Last summer, the college football world was on the edge of its collective seat, waiting to see where the dominoes of conference expansion were going to fall. Nearly a year later, most of those dominoes are in place, and the first round of changes seems to be finished…aside from a few WAC/MWC teams that have another year before they can make their changes.
What has been the effect of all of these changes? It has left the college football landscape a bit unbalanced. There have been winners and losers, and we now have some conferences that are thriving, and others that are on the verge of dying. Has expansion ended? No. But here’s a look at who won and lost the first round.
The SEC: Winner
The SEC set the bar so high that all changes to other conferences are simply trying to attain what the SEC already has. The last 5 national champions have all come from the SEC. Despite all of the change in the conferences around them, the SEC remains the top conference in college football. The only way to remove that honor will be through beating them on the field, consistently.
The Big 10: Winner
The Big 10 (B1G) gets the “bang for your buck” award. They made one move, the addition of Nebraska. They brought in a historic program with a national brand that will have an immediate impact as part of the top-tier of football teams in the conference. Adding Nebraska also brought their team total to twelve, making possible a championship game. Co-winner: Nebraska, who got out from under Texas.
The Pac 10 had perhaps the grandest ambition of any conference, under the direction of Larry Scott. When the Big 10 added one team, the Pac 10 decided it would try and add 6, effectivelybeheading the Big 12 conference by taking 6 of its top teams. While that deal did not work out, the Pac 10 did acquire Utah and Colorado to bring its number of members to 12. Utah brings a high-caliber program with two perfect seasons this decade, and both schools at least bring in a share of their respective television markets. The added Pac 12 Championship game, along with the recently announced TV contract is more than enough evidence that the Pac 12 is in good shape, and the moves made were good ones. Co-winners: Utah, and especially Colorado.
The Big East: Winner
The Big East made one of those “less is more” moves, in adding TCU (starting in 2012). The Horned Frogs have been one of the top programs in college football over the last several years, and they will instantly contend for the Big East title. The Big East, even with TCU, will still only have 9 football teams (while their basketball league remains severely bloated). The Big East isn’t known for great football, but TCU will add some immediate credibility, and help to distance the conference from the Non-AQ’s.
The Big 12 (XII): Loser
Nebraska starting things off by sliding over into the Big 10, which left the Big 12 off balance. Several Big 12 schools had the opportunity to head to the Pac , but were kept in the Big 12 when Texas reached an agreement to launch their own television network. This decision, while obviously good for Texas, wasn’t necessarily the best move for the rest of the league. Certainly the bottom-tier of the conference will be happy to stay so long as there is a conference, but schools like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and Texas Tech surely must be wondering what might have been, especially in light of the Pac 12′s new television contract that was announced last week. Dan Beebe’s “let’s all sit tight” approach might work out in the long-run, but losing a flagship school like Nebraska, along with your title game does seem to necessitate some sort of action. Colorado fled to the Pac 12, but the rest of the teams are seemingly trapped in a 10 team conference without a title game, and Texas is making more money than before. Winner here: Texas, who maintains control of their conference.
The MWC: Sore Loser
The MWC turned out to be one of the more turbulent conferences last summer. Utah was invited to the Pac 12, Boise St. was invited to the MWC, BYU chose to leave the conference to pursue independence and TCU will be taking its talents to the Big East, starting in 2012. The MWC also made a grab for Hawaii (football only), Nevada, and Fresno State, which will all join in 2012. Once all is said and done next season, the MWC will have effectively traded their former top tier (TCU, BYU, Utah) for the top tier of the WAC (Boise State, Fresno State, Nevada, Hawaii). When all is said and done, the MWC will have become a ten team conference, but what was a conference led by 3 teams will soon be dominated solely by Boise State, making the MWC more of a zombie-WAC+.
The WAC: Biggest Loser
Karl Benson had a good thing going. Then Boise St. went to the MWC, the potential deal with BYU fell through, and then all hell broke loose. Hawaii, Nevada, and Fresno State were picked by the media to finish 1st, 2nd and 3rd in conference play this year, and each of those teams will also be going to the MWC next season. The WAC has been scrambling to add more schools to its membership from Division 2, but that is only just enough to keep the conference alive. The WAC from 2012 forward will struggle to compete even with the weakest Division 1 conferences.
BYU: Probable Winner
So what about BYU and their crazy move toward independence? So far, you have to say the Cougars have done quite well for themselves. BYU has a very lucrative deal with ESPN that goes through 2020, and they have scheduled games with Notre Dame, Hawaii, Texas, Boise St, Georgia Tech, Utah, Oregon St, Utah St, UCF, West Virginia, and others. The 2011 and 2012 schedules are WAC-heavy, and the first few years of bowl tie-ins are lower-tier (Armed Forces, Poinsettia, and Kraft Fight-Hunger from 2011-2013). These first few years are a take-what-you-can-get period, so the real test of BYU independence will be what the schedule and bowls look like in 2013 and beyond. In the short run, BYU already has big name teams to play against, a killer TV deal (including at least 10 games on the ESPN family of networks in this season alone), talent, and a great coaching staff. Looking at where they would be if they stayed in the MWC…BYU is definitely a winner today.