Conference Realignment, March Madness

With UCLA and USC heading to the Big Ten in the latest wave of conference realignment, it opens up the door for other programs to follow. And some squads will be left out.

News broke Thursday that UCLA and USC will join the Big Ten in 2024. As usual, it’s primarily a football move, but it affects college basketball teams as well – especially at schools where basketball is the priority.

For some big-name schools, realignment is a positive. It increases revenue and surrounds their team with the best possible competition. But with it, some big-name schools get left out. And with the latest talks brewing, these teams might be holding their breaths.

Lesser programs that could be in trouble:

  • Boston College
  • Cal
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Northwestern
  • Oregon State
  • Saint Mary’s
  • Utah
  • Vanderbilt
  • Washington State
  • Wichita State

Arizona State

No conference is running around desperately to find their next move more than the Pac-12. And Arizona State has some of the most on the line.

There’s no doubt the Conference of Champions just took a major hit, and now it leaves the remaining programs with a major decision: stay or leave? Should the Sun Devils leave, they could join the Big 12 to strengthen what they’re building. They could also follow UCLA and USC to the monopoly the Big Ten is making. But one thing’s for certain – staying in the Pac-12 might seem right, but it could be costly.

Boise State

Does the Pac-12 try and make one last run at things and get Boise State and a few of the other Mountain West teams into the conference?

Honestly, they could, but I wouldn’t advise. It will probably turn into a Pac-12/Mountain West hybrid and still won’t have the talent or money to compete with massive Big Ten or SEC ‘megaconferences’ or ‘superconferences’. Get used to those terms by the way.

Boise State’s a football school, and what they end up doing could force San Diego State and the basketball schools in the MWC to make a tough decision.

Kansas

The rumors have been swirling about the Jayhawks looking to join the Big East to save the fate of their basketball program. Kansas is the model for power conference teams that value basketball number one and can’t seem to have any type of success on the football field.

Geographically speaking, the Big East doesn’t make terrible sense. Sure, it’s not ideal, but with Creighton nearby and the midwest half of the conference not too far away, it’s doable. There could be teams in worse locations linked to the Big East *cough cough Gonzaga*.

Kentucky

Ultimately the same case as Kansas, Kentucky’s athletics run through Wildcat basketball. Now – the football at UK has been improving, so I don’t think they’d get the same treatment as Kansas. But I also wouldn’t say that Kentucky isn’t at least on the fence, especially if there’s a cutoff on how many schools each megaconference is willing to accept.

To play devil’s advocate, you could lump Duke and North Carolina into the same exact group as Kentucky. But, the SEC is expanding and may decide they need to drop some baggage where as the ACC has stayed put. I personally think Kentucky will be alright, but there’s just more of an uneasy feeling when you’re conference is the one making all the moves.

Maryland

Maryland covers the DMV market for the Big Ten, which is a very important one. But is that enough to save the Terrapins? Honestly, I think so.

Their football team may be blah and college basketball has been subpar for their standards, but the Terps cover such an important area, that should be enough.

Memphis

What does Memphis do? The Tigers seem fit to dominate in the American Athletic Conference as Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF transition to the Big 12. But, the Tigers program carries more weight than what the AAC looks like it’s about to become after conference realignment.

Getting this out of the way, Memphis won’t be asked to join a super conference, no matter how many teams end up forming those. The safest option would be to stay put and continue to have basketball pave the way for athletics. But I wouldn’t rule out a move to the Atlantic 10 or Big East for basketball only. The ACC could also be an attractive option.

Oregon

Let’s preface this first with the fact that anyone out there who knows college sports knows that Oregon has nothing to worry about. Their brand and winning culture won’t be ignored. But, unless they need to make a move quick to avoid being left out for a few years.

Geography plays the biggest challenge on paper, but that didn’t stop the Bruins or Trojans from taking their talents to the Big Ten. What’s stopping Oregon? I have to believe a move will be made sooner rather than later, but for now, Ducks fans have to be on edge.

Pittsburgh

No college basketball team has felt the effects of conference realignment more than Pittsburgh basketball. You could argue Connecticut, but they’ve started to go back to their classic winning ways. Pitt, on the other hand, has been in the ACC cellar ever since they arrived.

I’m also not sure how they get out. They’re a northeast university nowhere near enough to a major market and don’t have a solid enough football tradition. The basketball history at Pitt is good, but it likely isn’t enough just on its own. The Panthers could find themselves in a rut because right now, the only programs that are truly safe are the ones that have compelling football. Pitt doesn’t check a big enough box there and leaves a few other boxes open as well.

Rutgers

Rutgers is the closest power five school to New York City, but that obviously hasn’t mattered too much on the recruiting trail for football or basketball. They used it to their advantage when the initial conference realignment shifted them out of the Big East and into the Big Ten. Now, the Scarlet Knights need to use that same talking point.

I will say, the Syracuse name and brand are bigger, but Rutgers is so much closer to New York City it almost does give them leg up. We’ll see if the market truly matters in the end though. It’s the argument for a lot of the programs on here, but then again, schools like Alabama and Florida don’t have that. Brand seems to be the most important factor.

Syracuse

Syracuse is in a tricky position because their number one calling card is being ‘New York’s College Team’ and their location in comparison to New York City. The Orange also aren’t terribly¬†bad at football, winning 10 games in a season as recent as 2018. But they also aren’t very good, leaving their basketball team to do the talking. Jim Boeheim’s squad also hasn’t done much at all since joining the ACC, let alone a run to the Final Four as a 10-seed.

So, if super conferences are to takeover conference realignment, SU better hope whoever’s in charge sees the New York pull as much as the university does.

Virginia

I ultimately think Virginia should be fine because, besides Clemson and Florida State, the ACC is the current power five conference in the most trouble. But I chose to single out Virginia because unlike the Georgia Techs and North Carolina States of this world, they place a bit more emphasis on basketball.

Right now, that should be good enough, because the football at UVA is big enough to keep it afloat in a super conference. But if conference realignment does end up shortening the stick for how many programs are let into the mega conferences, Virginia’s walking the tightrope as much as anyone.

Washington

Like Arizona State and Oregon, Washington brings a lot to the table. They’re a proud football and basketball program. However, they haven’t been great in recent years and it could make it a tougher pitch to join any of the super conferences.

They won’t get lost in transition, but they will want to act sooner rather than later. That’s a theme with a lot of these schools. Don’t wait until the end of conference realignment, or it might be the death of you. The ball’s in your court, Washington!