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Realignment 101: Getting to know the new landscape of college sports

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports

Welcome to July. While you’re enjoying all the trappings of American summertime – the pool, the grill, the incendiary devices passed off as patriotic props – college sports is realigning itself some more.

July 1 is when most of the latest conference shuffling becomes official. For example, the Atlantic Coast Conference officially adds Syracuse, Pittsburgh and all of Notre Dame except the part that matters most – football. The new Big East opens for business, if only just barely. And the American Athletic Conference staggers into the new frontier. 

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Notre Dame's football program will play five ACC schools every year starting in 2014. (AP)

You’re forgiven if you’ve lost track of all the announced changes, especially as it trickled down from the big moves by big leagues in recent years to the mid-major and low-major conferences. The new geography will take some getting used to.

In an effort to help, here's a handy realignment reference manual, complete with winners and losers:

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

Who left: Everyone who could. Specifically, the Catholic Seven skedaddled and took the old league name (Big East) with them. Syracuse and Pittsburgh have run off to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and so has football independent Notre Dame.

Who arrived: The upwardly mobile portion of Conference USA, namely: Central Florida, Houston, SMU and Memphis. TCU, Boise State and San Diego State never showed up.

What’s still to come: Plenty. Louisville is ticketed to the ACC next season and Rutgers is taking its dysfunctional self to the Big Ten. The 2014 arrivals will be Tulsa, Tulane and East Carolina. Navy becomes an affiliate football member in ’15.

Better or worse? The bombed-out shell of a league is definitely worse, and the deconstruction will accelerate next year. Losing Louisville will cost the American its greatest all-around power, and Rutgers’ departure will snip the last tie to New York. A conference that sprawls from Connecticut to Florida to Texas has no identity, and not much in the way of excellence, either.

Winner or loser? Huge loser.

ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE

Who left: Nobody yet, but Maryland is in its final season after helping start the league in 1953.

Who arrived: Pittsburgh and Syracuse. They don’t help the cause in football, but are great additions in basketball and can keep Boston College company in the northern sector of the league. Notre Dame is in as well in all sports but football, adding significant prestige.

What’s still to come: Louisville ships in next year and should provide an instant impact in several sports, including all the major ones.

Better or worse? The league is incrementally better this year and will take another step forward in 2014. But the biggest victory was in retention – commissioner John Swofford got all member schools to agree to a Grant of Rights media deal that solidified the league and helped forestall further national realignment.

Winner or loser? Biggest winner nationally.

BIG EAST

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Marquette and Georgetown are two of the schools bouncing from the Big East. (USA Today)

Who left: The breakaway basketball group of St. John’s, Seton Hall, Villanova, Providence, Marquette, Georgetown and DePaul form the nucleus of the new-era Big East.

Who arrived: Xavier, Butler and Creighton were excellent additions, poached from the Atlantic-10 (Xavier and Butler) and the Missouri Valley (Creighton).

What’s still to come: The league has a lot of work to do in a hurry, in terms of creating schedules and an administrative infrastructure. The Big East finally got around to hiring a commissioner last week, tabbing former WNBA commish Val Ackerman. The plodding pace of progress is enough to remind everyone why these schools were marginalized within the old Big East – they sat around letting the football schools make all the decisions.

Better or worse? The league’s recreation as a Catholic (plus Butler) basketball coalition absolutely is better than clinging to a bloated, diminished and geographically nonsensical old Big East. It is a welcome return to the identity most of these schools enjoyed before football ruled the Earth. But the inability to get up and running quickly raises concerns about league leadership, and the choice of Ackerman as commissioner falls into the wait-and-see category.

Winner or loser? Solid winner.

BIG TEN

Who left: Nobody is leaving this money-making machine. The last school to depart the Big Ten was Chicago University in 1946.

Who arrived: No new arrivals yet. The league stands pat at 14 until 2014.

What’s still to come: Maryland and Rutgers arrive next year. They offer nothing of value beyond additional TV revenue opportunities. A conference that has been marginalized in football in recent years gets no better with the addition of those two, and only Maryland basketball is worth getting (moderately) excited about.

Better or worse? No major change.

Winner or loser? Mixed bag. The Big Ten will win financially in 2014, but loses some athletic prestige by bringing in two schools that aren’t terribly good in the major sports.

The rumored power play to raid the ACC for North Carolina and either Virginia, Georgia Tech or Duke has not materialized, and in theory the Grant of Rights deal should prevent it for the foreseeable future. That may be a loss for the Big Ten but it’s a huge win for college sports as a whole, because it could have triggered another spasm of complete chaos.

BIG 12

Who left: Nobody. After a couple of years of turbulence, the membership has coalesced around the smart leadership of commissioner Bob Bowlsby. Relative calm has returned to the Plains – for now.

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The Longhorn Network remains a hot topic for Mack Brown and the rest of the Big 12. (Getty)

Who arrived: Nobody. The last “little” major conference is standing pat at 10 teams, and can make a pretty solid case that smaller is better when it comes to scheduling, being competitive and still commanding big media bucks. West Virginia and TCU got through their inaugural seasons last year with a few bruises to show for it.

What’s still to come: Nothing on the immediate horizon, other than monitoring some interesting media ventures within the league. Namely, the progress of The Longhorn Network, and Kansas’ recent third-tier deal with ESPN3. The Jayhawks are betting that the rise in Internet video consumption will result in a major payday, and it could be a precursor of what’s to come as colleges continue hunting down new revenue streams.

Better or worse? Better with Bowlsby, but otherwise not significantly different. The Sugar Bowl agreement with the SEC will provide a valuable new revenue injection.

Winner or loser? The Big 12 wins because it survived. It also helped enhance national stability by staying at 10 schools and deciding against further acquisitions.

PAC-12

Who left: Nobody. In its growth from the Athletic Association of Western Universities in 1959 to the Pac-8 to the Pac-10 to the Pac-12, there have been zero defectors. Original AAWU members Idaho and Montana were smartly uninvited along the way, while Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah have been added.

Who arrived: Nobody. The league enters Year Three as a 12-team entity, with Colorado and Utah a combined 10-26 in conference play during the first two football seasons.

What’s still to come: No changes to the lineup are currently planned. The league says its network had a successful first year and turned a profit, but it still hasn’t landed an agreement with DirecTV – a major issue for a lot of Pac-12 fans.

Better or worse? No significant upgrade or downgrade in status from last year. Over time, the conference has modernized significantly under the leadership of commissioner Larry Scott.

Winner or loser? The Pac-12 remains one of the big winners of realignment.

SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE

Who left: The SEC has no Grant of Rights in place for one simple reason: it doesn’t need one. Nobody wants to leave this league.

Who arrived: Nobody. Year Two begins for Big 12 evacuees Texas A&M and Missouri.

What’s still to come: Not much, other than continued attempts at worldwide domination. Creation of the new SEC Network will be a major undertaking over the next year.

Better or worse? No change in top-dog football status, although the theme of SEC dominance is starting to skew toward simply Alabama dominance.

Winner or loser? With the Crimson Tide locking up a seventh straight SEC national football championship, there is no end to the winning. But men’s basketball needs a reboot after a miserable season.

MOUNTAIN WEST

Who left: Nobody. Which is a pretty miraculous development for a non-marquee conference. Boise State and San Diego State both reconsidered and were reinstated after signing on with (but never playing in) the old Big East.

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Will BYU's status as a football independent pay off for the school in the long run? (Getty)

Who arrived: Utah State and San Jose State, cleaning out the cupboard in the Western Athletic Conference.

What’s still to come: No additions or subtractions are planned, but the Mountain West undoubtedly is keeping its eye on BYU’s ongoing independent football experiment. If the Cougars ever pull the plug on it, the league surely would love to have back one of its former flagship schools.

Better or worse? Utah State and San Jose State are coming off bowl seasons, but both lost their coaches and have virtually no heritage of football success. Still, their arrival gives the Mountain West a solid 12 football teams, paving the way for two divisions and the first-ever conference championship game.

Winner or loser? Winner. In spite of losing BYU, Utah and TCU, the Mountain West has come through the throes of realignment over the past three years in better shape than many of its peers.

CONFERENCE USA

Who left: Houston, SMU, Central Florida and Memphis all departed for the American Athletic Conference, with more departures to come next year. That hit the league where it hurts in both football (five of the past six division champions are gone or will be gone) and men's basketball (Memphis was the only C-USA school that mattered in that sport).

Who arrived: Plenty of low-major football flotsam, in the form of Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and UT-San Antonio. Old Dominion and Charlotte also join this year, with football to follow in 2014 and ’15, respectively.

What’s still to come: Western Kentucky joins in all sports next year.

Better or worse? Worse. C-USA got weaker in the key football states of Texas and Florida and lost some major media markets. The programs are largely afterthoughts in places like Houston, Dallas and Orlando, but trading those markets for the likes of Ruston and Murfreesboro is a net loss.

Winner or loser? Loser, but a survivor.

MID-AMERICAN

Who left: Nobody. The MAC is doing just fine heading into Year Two without Temple, which put in five seasons with the league before reuniting with the Big East/American Athletic Conference.

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Massachusett's first season of FBS play in the MAC is basically summed up with this picture. (AP)

Who arrived: Nobody. Massachusetts hopes its second season of FBS competition goes better than last year’s 1-11 face plant.

What’s still to come: Nothing but another 13-team season of good, old MAC-tion.

Better or worse? The same, though it will be hard for the league to replicate the success enjoyed by Northern Illinois and Kent State (a combined 23-5 last year). Both lost their coaches to bigger jobs, which is the nature of things in the MAC.

Winner or loser? The MAC has won by being able to largely stand still. The fluctuations of sun belt schools (including several Sun Belt Conference schools) have not affected the old Midwestern league much. There’s something to be said for relative stability.

SUN BELT

Who left: Middle Tennessee, Florida Atlantic, Florida International and North Texas all skedaddled to C-USA.

Who arrived: Texas State wandered over from the disintegrated Western Athletic Conference, and Georgia State joined as attempts to upgrade its infant football program. Texas-Arlington joins as a non-football member as well.

What’s still to come: Western Kentucky is out next year. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, FCS football powers, upgrade and come aboard next year. And orphans Idaho and New Mexico State come back to their former league as associate members in football in ’14 as well, after a nine-year absence.

Better or worse? Probably not better, given the poaching from C-USA. But the league has at least maintained quality commissioner leadership in transitioning from the underrated Wright Waters to former WAC chief Karl Benson last year.

Winner or loser? Loser for now, but if the upgrading FCS schools and new football programs pan out this could work over the long haul.

WESTERN ATHLETIC

Who left: Every football-playing full member.

Who arrived: A motley assortment of strivers and dreamers from six different states.

What’s still to come: Nothing other than perhaps a clearance sale on all WAC football paraphernalia.

Better or worse? That’s self-evident.

Winner or loser? When you’re out of the football business and have zero basketball clout, you’re the biggest loser of all.

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