Conference Realignment Era: The Winners
Assessing the winners and losers from this era of conference realignment.
With the five power conferences apparently stable (for now), we look at the winners and losers in this particular era of conference realignment. Below: The Winners.
1. Texas A&M
The Aggies didn't dip their toe in the SEC waters, they did a cannonball off the diving board. Texas A&M escaped the shadow of Longhorns in the Big 12 and opened up a brand new fertile recruiting base in the southeast with their move. Johnny Manziel may be a two-year phenomenon, but the work Kevin Sumlin is doing in College Station suggests the SEC West may never be the same again. Texas A&M's upward trajectory is the result of perfect timing -- coach, new conference, budding superstar -- but the Aggies are nonetheless winners in this era of conference realignment.
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Louisville's rise to glory as an athletic department began with Howard Schnellenberger's arrival in 1985, and was capped with a memorable six months that included a Sugar Bowl win over Florida, a men's basketball national championship, a national championship game appearance in women's basketball and a membership offer from the ACC. Under athletic director Tom Jurich, the Cardinals have won the "survival of the fittest" in conference realignment.
How fast do you think Rutgers said "yes" when Jim Delany inquired about potential Big Ten membership? The Scarlet Knights have played some of their best football in program history over the last decade, yet sat in a league that was on the verge of getting dropped from the "power conferences" club. The Big Ten will be an entirely different challenge for Rutgers, but it will have more access to the elite games in the new playoff system than it ever could have imagined as one of the "Group of Five;" competing against every other "have not" school for one bid in an access bowl.
4. Big Ten
Much of the Big Ten's strength in the conference hierarchy is a result of the Big Ten Network, and with media rights renegotiations coming in 2016 Jim Delany acted to increase the television value of his product. Adding the New York/New Jersey and Washington, D.C., markets gives the league two additional markets, and some are projecting record numbers on the Big Ten's new deal. But the expansion also has a football aspect. Big Ten coaches now have a pipeline to the talent-rich states of Maryland and Virginia, a key as the demographics of top recruits continue to skew away from the Midwest.
5. Big 12
Hard to imagine that there was a time in this conference realignment era when the Big 12 looked like it was on the brink of nonexistence. Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, with help from interim commissioner Chuck Neinas, helped solidify the league when Texas and Oklahoma were "reportedly" in discussions with every league on the map. The Big 12 may lack the membership size of the other power conferences, but the schools are not complaining about fewer mouths to feed financially.
6. Message Board Subscriptions
One of the best, and worst, aspects of the new media era is the ability for a fan to find an expert, somewhere on the Internet, who will tell him-or-her what they want to hear. When conference realignment took on a competitive tone -- almost like a real-world version of the board game Risk -- fans took to their computers searching for any insider information on the issue. You could argue no college football issue in the Internet era has affected fans quite like conference realignment, and fans began to click anywhere and everywhere for some good news regarding their favorite team or conference.
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