Conference realignment is a process of significant changes to the NCAA’s conference structure. The changes affect all three levels of the NCAA. The changes begin with the 2010–11 academic year. The changes will impact more than 500 schools. It has been called the largest realignment in NCAA history. The new alignments will result in a much more balanced competition among teams.
In some ways, conference realignment has been a dividing force in college basketball. For example, the SEC is moving towards consolidation. Its commissioner, Greg Sankey, has received a number of calls from school presidents in other conferences asking for realignment. The conference is currently composed of five conferences, but could easily shrink to three. However, it is unlikely to result in any real reduction of the number of teams.
The realignment process will likely bring more changes to the college football landscape in the coming years. Two of the biggest players are USC and UCLA. Both universities have long-standing relationships with the Pac-12, and the move will likely have ripple effects on college sports in the region. In addition, the decision to leave the Pac-12 will give the Big Ten a stronger position in the second largest media market. This will make it more difficult for other conferences to keep up with the Pac-12 and the Big Ten.
The realignment has resulted in several other changes at other institutions. The WAC, for example, will lose three of its members. The Missouri Valley and the SLC will lose four schools, with Austin Peay, Belmont, and Murray State leaving the Missouri Valley. Little Rock, meanwhile, will move from Division II to Division I. The Sun Belt and the WCC will also gain a couple of members. The Big Ten is rumored to add a third member, Western Illinois.
The realignment process could lead to the formation of two or three mega conferences. The Power Five conferences would then join the Group of Five conferences and the Football Championship Subdivision. However, conference realignment also affects regional rivalries. In football, the Texas-Texas A&M series was placed on ice after the Aggies left the Big 12 for the SEC, and the Longhorns will join the SEC in 2025. Similarly, the Bedlam Series between Oklahoma State and Oklahoma dates back to 1904.
In the past year, the Sun Belt has been a net buyer of conferences. It has added Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss to its roster. It also acquired James Madison from the CAA. The former C-USA member has also announced its intention to join the Sun Belt in the next two seasons.
Another notable change in conference realignment affects the Big Ten and the Pac-12. The Pac-12 will have a direct path to the CFP, while the Big Ten will have to adapt their schedules.