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A Look Back at Conference Realignment 2003

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A Look Back at Conference Realignment 2003 -1/21/04

In the fall of 1999, this site, a unique meeting place for those interested in the topic of NCAA conference realignment was formed for fans from across the country to discuss the potential scenarios of conference realignment. Without any bells and whistles, without even a website domain name, this site grew into a one of a kind hotspot for what has been an unprecedented span of major NCAA conference realignment. With the recent announcements of Florida Atlantic and Florida International accepting Sunbelt memberships for 1A football, the last few dominos have fallen for now. It seems appropriate that we take a look back at just what changes have occurred, compare those to some of the more popular predictions from this site, and to look at just what moves could still remain.

The ripple of 2003 started with the initial discussions between Miami and the ACC. Since Miami joined the Big East in 1991, virtually everyone thought that the ACC would be a much better match for the university. Geography combined with the fact that the ACC already had a combination of likeminded private schools as well as public, state schools, and the eventual membership by fellow Florida school Florida State, made the ACC an appealing option. That became reality this summer as Miami President, Donna Shalala, announced that the Hurricanes would indeed join the ACC. While Boston College and Syracuse seemed the frontrunners to join along with Miami, Virginia Tech was bumped ahead of both due to political pressures put on the University of Virginia. A look back at the scenarios of 1999 show that both Miami and Virginia Tech made the most sense for the ACC. It was that third school that was hard to determine. In the end, the ACC chose Boston College as its 12th member, a choice that many could see coming 10 years ago as an attempt for the ACC to infiltrate the Big East media markets.

Our 1999-200 Predictions:
CANDIDATES: [1 or 3 openings] Miami, VATech
Long shots= BC, Syracuse, WVU, Navy (as FB only), UConn, Temple, Rutgers, Louisville, ECU

Official 2003 Moves:
ACC invites Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College

Big East:
The effects of the ACC defections will have the hardest impact on the Big East. To combat losing Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech, the Big East will add Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, DePaul and Marquette. The idea of adding Louisville and Cincinnati was around even before Miami and company decided to leave. The Big East, at 8 members, has always considered a future in which its football-playing members could leave to form an all-sports conference. If this were to happen, adding Louisville and Cincinnati, two schools with reputable 1A football programs and exceptional basketball programs, would strengthen both areas. But with the ACC defections, the Big East sought to add a third all-sports school as well as 2 non-football schools. In the end, South Florida was chosen as the 3rd football replacement due to what many consider their upside as a school in the Tampa market, located in the recruiting hotbed of Florida. Many thought that the Big East might look to strengthen their presence in the general northeast footprint by reinstating Temple, adding Army or Navy for football-only, or looking again at CUSA for a school such as East Carolina, who came very close to joining in 1991 when the football conference formed. Marshall, a program that has been ranked much of its short 1A existence never received much consideration, rumored to be blocked from joining by fellow West Virginia school WVU. The Big East will have a tough road ahead of them with the loss of its two football powers Miami and Virginia Tech. It’s hard to look at the future Big East in the light we have grown accustomed to.

Our 1999-200 Predictions:
CANDIDATES: [1-4 opening] Louisville, Cincinnati, UCF, Army, Navy
Long shots: ECU, Marshall, UMass

Official 2003 Moves:
Big East adds Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, DePaul and Marquette

Conference USA:
While the Big East might have such a tough road ahead of them as a BCS member, it is CUSA who will have the most dramatic facelift. After losing (5) members, Commissioner Britton Banowsky, who took over for Mike Slive after he departed for the SEC, looked towards the WAC for replacements. Banowsky, who never relocated to the CUSA offices in Chicago from his Dallas home, saw the departures as an excuse to give CUSA a southern makeover. Joining in 2005 will be Texas schools Rice and SMU as well as Oklahoma school, Tulsa. CUSA will keep its Florida presence by adding MAC school UCF to replace USF. Marshall also comes along from the MAC. With the additional departures of non-football schools, DePaul and Marquette to the Big East, the league will now become an all-sport conference. With that, Charlotte and St. Louis will leave for the Atlantic 10. Recent rumblings have TCU considering a potential Mountain West invitation. Should they accept, LA Tech, UTEP and Temple will all be considered for membership.

Our 1999-200 Predictions:
Long shots: SMU, Tulsa, UTEP, Rice, LA Tech, Temple, Navy

Official 2003 Moves:
CUSA will add Rice, SMU, Tulsa, UCF and Marshall
Charlotte and St. Louis will leave in 2005 to join the A10.

In somewhat of a scurry to secure its place in 1A athletics, the WAC turned to the Sunbelt to combat its losses. Similar to the CUSA strategies, the W
AC looked to strengthen its regional presence as a western conference. Utah State and New Mexico State will join once the (2) Texas schools, SMU and Rice, as well as Tulsa leave in 2005. LA Tech remains the lone school outside the current WAC footprint. That could change in the coming weeks should TCU leave for the Mountain West. LA Tech is rumored to be the leading candidate, joining fellow Louisiana school Tulane in CUSA. Idaho could be slated to benefit form a LA Tech departure with a WAC invite. Should the WAC also lose Boise State, there is a chance that the WAC might admit North Texas or Louisiana-Lafayette to secure the necessary membership numbers for its league.

Our 1999-200 Predictions:
Candidates: Utah St., Idaho, New Mexico St.
Long shots: Arkansas St, LA-Monroe, LA-Lafayette

Official 2003 Moves:
WAC will add Utah State and New Mexico State

While everyone focuses on the shifting landscape by the BCS conferences and fringe leagues such as CUSA and Mountain West, it is the Sunbelt who has had to do the most work. The league has found itself in a desperation mode in order to keep its’ membership numbers at the necessary 8 all-sport schools. Once Utah State and New Mexico State announced they were leaving, it left the Sunbelt with only 7 members, Arkansas State, North Texas, Middle Tenn. St., Louisiana Monroe , La Lafayette with Troy State and Idaho slated to become all-sport members. To get back to 8 and protect itself against an additional departure by Idaho or another school, the Sunbelt has accepted I-AA upgrades Florida Atlantic and Florida International. The move keeps the Sunbelt as the most regionally diverse conference, stretching from Florida to Idaho. Idaho remains the geographical anomaly, with what must be the most expensive travel budget in recent years. The closest Sunbelt school to Idaho will remain North Texas.

Our 1999-200 Predictions:
Candidates: Any 1A football program, ANY Sunbelt Other-Sports members adding/upgrading football, ANY Southern Conference, SWAC, Southland, Ohio Valley, Gateway I-AA program looking to upgrade to 1A.

Official 2003 Moves:
Sunbelt will add FAU and FIU in 2004, 2005.

Mountain West:
While so many changes have taken place this past year, the Mountain West has been sitting in the shadows, working with the NCAA in order to find the means to gain BCS access. TCU remains and option for the league, which has all but concluded that they will indeed expand, by 1-4 schools. The number of schools to add remains the lone hurdle. Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada are all being considered as well. But should the MWC add 2 schools, TCU and Boise State are the clear frontrunners. Houston and UTEP have an outside shot of joining should TCU demand a travel partner.

Our 1999-200 Predictions:
CANDIDATES: Boise State, Fresno, TCU, UTEP, Hawaii
Long shots: Houston, Utah St, Idaho, Nevada

In 2005, once these moves all become official, the dust will settle from these more major dominoes that have fallen. The future could hold another series of change that could have just as impacting an effect. Notre Dame, the most major independent school, could one day join the Big Ten, the most logical fit for the Indiana school. But should the Big Ten ever look to expand by 1 to get to 12, the necessary membership number to hold a league championship game, and Notre Dame not except, schools in other BCS conferences such as Iowa State, Missouri, Nebraska, Louisville, Syracuse and Pittsburgh could get looked at. The PAC-10 could one day decide to expand to 12, and would again target Colorado and Texas, two schools they had previously inquired about for membership. Colorado State could be considered if Colorado showed interest, as would BYU, who was almost a lock to join the Big 12 before then Texas Governor Ann Richards, a Baylor alum, pressured the Big 12 to include Baylor if the league wanted the other Texas schools. Others could include WAC members Hawaii and Fresno state, as well as MWC members Utah and San Diego State.

And let’s not forget about the other non-BCS conferences and those who do not sponsor 1A football. The Atlantic 10 is poised to capitalize on the recent shifts by adding two quality programs in Charlotte and St. Louis. The MAC will lose UCF and Marshall. With so many MAC schools at risk of losing their 1A status should new 1A criteria become finalized in two years (currently, the issues of a minimum gate attendance of 15,000 per game, with 5 1A home games required are under consideration until 2005-2006) the MAC could look to add Temple, who is slated to leave the Big East after the 2004 season, or perhaps any of the Sunbelt schools such as Middle Tennessee State. Temple will participate as an independent in 2005.

The CAA, which is attempting a coup of their own in the I-AA ranks in an attempt to sponsor I-AA football, could add A10 football schools Northeastern and New Hampshire, forcing the remaining A10 football schools to either drop to independent status or simply participate under the CAA Football banner. And outside the realm of college football, you have conferences such as the Missouri Valley, Horizon and others who could improve their RPI potential by adding 1-2 members from other similar conferences. The Missouri Valley could strengthen the league if they were ever able to add schools such as Western Kentucky or Butler.

The landscape of college sports has gone through some of it’s’ most drastic changes to date. We’ve learned that what once seemed like an area of athletic simplicity, dominated by an overwhelming feeling of fan identification and support, has officially joined the rest of our society as big business. Money is what caused the recent shifts and its business that will shape any future changes. The innocence has been lost, but as long as the fans continue to support their schools, the world of college sports will always flourish. And with that being the case, and the quest for the mighty dollar a main objective by all schools and conferences, we can be assured that we will one day see even more conference realignment.
For the fans of this unique topic, for the guests and members of, it will be a fun and wild ride

Matthew Peloquin can be contacted at

Other Articles of Interest:

New I-AA Football Conference Plans Nearly Finalized – 1/23/04

Conference Realignment Chronicles

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