It seems like the dust may finally be settling on NCAA re-alignment. Armageddon didn’t arrive to the extent it could have, but there is still a different landscape for next year. Three conferences added teams and three lost teams in a widespread shuffle driven almost entirely by money. There may still be a move or two, but where we are at right now is a logical stopping point, so hopefully things will stop for at least a while.
With any change there are going to be winners and losers. Here’s a look at a few of each:
Texas A&M – They danced on the verge of making a monumentally awful decision to join the SEC, but they were able to avoid it at the last moment. Moving to the Pac-10 would have been okay, but the Aggies struggle to be competitive in the Big 12, so moving into the powerhouse of the SEC would have relegated them to second tier status forever. There’s no way that they will compete directly with the likes of Alabama, LSU, and Florida, so they would have made more money in their new home but would have had no real results to show for it.
Washington State – Thanks to the slowed down expansion of the Pac-10 the Cougars only have to suffer the indignity of being the 12th best team in their conference. In the Pac-16 they would have been stuck at 16th forever. The Cougars really need to drop down a conference to somewhere where they stand a chance of actually being competitive. A straight up swap for Boise State sounds good to me.
Texas and Oklahoma – Conference championship games are great for the bottom lines of conferences, but they can be disastrous for the big powers in a conference who are always in them because they can derail a brilliant season Now the two best teams in the conference don’t have to worry about that. Texas in particular also comes out of this whole mess looking brilliant – with the troubles at USC and the underwhelming play by Notre Dame you could argue that Texas has now asserted themselves as the kingpin program in the country.
Nebraska – Nebraska doesn’t often play Big Ten teams, but they have always been a Big Ten team in spirit. Geographically they have more in common with this group than the Big 12. They also belong here in style of play. Nebraska likes to methodically punish opponents, and they just aren’t flashy enough to match up with the wild cards in the Big 12. Now they are among kindred spirits, and everyone involved will be better off. From a betting perspective this one makes me happy as well – fewer brain-bending conference matchups to figure out.
Big Ten – I live for the Big Ten, so they are always going to do right in my eyes. That being said, this move makes a lot of sense. They add another top caliber team with strong traditions and outstanding history, and they have solved the issue of their teams being forgotten because the season ends so early. I’m a bit nervous about how they will align the divisions, but the most interesting conference in football – both to watch and to bet on – just got more interesting.
Utah – No more worries about being left out of the BCS party. Not only do they now have an automatic bid to contend for, but they are in a conference that just isn’t that tough, so there is no reason they can’t be competitive. Their recruiting is going to be seriously helped by major conference status as well. It’s been a while since Utah has looked like a mid major in either revenue sport, so this move was past due.
Kansas – Talk about a blow to the ego. Kansas is about as good as it gets at basketball, but over the last few weeks we have learned without doubt that no one really cares about basketball – at least not compared to football. The Jayhawks came amazingly close to being a Mountain West member. This certainly won’t improve their stature or make it easier for them to recruit on the football field. No team in the country was slapped down harder than the Jayhawks in this process.
College basketball – If there was ever any doubt of the pecking order this whole exercise dispelled them. College basketball is a great, great sport, but in the eyes of the general public there’s no doubt that it’s just what you do when football season isn’t on.
Mountain West – They came so close to climbing the ladder, but they didn’t quite pull it off. Adding Boise State is a coup, but it’s essentially a loss with the loss of Utah. Their argument for BCS status took a serious blow here, and it’s a shame because they deserve it and for a while it looked like it was going to turn out perfectly for them. Now all they likely have to look forward to is years more of frustration. For fans and bettors it’s great, though – there’s no reason the conference can’t continue producing some of the best action out there.
Notre Dame – Being the only relevant independent in the country is total garbage, and Notre Dame needs to be saved from it if they can’t save themselves. If things had crumbled then the Irish would likely have been forced into the Big Ten where they belong. The way things turned out, though, they can just stay like they are – an entitled school out of touch but wealthy.
Pac-10 – Sure, they got their championship game, but that gain is more than offset by the setbacks they have endured. Colorado is totally irrelevant these days, and though Utah is a very nice team they aren’t a major coup. The conference was used as a bargaining chip for Texas to get what they wanted – their own TV network – and now it’s not likely that the Pac-10 will be able to create their own network in any hurry. The Pac-10 gets credit for trying to play with the big boys, but they didn’t quite pull it off