Post COVID-19 Conference Realignment

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The following originally appeared on The Open Man Patreon. With Sports Illustrated‘s Pat Forde positing a similar conference realignment in the post COVID-19 college sports world, I opted to make this more readily accessible. If you enjoy, please consider subscribing to The Open Man on Patreon

We are nearing the point in the college football offseason when national influencers would typically fill the content void with baseless takes on conference realignment.

The Pac-12, which has the oldest of the Power Five conference contracts, is making slightly less than the brand-new deals the Big 12 and ACC inked? The conference is dying! Is it even *really* a Power Five anymore (despite the fact it brings in exponentially more than the most lucrative Group of Five deal)?! 

At some juncture over the last eight years, each of the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12 has been preemptively eulogized. It’s usually speculative, functioning as mindless filler and offering pie-in-the-sky framework for the 16-team super-conference model hypothesized from the moment Texas began leaking bullshit in 2010.

Of course, the current offseason is anything but typical and conference realignment banter has dried up. Leave it to The Open Man to keep this time-honored tradition alive!

Rather than set the table for super-conferences, though, this exercise envisions a scenario in which leagues realign with the goal of shrinking. The loss of this year’s NCAA Tournament to COVID-19, and the prospective loss of the 2020 college football season, could drastically alter the landscape.

Budget shortfalls mean conferences spread across giant swaths of the country are even more impractical. What’s more, Wednesday’s report via Brett McMurphy that an overwhelming majority of administrators support College Football Playoff expansion begs for the sport to adopt greater schedule uniformity.

A means of accomplishing this: A universal standard of 10-team conferences, separated geographically. Each conference plays three non-conference and nine conference games — e.g., every member of a league squares off head-to-head every season — with conference championship games abandoned.

The concept becomes completely superfluous with the elimination of divisions and all conference members playing one another. Furthermore, nixing conference title games addresses the expansion of the Playoff without putting another game on players’ dockets.

Now, not every conference gets an automatic Playoff berth with expansion to eight spots, given I have drawn 13 geographically logical leagues. Perhaps this necessitates an expansion to 16 spots in the Playoff; I’m against Playoff expansion in general and the system as a whole, but that’s neither here nor there.

Regardless, below is how I would draw up college football’s brave new world of geographically logical conferences.

An (*) denotes a program moving up from the Football Championship Subdivision, with a few notes on which programs I chose and why:

– North Dakota State’s dominance not only of the FCS title landscape, but in head-to-head matchups with FBS and Power Five programs suggests the Bison could transition well and perhaps became a new-era Boise State.

– Sam Houston State flirted with an invitation from the WAC before the conference got out of the football business.

– Montana was an initial target for WAC expansion in 2010, along with Cal Poly and UC Davis. Montana did not want to move without Montana State.

The (**) refers to UT Rio Grande Valley’s football feasability study. The current WAC member does not have a football program, but the university is actively exploring launching one. It could realistically be fast-tracked into FBS membership, akin to UTSA and South Alabama a decade ago.

ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE 

– Clemson

– Duke

– Florida State

– Georgia Tech

– Miami

– North Carolina

– NC State

– South Carolina

– Virginia

– Wake Forest

BIG TEN

– Illinois

– Indiana

– Iowa

– Michigan

– Michigan State

– Minnesota

– Northwestern

– Ohio State

– Purdue

– Wisconsin

HEARTLAND

– Air Force

– BYU

– Colorado

– Colorado State

– Iowa State

– Kansas

– Kansas State

– Missouri

– Nebraska

– Utah

INDEPENDENTS

– Army

– Hawaii

– Notre Dame

METRO

– Buffalo

– Charlotte

– Cincinnati

– East Carolina

– Louisville

– Marshall

– Memphis

– MTSU

– Ohio

– Old Dominion

MID-AMERICAN 

– Akron

– Ball State

– Bowling Green

– Central Michigan

– Eastern Michigan

– Kent State

– Miami U.

– Northern Illinois

– Toledo

– Western Michigan

MID-ATLANTIC

– Boston College

– Maryland

– Navy

– Penn State

– Pitt

– Rutgers

– Syracuse

– Temple

– Virginia Tech

– West Virginia

MID-SOUTH  

– Arkansas State

– Louisiana-Lafayette

– Louisiana-Monroe

– Louisiana Tech

– Rice

– Southern Miss

– Tulane

– Tulsa

– UAB

– Western Kentucky

MOUNTAIN WEST

– Boise State

– Fresno State

– Idaho*

– Nevada

– New Mexico

– San Diego State

– San Jose State

– UNLV

– Utah State

– Wyoming

PAC-10

– Arizona

– Arizona State

– Cal

– Oregon

– Oregon State

– Stanford

– UCLA

– USC

– Washington

– Washington State

SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE

– Alabama

– Auburn

– Florida

– Georgia

– Kentucky

– LSU

– Ole Miss

– Mississippi State

– Tennessee

– Vanderbilt

SOUTHWEST CONFERENCE

– Arkansas

– Baylor

– Houston

– Oklahoma

– Oklahoma State

– SMU

– Texas

– Texas A&M

– TCU

– Texas Tech

SUN BELT 

– Appalachian State

– Coastal Carolina

– Florida Atlantic

– Florida International

– Georgia Southern

– Georgia State

– South Alabama

– Troy

– UCF

– USF

WAC 

– New Mexico State

– Montana*

– Montana State*

– North Dakota State*

– North Texas

– Sam Houston State*

– Texas State

– UTEP

– UT Rio Grande Valley**

– UTSA

MOVING OUT OF FBS

– UMass rejoins the Colonial Athletic Association, bringing former Yankee Conference counterpart UConn with it.

– Liberty loses NCAA accreditation after a bevy of Jerry Falwell Jr. scandals, forcing the Flames into NAIA (look, it’s my reality and I’m doing what I want).