Conference realignment has been the talk of Division I for almost two years now, and likely will continue to be for some time. Most conference expansion though is relatively uncreative. Natural geographic fits that add value to a conference are snapped up, after which the conference which lost the team must respond.
A few recent moves bucked that trend though. Brigham Young’s move to football indepedence and the West Coast Conference harkened back to the days when Penn State was a member of the Atlantic 10 and Florida State was a member of the Metro Conference (one precursor to Conference USA). Hawaii will become a member of two conferences in 2012, the Mountain West for football and the Big West for other sports. And Texas Christian will join the Big East, which will stretch from Wisconsin to Florida and from Rhode Island to Texas.
Football has driven most of these moves, and it’s football that places a limit on how far the current conference model can go. Expanding beyond twelve schools, the amount required for a FB championship game, is seen as difficult because revenue needs to grow enough to justify splitting it more ways. But if we come up with new conference models, it opens up new avenues for change in the Football Bowl Subdivision while still preserving Division I’s broad membership base. Luckily, Division III has one of those ideas.
The Middle Atlantic Conferences is a Division III conference with members in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. The MAC is plural because it is an overarching conference for two other conferences: the Commonwealth Conference and the Freedom Conference. The MAC is treated as one conference for purposes of revenue distribution and voting. Where each of the two conferences has enough schools sponsoring a sport, the individual conferences get an automatic bid. Where they don’t, the two conferences combine their teams so the MAC gets an automatic bid.
It’s an intriguing solution for a couple of conferences. Imagine a Big East that solves the football/non-football school division by rearranging itself into two conferences under the Big East umbrella. Imagine a Big-Pac 24 that maintains the Rose Bowl by pitting its champions together before an FBS playoff.
Umbrella conferences in Division I could cut costs by consolidating conference offices. Legislation like conference nonqualifiers rules and intra-conference transfer legislation would slowly standardize across Division I (which is good or bad depending on your point of view). And attaching two conferences together has the potential to expand sports, like a combined SEC/ACC bringing lacrosse to the South and stronger baseball to the East Coast.
Obviously there’s numerous issues to be sorted out, not the least of which is that Division III is trying to kill off the concept. But it makes more sense in Division I, where automatic qualification is not as precious as in Division III. The current conference model is hitting a bit of a ceiling though. One way to break through it is with an umbrella (ella, ella).
The opinions expressed on this blog are the author’s and the author’s alone, and are not endorsed by the NCAA or any NCAA member institution or conference. This blog is not a substitute for a compliance office.