Just when I felt safe, conference realigns
Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 23:12
I thought I was safe. I was past the point of checking under my bed before going to sleep. The squeak I heard while in the shower no longer frightened me. I even stopped looking both ways before crossing the street. But it was not to last.
I was peacefully enjoying my Thanksgiving break when it struck again. Conference realignment had returned. It started with the speculation that Maryland would leave the Atlantic Coast Conference and Rutgers would leave the Big East for the Big Ten Conference (ironically bringing their total schools to 14).
It didn’t take long for more dominoes to fall. The Big East countered by adding Conference USA members Tulane in all sports and East Carolina for football only (a designation thought only for schools like Notre Dame). The ACC chose to add Louisville from the Big East and C-USA stole Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee State from the Sun Belt.
My favorite move of the last couple weeks was the ‘Lopes of Grand Canyon University going into the Western Athletic Conference. I’m truly pleased Thunder the Antelope is getting his shot at big time college athletics.
All of these moves are coming in the midst of a continental shift in college athletics. This is the second year for Colorado and Utah to play in the Pac-12 conference and for Nebraska to play in the Big Ten conference. Texas A&M and Missouri just completed their first seasons in the Southeastern Conference. The Mountaineers of West Virginia and the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian competed in the Big XII conference for the first time this season as well.
Next season will see even more changes as Syracuse and Pittsburg bolt the Big East for the ACC. Conference USA will add Charlotte, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, Old Dominion, and Texas at San Antonio but will lose Memphis, Central Florida, Houston and SMU to the Big East.
What does it all mean for Southern Miss?
The fear around the country is that realignment is not over. Connecticut and Cincinnati want in the ACC, Penn State has explored the ACC, Boise State might not stay in the Big East long once they get there and the Big Ten is still in talks with more schools. It has been widely speculated that a movement towards four, sixteen team leagues called “super conferences,” is in the works.
Where does that leave Southern Miss? Realistically, we don’t bring much to the table. Tulane brought good academics and a relatively large market. East Carolina brought, well, I’m still trying to figure out what East Carolina brought. And, should the Big East come calling again, I see Tulsa and UAB as bigger draws for them than USM.
Before the additions of FAU and MTSU to C-USA, my opinion was to go to the Sun Belt. After those additions to our conference, I still see a move to the Sun Belt as the best bet. I believe that league is on the way up. Western Kentucky gave us a little taste of the Sun Belt this season while Louisiana-Monroe upset Arkansas earlier this season, and Troy took Tennessee to the brink.
Teams left in the Sun Belt next season are: Arkansas State; Georgia State; South Alabama; Texas State; Troy; Louisiana Lafayette; Louisiana Monroe; and Western Kentucky.
Teams now in C-USA: Charlotte; Florida Atlantic; Florida International; Louisiana Tech; Marshall; Middle Tennessee State; North Texas; Old Dominion; Rice; Tulsa; Alabama Birmingham; Texas San Antonio; and Texas El Paso.
Tulsa and Louisiana Tech will keep C-USA strong, but when you look regionally, the Sun Belt presents us with easier access to teams and potential rivals. Also, the Sun Belt is not currently in a lawsuit with ESPN, unlike C-USA, and has access to better programing than C-USA does currently.
We’ve raided the Sun Belt for teams but, in my opinion, we’ve taken the lesser teams. The Sun Belt is stronger for it, and I think Southern Miss should really look into moving conferences to the Sun Belt (or the Sun Beast as it is jokingly called). That’s my two cents, but, in an ever-changing landscape, who knows what will happen. We might find ourselves in the Big XII.