For nearly a year now, the college sports world has buzzed about the conference realignment that will go into effect this fall. Most of the talk has centered on football, but make no mistake.
Basketball programs will be impacted, too.
Three of the nation’s six biggest conferences will either add or lose teams next season, and some of the top non-power leagues, such as the Mountain West and the West Coast Conference, are also preparing for change. Here’s a look at how realignment will positively and negatively affect each of the conferences involved.
The good: Some may disagree, but the conference is actually adding a quality team in Nebraska – or at least a team good enough to be competitive in that particular league. Doc Sadler is a defensive-minded coach whose squads often play the same low-scoring, grind-it-out style that’s a trademark in the Big Ten. Nebraska may not win a conference title anytime soon, but rarely will the Cornhuskers seem completely overmatched or outclassed.
The bad: Adding the Cornhuskers – who haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 1998 – certainly doesn’t do much to enhance the reputation of the league. Not that it needs enhancing. The Big Ten has long been regarded as one of the top conferences in the country. Nebraska’s presence doesn’t make the conference any better or any worse.
(Lost Nebraska and Colorado)
The good: Most Big 12 coaches – especially Rick Barnes – are excited about being able to determine a “true” conference champion. Under the old 16-game format, for instance, the six teams from the North Division would play each other twice while facing their foes from the South Division only once. That was usually beneficial to Kansas, because North Division teams usually haven’t been as strong as those from the South (although that’s changed a bit in recent years), so the Jayhawks had an easier path to the title. The new 18-game format will call for each school to play each other twice, once at home and once on the road. At the end of the season no one will be able to argue about who had the best team.
The bad: A few coaches are bristling at the thought of playing an 18-game league schedule because of the extra wear and tear – both mentally and physically – it could have on their players. “The league is harder now,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “You’re not going to see anyone go 16-2.” Maybe, but it still isn’t something coaches should complain about. They play 18 games in the Big East. They do it in the Pac-12. They can do it in the Big 12.
(Added Colorado and Utah)
The good: There don’t seem to be very many positives about the revamped Pac-12 – at least not in terms of basketball. But Colorado will benefit from this move immensely. Tad Boyle, who recently completed his first season in Boulder, has the Buffaloes headed in a good direction and is clearly the right man for this job. He’ll have a much easier time building fan interest and confidence among his players in the Pac-12, where wins will be a bit easier to come by for the next few years.
The bad: Mainly because it lost some of its top stars early to the NBA draft, the former Pac-10 has been the worst of the six power conferences in recent years – and it doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better anytime soon, as some of last season’s top stars (Derrick Williams, Klay Thompson and Isaiah Thomas) are turning pro. Adding Colorado and Utah to the league certainly doesn’t do much for the conference in terms of basketball. If anything their presence waters down an already mediocre league. Utah has struggled in recent years and just made a coaching change. Even though Colorado appears to be on an upswing, the Buffaloes are a long way from becoming a household name.
(Lost BYU and Utah; added Boise State, Fresno State and Nevada)
The good: Losing BYU and Utah may seem devastating initially, but the league will rebound. It just may take a few years. Boise State showed tons of improvement last season and will be competitive, and the additions of Fresno State and Nevada will give the conference two more programs with significant tradition. The only problem is that the Bulldogs and the Wolf Pack don’t join the Mountain West until 2012-13.
The bad: Brigham Young and Utah were two of the Mountain West’s signature programs. Utah reached the NCAA title game in 1998 and has been to the NCAA tournament seven times since. No player in the country last season generated as much hype and interest as BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. Even with anchors such as UNLV and New Mexico still in place, losing the Utes and Cougars hurts. No question about it.
The good: Brigham Young will help bring exposure to a conference that has been vastly underrated in recent years. Gonzaga and St. Mary’s are among the top teams in the country from non-power leagues, while schools such as Santa Clara, San Francisco and Portland are making positive strides. By adding BYU, those programs will receive more attention – and rightfully so.
The bad: Gonzaga may not be too excited about BYU joining the WCC. The Bulldogs have won or shared 11 straight conference titles, but now it’s not going to be as easy for Mark Few’s squad to dominate the league. While the situation may be good for the conference overall, it’s safe to say there are a few nervous fans in Spokane.
The good: TCU’s move to the Big East in 2012-13 should pay huge dividends for the rest of the league when it comes to recruiting. The state of Texas is loaded with basketball talent, and now it will be easier for other Big East schools to pursue those players because they’ll be able to promise trips back home to play in their native state. The Big East should also see increased television exposure in Texas, which will be a big selling point for families who don’t have the means to travel to watch their kids play in person.
The bad: TCU’s location (Fort Worth, Texas) will make for some long, taxing road trips for most of its Big East opponents. You can bet Connecticut or St. John’s won’t be thrilled about having to travel to Texas midweek to take on the Horned Frogs. But at least that will just be once every other year. Almost all of TCU’s road trips will be long and tiring.