Conference Realignment: What If Conferences Were Redrawn By Academics?

What if college athletic conferences were realigned based on institutions’ academic standing?

With the apparent breakneck speed of the conference realignment carousel, most have lost sight of the fact that these teams are academic institutions, and not just brands. But what if, instead of athletic earning potential, they were rearranged by academic ranking? The stature of conference partners may not matter to Florida State trustees, but it apparently matters a good deal to those in-charge at Miami. So while this would obviously never happen, it’s fun to imagine what-if. Especially for the fan bases that are a bit more obsessive about how academics fit into the realignment game than others may be.

For the groupings below, we took a look at U.S. News & World Report’s Top National Universities list for 2012. Yes, we’re well aware these rankings mean nothing and are very imperfect and flawed. Funny enough, so are the BCS rankings and conference realignment, yet those play an pretty important role in a lot of college football happenings, now don’t they? Since we were limited to the top 200 overall, just 93 FBS schools were ranked (service academies not included).

Conference One: The “Not-Quite-Ivy” League

In order: Stanford | Duke | Northwestern | Rice | Vanderbilt | Notre Dame | California | USC | UCLA | Virginia | Wake Forest | Michigan

By division: East: Duke, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Virginia

West: Stanford, Rice, California, USC, UCLA, Michigan

Commentary: All four California schools from the Pac-12 stick together, and align themselves with Michigan and Notre Dame, two schools they all have plenty of experience playing over the years (some more than others). Vanderbilt and Rice definitely upgrade themselves to a group of more academically-suitable peers, and not surprisingly, there are three ACC schools here, too. Also of note, four of these schools appear in early renditions of a 2012 top 25. This setup also wouldn’t do half-bad from a money standpoint, capturing the Los Angeles, Bay Area, Chicago and Nashville markets outright, along with Raleigh, Houston, Detroit and Washington D.C.

Conference Two: Mostly the ACC and B1G

In order: North Carolina | Boston College | Georgia Tech | Miami (FL) | Washington | Wisconsin | Penn State | Illinois | Texas | Tulane | Ohio State | Maryland

By division: North: Boston College, Washington, Wisconsin, Penn State, Illinois, Ohio State

South: North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Miami, Texas, Tulane, Maryland

Commentary: As the league’s name indicates, it’s loaded with ACC (five) and Big Ten (four) teams, all of whom are likely pretty thrilled to be in each other’s company — though Washington may feel like it’s out on an island. Solid rivalries also stay intact with so many conference foes remaining together. From a television standpoint, this collection grabs Boston, Atlanta, MIami, Seattle, Milwaukee, the states of Ohio and Texas, and Baltimore. Several schools (Texas, Penn State, Ohio State) are huge draws, and you could see three or four in the top 25 early this upcoming season.

Conference Three: The Mixed Bag

In order: Texas A&M | Connecticut | Florida | Pittsburgh | Purdue | SMU | Syracuse | Georgia | Clemson | Rutgers | Minnesota | BYU

By division: North: Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Syracuse, Rutgers, Minnesota

South: Texas A&M, Florida, SMU, Georgia, Clemson, BYU

Commentary: The biggest surprise here is for all the ribbing Clemson gets for academic standards, it’s actually ranked right up there with recent ACC additions Syracuse and Pitt. Rutgers and UConn’s position at this point in the list is another reason they’re consistently brought into the ACC and Big Ten expansion conversations. Though BYU’s off on an island out in Utah, Florida and Georgia get to keep their rivalry and add Clemson to the mix too, since the Tigers would rather be in the SEC in real life. SU and Pitt end up back with their most important remaining Big East brethren, and Minnesota and Purdue round out a competitively balanced North division.

Conference Four: A Bunch of Public Schools and Baylor

Divisional breakdown:

North: Michigan State, Iowa, Virginia Tech, Indiana, UMass, Iowa State

South: Baylor, Alabama, Tulsa, Auburn, Missouri, Colorado

Conference Five: Everyone Loves Country Music, Save Those Pacific Northwest Hippies

Divisional breakdown:

East: Florida State, NC State, Tennessee, Buffalo, South Carolina, Ohio

West: TCU, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington State

Conference Six: Owls Out of Place

Divisional breakdown:

East: Kentucky, LSU, Temple, Arkansas, Kansas State, Cincinnati

West: Arizona, Utah, Colorado State, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Oregon State

Conference Seven: Just Tossing Darts at a Map (aka, The Big East)

Divisional breakdown:

East: Mississippi, Mississippi State, Louisville, West Virginia, Bowling Green, UCF

West: Wyoming, Texas Tech, Idaho, San Diego State, Hawaii, Utah State

Conference Eight: “Sure, I Guess You Guys Can Come, Too”

Nine teams (in order): Ball State, Nevada, New Mexico, USF, Western Michigan, ECU, Kent State, Louisiana Tech, Northern Illinois

… Oddly, even when sorting by academic stature, there’s still a fairly certain line of demarcation that separates the “haves” from the “have-nots” on the gridiron. And while some got to upgrade their situations (Rice undoubtedly made the biggest jump), others lowered theirs considerably, too (West Virginia). For a further glimpse at all this, a breakdown of how many teams from each current conference appeared (based on 2012 alignments):

  • SEC: 14 (100 %)
  • ACC: 12 (100%)
  • B1G: 12 (100%)
  • Pac-12: 12 (100%)
  • Big 12: 10 (100%)
  • Big East: 8 (100%)
  • MAC: 8 (62%)
  • MWC: 6 (67%)*
  • C-USA: 6 (50%)
  • WAC: 3 (43%)
  • Independents: 2*

*service academies not counted

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