Winners and losers from conference realignment

A few years ago the college sports landscape changed drastically. It was a domino effect that began in 2011 when Colorado jumped to the PAC and Nebraska jumped to the Big Ten. The Big 12 began spiraling when Texas A&M and Missouri jumped to the SEC, and they stole West Virginia and TCU from the Big East (TCU had agreed to play in the Big East Conference, but they never ended up playing a game.)

Slowly the Big East began to die. They tried adding Temple to stabilize things, but the next year led to the death of the Big East. Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Louisville jumped ship to the ACC. Rutgers jumped ship to the Big Ten, joining Maryland who also joined the Big Ten from the ACC. The Big East added UCF, Houston, Memphis, and SMU, but ended up losing the Catholic Seven who went to form a basketball conference named… the Big East. The football conference turned into the American Athletic Conference, and the rest is history.

Meanwhile, across the NCAA landscape, minor conferences changed. The WAC died in regards to football, the Mountain West Conference became huge, Conference USA was depleted because of the AAC transfers, Notre Dame formed a partnership with the ACC, and BYU, Boise State, and San Diego State all stayed where they were despite nearly joining the AAC.

Now, four years after the domino effect began, let’s look at the winners and losers of the conference realignment.

Note: All financial figures are from an ESPN report by Paula Lavigne. 

UTah      Winner: Utah

Utah was the first non-power five school to make the jump when they moved from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12. It’s not even a question whether they won or lost. First look at the move financially, this year Utah is expected to make $23 million. If they stayed in the Mountain West they would have made $4 million. Now look at their fan base. The exposure from being in the Pac-12 makes Utah a real contender. Ticket sales have risen by 66%, and televised games have increased drastically. In the Mountain West, Utah would not have been relevant under the new college football playoff system, but because of their move to the Pac-12 the Utes had a chance to prove themselves many times, including an overtime thriller against Arizona State two weeks ago. Out of the first three teams that moved in 2011, Utah is the biggest winner.

b12logo     Loser: The Big 12

The Big 12 would have taken the biggest hit if it weren’t for the demise of the Big East. The Big 12 today is not as stable as they seem. With only ten teams, and no conference championship game, the Big 12 isn’t as appealing as other conferences in today’s landscape. Three out of ten teams are relevant, and the conference will probably have one team in the College Football Playoff, but that doesn’t make this conference stable. West Virginia is not a great replacement for Nebraska or Texas A&M. The media market is smaller and their history isn’t as great. The Big 12’s new media rights deal has them behind the SEC, Pac-12, and they are projected to be behind the Big 10 once the conference negotiates a new TV deal. I would think the Big 12 will be looking to add two more schools soon.

RutgersMarylandWinner: Maryland and Rutgers

I don’t think anyone would have argued with this pick when they joined the Big 10, and I don’t think anyone would argue with this pick now. Both schools were hugely in debt when they jumped from the Big East. Maryland was cutting athletic programs. Rutgers was reportedly $47 million in debt. Now a projection has the Big 10’s new media deal at an average of $44.5 million per school, but it will take the two new schools a few years before they get all of that. The bottom line is, financially this was a no brainer.

This football season has shown that this move was perfect for both of these schools. Many were concerned that Rutgers and Maryland would not be able to keep up. While it is true that both of these schools are at the middle tier of the Big Ten, look at what they have been able to do. Maryland just beat Penn State. Rutgers beat Michigan. Both of those schools are traditionally great football schools, and while this year they may not have been the best they could be, it is still proof that Rutgers and Maryland can keep up. The true test for Maryland will be what they can do once basketball season begins, but I have a feeling we will see Maryland fitting right in among the Big 10 landscape.

AAC_Primary_Logo Loser: All Non-Power 5 Conferences

Conference realignment completely destroyed any conference not named the SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, Big 10, and ACC. The Big East got wrecked, and even lost their name. The now American Athletic Conference has been grouped together with Conference USA, the MAC, and the Mountain West, to create “the others.” It really is a shame because the Big East used to have some great rivalries and some great football schools.

Conference Average per school (projected by 2017)
Big Ten $43 million
SEC $34 million
Pac-12 $21 million
Big 12 $20 million
ACC $17 million
AAC $11.5 million (estimation)
Mountain West $1.3 million
CUSA $1 million
MAC $.75 million
Sun Belt 0

The chart above displays how much money each school will make/ is projected to make by 2017. I think this chart speaks for itself in how the “Group of Five” conferences really missed out… especially with the AAC’s fall from grace.

So here we are… four years later. The college football scene was shaken to its core and a conference died. The winners and losers pretty much played out as we would have expected. But are we done?

My guess is no. The Big 12 does not want to stay at ten schools and I can see them grabbing BYU and one more school to add to their conference. The ACC may decide to expand, it’s not out of the question. Notre Dame will stop being stubborn if BYU joins up with the Big 12, and I think Notre Dame then will join the Big 10. I think for the next few years the scene should remain safe, but I would look at a shake up occurring once some of these media deals begin to run out.

Michael Stern

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Michael Stern

Business Director at The Left Bench
Michael co-founded The Left Bench in November of 2013. He is the Business Director of the site, and he continues to write feature stories for TLB. Michael is a UMD student Class of 2016 and a New Jersey native. Don't insult Jersey. He will find you.
Michael Stern
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Michael co-founded The Left Bench in November of 2013. He is the Business Director of the site, and he continues to write feature stories for TLB. Michael is a UMD student Class of 2016 and a New Jersey native. Don't insult Jersey. He will find you.