You can smell it in the air. No, it’s not summer, it’s more conference realignment in college sports.
Last year saw the dismantling of the Big East as it once stood, created a completely new conference in the American Athletic Conference (AAC), watched as the Atlantic Coast Conference became even more of a basketball power and so much more.
This year’s realignments weren’t as drastic nor as entertaining, but they are rather significant for a number of reasons. Each team’s move means they will have to operate differently.
In terms of recruiting, programs will have new markets to cater to, as most of the moving teams will be traveling more miles per season than they were before in order to accommodate for the conference switches. It also gives these programs new viewing audiences, allowing avid sports enthusiasts a chance to see new matchups and watch interesting rivalry dynamics grow over time.
There’s still some debate over whether conference realignment is good or bad for college sports, but that’s not what we’re getting into here.
All changes were made official on Tuesday.
It’s important to keep in mind that, for the most part, realignment is focused upon college football, as it is the king. Schools put more attention on their football programs and ways to get them more publicity and funding as opposed to their basketball programs, which is where our focus will be today.
While all of the programs are impacted by conference realignment, football is the main reason – except for schools moving only their basketball programs or those without a football program to move – that these changes have come about.
Perhaps the most significant realignment change is that of the Louisville Cardinals, who spent one season in the new AAC last year before now making the switch to the ACC. Rick Pitino’s squad will be consistently challenged year after year.
Known for the Research Triangle rivalry of North Carolina and Duke, the ACC brought in Syracuse and Pittsburgh last year, two powers in the former Big East Conference during it’s heyday. Those five programs alone are enough to carry the ACC into the future and dominate the college basketball landscape.
Next up, we have Rutgers and Maryland making the bold move into the Big Ten. Maryland has been slumming it in the ACC for quite some time now, while Rutgers was part of the Big East desecration last year.
There’s really no telling what these two being in the Big Ten will do for them. Maryland likely has the better chance to succeed in the new conference, especially in basketball. Rutgers, on the other hand, hasn’t had a winning season since 2005-2006. The Scarlet Knights haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1991; Maryland’s last appearance was in 2010.
With Louisville out, the AAC is bringing in three teams: East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa. Tulsa is the biggest noisemaker of the three. They reached the NCAA Tournament this past season for the first time since 2003 under new coach Danny Manning. However, his success with the Golden Hurricane landed him a cushy new job with Wake Forest.
Lucky enough for Tulsa, though, Frank Haith left Missouri to be their new head coach. With most of their leading scorers returning, Tulsa could make some noise in the AAC along with Connecticut and Cincinnati. Despite having the Huskies and Bearcats, the AAC has quickly become the new Conference USA, though that conference still exists.
Finally, we have Davidson moving to the Atlantic 10 after spending some time leading the way in the Southern Conference. The Wildcats narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament this past year after being in it two straight years prior to that. One problem may shine through for Davidson in its new conference: the Atlantic 10 is deep. Really deep. VCU is consistently good, Dayton just made a run to the Elite Eight and Saint Louis is also very steady.
Those three, along with Massachusetts, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s all made the NCAA Tournament this past year. Davidson is a solid program and Bob McKillop is a very good coach, but this level of competition is something the Wildcats have never seen before, and Stephen Curry isn’t returning anytime soon. How they transition into the A-10′s conference schedule this season should be a measuring stick for the future.
No, these moves aren’t as exciting as last year’s massive shakeup, but they are all significant in their own way. The ACC and A-10 were already going to be two of the most compelling conference battles this basketball season, but with the additions of Louisville and Davidson, respectively, it should be even better. The NCAA might not enjoy the realignments, but they’re here and shaking up the college basketball world.
Other teams changing conferences (new conference in parantheses : Appalachin State (Sun Belt), Elon (Colonial), East Tennessee State (Southern), Georgia Southern (Sun Belt), Idaho (Big Sky), Mercer (Southern), Oral Roberts (Summit League), VMI (Southern) and Western Kentucky (Conference USA).
Side note: is it October yet?