Congratulations, I am the new commissioner of Division 1 college athletics! As my first duty in this screwed-up world of sport that I sincerely love and hate all at the same time, I am fixing all of the wacky conference realignment once and for all. These new conference structures are focused on basketball, but can be applied to most other sports. The goal goes back to the original concept: geographic structure. Rivalries get renewed and travel gets easier. While not perfect, the attempt was to keep leagues at an even number, with 10 schools being best because that means an 18-game regular season (for basketball). Along with longevity in a league, rivals and natural travel partners were considered too (like in the Pac-12 how the Washington schools visit the Oregon schools or in the MAAC how there is the Western NY road trip to Canisius and Niagara). Each few days, I’ll update this post to reveal a new set of conferences. Today, we’ll begin with the Northeast! Read it and weep Nittany Lion fans.
America East: Four members (Maine, UNH, UVM and N’Eastern) date back to the conference founding in 1979. Hofstra joins the SUNY schools and they now have a natural rivalry with Stony Brook. I wanted to bring Boston back in, but left them in the Patriot and opted for UMass-Lowell instead.
Atlantic Ten: Seven schools are naturally here and it makes sense that Drexel joins the other Philly schools. Buffalo is a much better fit in the A-10 than the MAC, plus it makes complete sense for a road trip when teams go an hour away to Olean and Saint Bonaventure. Duquense also gets a partner in Robert Morris, who always was a class above in the NEC, plus they have a new shiny 4,000-seat arena.
Big East: The way it was meant to be. I wanted this to be 10 teams, but I couldn’t find a good home for two other teams. It makes complete sense that Penn State goes to the Big East. Remember PSU fans, you were a Football Independent and a BBall Atlantic-10 member, in the early 90s.
Ivy League: Nothing wrong with the Ancient Eight. This arrangement is perfect as is
MAAC: We only say goodbye to Saint Peter’s, who is a better fit in the NEC anyway. Pairings are natural across the board: Western NY (Niagara/Canisius), Eastern NY (Siena/Marist), NYC (Iona/Manhattan), NJ (Rider/Monmouth), CT (Quinnipiac/Fairfield). This warms my heart. If only Doug Sherman could come back on play-by-play
NEC: Debated just sending them all down to D3, but there’s too much history here. Only Bryant and Merrimack got sent down a level. Small schools and high school gyms
Patriot: Fordham is and always has been way out of it’s league in the A-10 and they’ll be much more at home here in the Patriot League. There’s really only one move as the Rams replace Loyola.
ACC: I didn’t know what to do with Miami as it’s best to keep FSU-Florida together as people don’t realize how far away they are from South Florida. So the Hurricanes are placed in the ACC, where all 9 Best Friends are back together without all these other annoying intruders
Big South: Very similar to what it is now, just shaved off with bigger schools moving to conferences that are a more appropriate fit.
Colonial: Now a Maryland-Virginia league and it would be so nice to have the rival DC, RVA and Hampton Road schools back together again
MEAC: No changes here
Southern: A conference steeped in tradition, but one that has seen many member changes. It’s been a pretty good league of late and many of these schools are great partners. The Asheville/App State/WCU/ETSU group make up the Smoky Mountain section, while the rest are in the Carolinas. Welcome back Davidson!
Tidewater: (Thanks Tony for the name suggestion). There are travel partners for all 10 teams and it does take some teams from longtime conference homes, which I never like to do. But, it makes all the numbers in other conferences work across the region
Atlantic Sun: In the South, the old TAAC almost seems to be a league in flux with members graduating to more “prestigious” leagues. I’m hoping for some stability here and many of these schools have some pretty good, newish facilities as well.
Gulf Coast Conference: A big part of this was dismantling the far-flung Conference USA and American Conference. Lots of natural rivalries here and all members have plenty of similarities.
Ohio Valley: The OVC has so much history and a lot of that is retained with 5 members being a part of the conference since at least 1965. Strictly a Tennessee-Kentucky league and the introduction of WKU and MTSU make it more than just a Murray State / Belmont conference.
SEC: 14 teams is absurd, so we’re back to 12. Having Texas A&M as a partner with LSU somewhat makes sense since the Aggies are 5 hours away. But I wanted them in a Texas conference, so Memphis is a logical replacement. Florida State for Arkansas is a very logical move (remember the Razorbacks have only been members since 1991). The controversial one is saying bye to Kentucky, but you’ll see how much better their new conference is for them.
SWAC: No changes
Sun Belt: They’ve always had an identity crisis and recent years have tried to get them back to what I’d like to see in the Fun Belt. The first 8 schools make sense, I’m a little iffier on including Central Arkansas and plucking another Louisiana school in McNeese.
Big Ten: Back to what the original name of the conference meant: A big Midwestern league of ten. With the exception of Michigan State who joined in 1950, these schools have been together for over 100 hundred years.
Great Midwest: Hearkening back to the old days in the early / mid 1990s of the Metro Conference and Great Midwest Conference, this is not just a basketball powerhouse league, but one that is all centered on a 5-state adjoining area. Big Blue fans I’m sure will be fine with the competition.
Horizon: This is a city school league and that is the case for nearly all of these colleges (Oakland is questionable). Loyola makes a return to even it back out to 10.
MAC: I love the MAC and it would be even better by chopping off the western (Northern Illinois) and eastern (Buffalo) ends.
Mid-Continent: The predecessor to the Summit League, we’re revitalizing the Mid-Con as the Summit becomes focused on the Great Plains. Admittedly, this is somewhat of a mish-mash and it only features 8 teams.
Missouri Valley: Only one trade as Saint Louis comes in to replace Loyola. It does mean the Billikens get a home court advantage during Arch Madness, but Valley teams travel so well, that may not be a huge deal.
Big Nine: This is essentially the old Big Eight. Instead of Colorado, we have Wichita State. Paired with Nebraska, we have Creighton. From a non-football point of view, both of these schools are very worthy members.
Great Plains: Some of these teams are in the current Summit and I modified things to make it more “Plains”-centric. Moving up from DII is Northern State and Winona State, both with arenas more than capable of holding there own. Admittedly, Northern Illinois is a bit of an outlier.
Southland: Pretty much a replica of the current Southland, just without the recent newbies. Texas State moves in from the Sun Belt.
SWC: Remember the good old days? The Southwest Conference is back as there are plenty of huge Texas programs to fill an entire conference. Houston and North Texas (which has a huge enrollment) join to make it an even 10.
Texas League: Easily could be moved to Division II instead, especially since there are 5 teams currently at that level. Needed a home for the recent arrivals: Houston Baptist, Incarnate Word and Abilene Christian. They join UTRGV from the WAC and TAMU-CC from the Southland.
Big Sky: Keeping things in the northern part of the west is the Big Sky. Not too many changes here, except that Portland leaves their long-time WCC to join local rival Portland State.
Big West: The California Bus League. Bakersfield and Sacramento join the party, while Hawaii departs.
Four Corners: This new conference features a few members that move up with capable facilities (the New Mexico ones). Dixie State is joining D1 in a few years anyway. Each state has two teams in it, making for some tidy road trips.
Mountain West: They’ve all been together in one or another at some point in an earlier life. Removed are the west coast schools. It is still a formidable conference and a true representation of the Mountain West.
Pac-10: Back to the original 10. Such a great conference that way.
WAC: The new WAC focuses on the West Coast and nearby Nevada. Also added is a Boise – Gonzaga road trip as the Bulldogs finally have a conference that they can’t easily walk through every year. It is sad though saying goodbye to their 41-year run in the WCC, but keep in mind those schools are generally California-based.
WCC: See above. Another California league with a little more prestige than the Big West.