I have produced many articles on college conference expansion. We know it is a matter of when, not if, the Big 12 expands. What we do not know if whether they will expand to 12 or 14. While I would like to see some horse trading to get the geography straightened out a bit, that is not likely to happen. There seem to be a multitude of possibilities and those all have ramifications for the Group of 5. In the hypothetical world this article lives in we will expand the Big 12 and realign the Group of 5 into 5 better suited conferences. We will even rename 1 or 2 of them.
First off the Big 12-As of this moment you can go search Big 12 expansion and there are a few options. If they only expand by 2 I think that BYU and either Cincinnati or Houston will be called up. But, I do not feel they will only expand by 2. I think that to truly insulate themselves from being raided again they will expand by 4. Then you can add either Colorado State or New Mexico to go with the 3 institutions I mentioned earlier. The whole purpose of expansion is getting more eyeballs to TV’s and Denver, Colorado is larger than any market in New Mexico. So we have BYU, Cincinnati, Colorado State, and Houston joining the Big 12. (I have wrote that these are the best 4 before)
This leaves the American Athletic Conference with the proposition of dissolving again like the Old Big East did or raid Conference USA (Which was how we got the AAC to begin with). I think that this conference, along with the Mountain West, are the 2 premier non Power 5 conferences out there. That means that they are both worth saving. Having researched this beforehand there are a few options for the AAC. The most likely options in my opinion are Massachusetts (became independent this season), Marshall (C-USA), Old Dominion (C-USA), and Southern Mississippi (C-USA). If/when Cincinnati and Houston move to the Big 12 then that would leave these 4 for 2 spots. I started this piece thinking that Southern Miss and Marshall would be odds on favorite because of their on the field football success and that may play a major role in ultimately what decides this thing. However if you look into size of endowment, athletic budgets, and markets you will find that UMASS and Old Dominion are ahead. Because of that information I will cast my unofficial AAC vote of expansion to those two institutions. Now the conference once again has 12 members: Central Florida, Connecticut, East Carolina, Navy (associate member in football), Massachusetts, Memphis, Old Dominion, South Florida, SMU, Temple, Tulane, and Tulsa.
We decided that Colorado State would be invited to join the Big 12 and that would leave the Mountain West with only 11 members. To rectify this, we again turn our sights to Conference USA and the member that best suits is UTEP. The “EP” is for El Paso, Texas and that is further west by far than any other institution we have on the board. With UTEP, the Mountain West is back to 12 members: Air Force, Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, San Diego State, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah State, UTEP, and Wyoming.
Also, I am not touching the MAC. I think this conference is just fine the way it is and blowing up something that actually gets it right is absurd.
So we are left with the remnants of the Conference USA and the Sun Belt. There are roughly 24-25 institutions left that play football at the FBS level. One interesting thing to take note here is that the University of Arkansas-Little Rock (UALR) is a Sun Belt conference member, but it does not have football. Another institution to keep an eye on is James Madison University. I mention them because they have the 61st highest athletic budget in America. The following 5 athletic budgets in order are: Houston, Old Dominion, Boise State, Memphis, and Hawaii. They already operate like an upper tier Group of 5 school. I believe they will make the jump to FBS soon, as they have been expanding their stadium just like Old Dominion did before their leap. There was a time when Conference USA and the Mountain West contemplated a merger of the two conferences and we could see that for revenue generating purposes from the 25 or so schools that we haven’t picked off and moved yet. But, I think that simplicity is the better genius sometimes. Especially when it comes to who should be in what conference so we are going to create a new (an old) conference and place institutions together by proximity. The schools in the Group of 5 do not generate nearly the revenue of their Power 5 brethren and travel costs hurt. So by placing the rest of everyone in these two new (old) conferences we are attempting to solve that.
Conference 1 will take an old name and be known henceforth as the Southwest Conference. I happen to live in a state (Arkansas) that once was in the original Southwest, resurrecting this brand would be good for college athletics. There happen to be 12-13 members that would be perfect for this as well: Arkansas State, UALR (everything but no football), Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee, North Texas, Rice, South Alabama, Southern Miss, UT-Arlington, UT-San Antonio, and Texas State. A lot of Texas and Louisiana schools if you could get all of them to accept this I think this is a very viable group. They could negotiate deals with regional FOX and whoever else to broadcast competitions.
Conference 2 could either be called the Sun Belt or we could make the East Coast Conference (ECC). The rest of the institutions are either in the Eastern Time Zone or if they aren’t the distance is minimal. These include: Appalachian State, Coastal Carolina (they just joined the Sun Belt days after winning the College World Series), UNC-Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Georgia Southern, Georgia State, James Madison (logical for this conference if they do make the jump to FBS), Marshall, UAB (welcome back Blazers), Troy, and Western Kentucky. The same regionalized TV deals could be expected for this as the Southwest.
These two conferences split up old C-USA members so there would be a growth period for both of these new leagues. I feel as though this would be a better way for these schools to get the most bang for their buck, reports are that the MAC will be getting more TV revenue than C-USA now and if you regionalize the old C-USA and the Sun Belt I think that these 3 leagues could expect to get roughly the same kind of deals for their leagues.