generally lack athletic or academic prestige. If Conference USA has two openings, they may stand pat at 10.
What I Think C*USA Should Do: If they have one opening, invite Louisiana Tech. It’s not a really big school and doesn’t serve a huge market, but it’s primely located and has the potential to be a really good program. If the Big East raids C*USA again, it’ll likely be from the east and they won’t want Temple out in Philadelphia all by itself (or with Marshall out there alone). It’s the safe choice and their primary goal has to be stability. As such, if they lose two teams, they should probably stay at 10.
What I Think C*USA Will Do: If they have one opening, I suspect it’s either Louisiana Tech or Temple. The eastern schools in C*USA are somewhat isolated and would love another one out there. So that works in Temple’s favorite, football-only or no. The western schools are probably thinking what I am thinking about wanting more geographical consolidation. It could go either way. If they have two openings, I suspect that they do indeed stay at 10.
Bowl Championship Series (BCS) - More than once, I’ve seen people blame the MWC-WAC chaos on the BCS. While I support the BCS over the playoff alternative, I am willing to admit that the BCS causes problems. This is not one of them, though. BYU’s going independent does not help their BCS game odds. In fact, it makes it harder for them. As a member of the MWC, they go to a BCS bowl any time they go undefeated. As an independent, that’s less likely to be the case. This is about money. Network TV money. This all started when Nebraska left one BCS conference for another, so it obviously wasn’t in play then. And as with Nebraska, BYU is leaving one BCS-poor situation for a worse one. In both cases, monetary and prestige were the motivating factors. Neither improved their chances of getting into a BCS game. In fact, both hurt their chances. Even if that were not true, however, an 8-team playoff system would actually make BYU more desperate to get out of the MWC because their chances of getting into a 10-team BCS allows for room that an 8-team playoff system might not. The MWC champ gets in under most 16-team playoff scenarios (ugh), but then you still have the financial considerations that drove Nebraska.