Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Conference Realignment

College football has now aligned itself to five major conferences of 64 teams:

SEC 14
PAC-12 12
Big-10 14
Big-12 10
ACC 14

On the football field, the SEC is the clear champion, in terms of on-field performance and attendance. The ACC is the laggard of the Big-5. (Though it is pretty good at basketball.) Looking at football attendance as a barometer for school programs, there is a clear separation of the "big-5" conferences and the "little-5".
The top 50 major teams are all independents or in major conferences. The bottom 35 teams are all in "minor" conferences. The Big-East was always a borderline AQ conference in the BCS. With all the poaching that has been going on, it is now very clearly in the "lower tier".

Are there many big-5 conference teams that shouldn't be there? There are not many teams that are in big conferences, yet are not in the top 64 in attendance. Duke, Northwestern and Vanderbilt are all the "academic" powers in their conferences and are located in major media markets. Duke also has a pretty impressive basketball record TCU's attendance numbers are an aberration due to stadium construction. The most recent attendance would put them closer to the 50s. (They are also sitting in the #5 media market.)

This leaves Washington State, Wake Forest, Baylor and Syracuse as the outliers. Baylor and Syracuse are "right on the border" of being top 64. Baylor also has Texas politics to thank for its position in the Big-12. They both have pretty good basketball programs. This gets us down to just Wake Forest and Washington State as "questionable". Both have had a pretty ugly recent history in football. However, they both have been long term members of their conferences and have well established rivalries.

What changes would you make? Notre Dame and BYU are the two big outliers in the "have nots". Notre Dame already has a non-football membership with the ACC and an in to the "big bowls". (They also have a current "BCS automatic inclusion" clause, but they didn't need to use it due to being first in the standings.) Notre Dame's attendance also exceeds that of all ACC schools. BYU is trickier. The Pac-12 would be a logical place, geographically and attendance-wise, but there are some politics involved. A Big-12 partnership may also make sense.

Beyond the independents, there are no "slam-dunk" options. South Florida is #52. However, it tends to draw a local Tampa audience. Florida State (ACC) and Florida (SEC) both draw from the entire state. Low-caliber academics would exclude the Big-10 or Pac-12. It could be an option if the Big-12 decided to make a run for Florida. However, the quality of the overall sports program lags behind other schools.

East Carolina is in a somewhat similar situation. Geographically, they would fit in the ACC. However, the conference is already loaded with North Carolina schools. East Carolina would lag behind many in academics and non-football sports. SEC lacks schools in North Carolina. However, East Carolina could probably not compete well with the SEC schools. Another Big-12 option?

Connecticut seems like an ideal expansion target. They are in an untapped market (and they could probably claim part of the New York City market also.) Basketball is excellent and football has spurts of quality. Academics are also decent (but lack of AAU membership would turn off the Big-10) AAC would be a logical place to go. However, you get the impression that the AAC is waiting for somebody to get poached before grabbing UConn.

At #61, Central Florida has the same problems as South Florida. At least Orlando doesn't have a pro football team. Hawaii at #63 is in Hawaii. Its a nice vacation, but it is a long way out there. Academics would also be an issue. After that you get Air Force, Fresno State, Navy, UTEP and Boise. Perhaps the national audience of the service academies would appeal to a conference. (The ACC could look at Navy to replace the Maryland market.) Fresno is an academic lightweight in California's central valley. The Pac-12 wouldn't dare go near, but maybe the Big-12 trying to break in to California? (Though of late, #76 San Diego State is out-drawing.) UTEP is in El Paso, which is pretty much the middle of nowhere. Boise has had a lot of football success and is in a growing city.

"Non-Big" Outliers
Notre Dame - 15th in Attendance
BYU - 27th in Attendance
South Florida - 52
East Carolina - 55
UConn - 60
Central Florida - 61
Hawaii - 63
Air Force - 65
Fresno State - 67
Navy - 70
UTEP - 71
Boise - 72
Cinncinnati - 74
Army - 75
San Diego State - 76
Southern Miss - 78
Memphis - 80
Houston - 89
Marshall - 82
New Mexico - 83

"Big Conference" Outliers
Duke - 84
Washington State - 79
Northwestern - 77
Wake Forest - 73
TCU - 69
Vanderbilt - 68
Baylor - 66
Syracuse - 64
Indiana - 62

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