Dandy Dozen: Conference Realignment

It’s been a dizzying start to the college football season, not so much on the field as in the board room, where as conference loyalties have shifted (Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC) and trembled (the Big 12).

Perhaps some perspective is in order.

While it’s more predatory these days, realignment has happened before. These are the 12 most significant conference additions and subtractions in college football over the last 20 years.

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1) Arkansas (Southwest Conference) and South Carolina (independent) to SEC in 1991.

In many ways, the Southeastern Conference caused a lot of this mayhem going on today. The SEC became the first conference to break into two six-team divisions and in 1992 staged the first conference championship game. It turned out so well, others decided to copy it.

2) The Big Eight adds Texas, Texas Tech, Baylor and Texas A&M (Southwest Conference) to create Big 12 in 1996.

Weakened by scandals and the departure of Arkansas to the SEC, the SWC died after the 1995 season. The Texas schools joined a league that featured Oklahoma and Nebraska and split into two six-team divisions to play a title game. The first sign of problems came early, though, when the Nebraska-Oklahoma series stopped being an annual rivalry.

3) Penn State (independent) to Big Ten 1993.

Happy Valley is in central Pennsylvania and, for years, Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions were the considered the kings of Northeast football. By becoming the 11th member of the Big Ten _ years after being rejected by the Big East when it was still a basketball-only conference _ it shifted more power to the Midwest. With Penn State no longer regularly playing teams such as Syracuse and Pittsburgh, Northeast football has never been the same.

4) Florida State (independent) to the ACC in 1991.

The Seminoles were an emerging superpower under Bobby Bowden. The ACC was a basketball conference, trying to bolster its football credibility. The result of the merger helped Florida State more than the ACC. The Seminoles went on to win two national titles and contend for numerous others over the next 10 years, running roughshod over a conference that couldn’t keep up.

5) Miami, Virginia Tech, Rutgers, West Virginia, Temple (all independents) to the Big East in 1991.

Born as a basketball conference in 1979, the Big East decided to get into the football business 12 years later, adding national power Miami and the other four to Syracuse, Boston College and Pittsburgh. The real significance was the geography of the league. Now the Big East stretched from New England to South Florida and college sports conferences were no longer bound to traditional borders.

6) Miami and Virginia Tech (Big East) to the ACC in 2004 and Boston College (Big East) to the ACC in 2005.

The first conference raid of another league. The ACC, trying to gain ground on the SEC in football, wanted to take Syracuse to go with Miami, but ended up with Virginia Tech when Virginia politicians stepped in. Maybe most galling to the Big East was the departure of founding member BC. The move put the Big East on the brink of extinction and allowed the ACC to expand to 12 teams and hold a championship game.

7) Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida (Conference USA) to the Big East 2005.

Trying to salvage its league, the Big East raided CUSA and expanded its reach to get back to eight football members. The moved stabilized the conference and allowed it to retain its automatic-qualifying status in the Bowl Championship Series. For good measure, the Big East also took basketball schools Marquette and DePaul, creating a 16-team hoops league that has been unwieldy but successful.

8) Nebraska (Big 12) to the Big Ten in 2011.

In December 2009, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany announced his league was going to look into expansion, essentially lighting the fuse that set off the fireworks that have not stopped since. Rumors and speculation were rampant for months, but in the summer of 2010 Nebraska took the opportunity to leave the dysfunctional Big 12 behind and give the Big Ten another marquee program to boost its cable television network.

9) Colorado (Big 12) and Utah (Mountain West) to the Pac-10 in 2011.

After a failed attempt by new Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott to lure Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M to his league and create a superconference called the Pac-16, Scott settled for Colorado and Utah to move his conference east. The conference named itself the Pac-12, added a football championship game and landed a multibillion dollar TV deal.

10) Rice, SMU, and TCU (Southwest Conference), San Jose State and UNLV (Big West), and Tulsa (Missouri Valley) to the WAC in 1996.

The Western Athletic Conference went a bit wild and created the first 16-team conference. It was hardly super, as the new members ended up watering down a league that had been built on the success of BYU and high-scoring offenses. But it pushed the idea that just because you can’t drive to another school’s campus, doesn’t mean that school can’t be your conference rival.

11) Air Force, Brigham Young, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, Utah, UNLV and Wyoming leave the WAC and form Mountain West Conference in 1999.

The strongest teams in the new WAC, mostly the teams from the old WAC, decided things were getting too crowded and formed a new league. With some room to grow, the Mountain West turned into the best of the BCS non-automatic qualifying leagues, with Utah especially flourishing.

12) Texas A&M (Big 12) to the SEC in 2011.

It’s not quite a done deal, and dominoes are still falling that could potentially make this move even more significant in a few years. But if nothing else, the Aggies deciding they had had enough of Texas brought the Big 12 to the brink again, made the Pac-12 consider another expansion and led to the ACC making a pre-emptive strike by luring Pitt and Syracuse away from the Big East.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at http://Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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