Solving the realignment riddle


Oklahoma and Texas deciding a couple months ago to leave the Big 12 for the SEC sent shockwaves throughout college sports. Anyone who thought the shuffling would stop there were probably surprised that BYU, UCF, Houston and Cincinnati have left their respective positions to join the Big 12. (Though they shouldn’t have been.)
Whether it was disbanding themselves or adding schools, no one expected the Big 12 to stand pat after losing their two largest cash cows. They decided to poach four schools (oddly enough now actually giving them 12) with three of the 4 coming from the American Athletic Conference. Which now begs the question, what of the AAC now?
Conventional wisdom suggests they will look to replace the three schools they lost with some number of schools from another conference, who will them look to replace whomever they lose, etc. It’s a vicious cycle that doesn’t appear to have an end anytime soon. But there is a way to put an end to all this realignment talk, and from the perspective of someone who is a Group of 5 apologist, there seems to be a logical solution here.
Just join forces.
Let’s look at this whole situation using some logic. Not everyone gets to grow up to be a POWER 5 SCHOOL. UCF, Houston and Cincinnati were deemed worthy by Big 12 officials because they have developed a certain amount of cache in football and/or basketball, and because they reside in decent sized markets. BYU was added more because of geographic proximity than on field/court accomplishment but I digress. (No disrespect intended, but if they were looking for a fourth, SMU or Memphis make more sense.) The AAC may look at schools like UAB and Coastal Carolina to fill the void left behind, but what good does that lateral move really do those schools? Who is to say that the new iteration of the AAC is actually a step up from the Sun Belt or Conference USA at this point anyway?
So let’s just look at the schools remaining in those three conferences. (For the purposes of this I am excluding the MAC and Mountain West conferences. Sorry. Form an alliance, all the cool kids are doing it.)
The teams remaining in the AAC, Sun Belt and CUSA are as follows: Tulsa, SMU, Tulane, Memphis, East Carolina, Navy, USF, Temple, Marshall, Florida Atlantic, Western Kentucky, Charlotte, Middle Tennessee, Florida International, Old Dominion, UAB, UTSA, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, North Texas, Rice, UTEP, Coastal Carolina, Appalachian St., Georgia State, Troy, Georgia Southern, Louisiana, Arkansas St., Texas State, South Alabama, and Louisiana-Monroe. That’s 32 teams, no doubt a lot. But let’s get weird with it.
The NFL has 32 teams. No one says “that’s too many teams” because they are broken down into eight divisions of 4 teams. So let’s apply similar logic here, breaking down the conference into a more reasonable 4 groups of 8 (think of it like the pods the SEC is planning on implementing):
West Division: UTEP, UTSA, Rice, SMU, North Texas, Tulsa, Texas State, Arkansas St.
South Division: Tulane, Louisiana, Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Memphis, Troy, South Alabama
East Division: Florida International, Florida Atlantic, USF, Georgia St., Georgia Southern, UAB, Coastal Carolina, Appalachian St.
North Division: Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee, Temple, Navy, Marshall, Old Dominion, East Carolina, Charlotte
From a scheduling standpoint, 7 of the 12 games are taken care of within your own division with two more intra-division matchups giving them a full conference slate, then three non-conference games. (If a team feels the need to schedule a game with a Power 5 school for financial purposes then fine, but this is where that MW/MAC alliance sounds more interesting to me.)
Now I know what you are thinking. “Justin, this is a great idea. You are smart and cool and funny. But how does someone win the conference?” Glad you asked friend. After a 12 game season, the winner of each division advances to a…wait for it…FOUR TEAM PLAYOFF!! (Because they will never reach the real one.) Whoever is left standing at that point represents the new and improved American Athletic Superconference for consideration for a NY6 bowl, along with the aforementioned MAC and Mountain West schools.
You get a lot of major metropolitans represented: Dallas, Charlotte, Atlanta and Philadelphia just to name a few. You also get the reestablishment of previously existing rivalries along with new ones (Who is excited for Southern Miss and Tulane to get reacquainted?)
I know it is kind of a pie-in-the-sky idea, but with the way things are going, the Power 5 conferences are just going to monopolize the sport more than they already have unless the smaller schools join together to do something about it. (You can even add teams like Liberty and James Madison to this exercise if you want. It makes sense and I’m pro-logic.) There are no doubt logistics that would need to be worked out as far as bowls go, as a lot of these teams cross paths during bowl season. And hey, if the playoff expands to 12 teams like the word-on-the-street suggests, then that would be good news for at least one G5 program. The point is, the idea of three similar sized conferences just passing schools around for seemingly no real benefit is the more realistic alternative. And that’s no fun.

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