There was lots of discussion this spring about teams jumping conferences… Lots of discussion! TCU and West Virginia actually did make the move to the Big 12, and there were rumors about Florida State and Clemson jumping ship as well. But for those who actually changed conferences, was it the right move? From a broader view, how has it worked out in general for teams which have changed conferences in recent years? Can even the best “mid-major” teams survive the so-called “grind” of a major conference schedule?
In the distant past (i.e. before 1990), when a team changed conferences it was generally to join one which was a better academic or geographic fit. Think Georgia Tech leaving the SEC to eventually join the ACC (via independence), or South Carolina doing the reverse. Today it’s a different story. Money generated by athletics has grown to the point where a school will actually consider joining a conference which is further away in order to grab yet more money. Imagine that – major universities motivated by money!
So we’ve seen several teams shift to/from major conferences in the past couple years:
- Nebraska: from Big 12 to Big Ten
- Utah: from Mountain West to Pac-12
- Colorado: from Big 12 to Pac-12
- Texas A&M: from Big 12 to SEC
- Missouri: from Big 12 to SEC
- TCU: from Mountain West (by way of Big East) to Big 12
- West Virginia: from Big East to Big 12
Obviously there’s a pattern here, as one conference (Big 12) has been involved in the majority of these moves. But I digress…
How did these teams fare after the conference changes, though? To answer that, let’s look at before & after win/loss numbers in-conference and overall:
In each case except for Colorado, all of these teams had at least eight wins in the final year in their old conference. Each of them outside of Colorado also had a winning record the final year in their former conference, and all finished third or higher in their division except for Colorado and Missouri. Good teams to add, right?
So what happened in the first year or two in the new conference? Nebraska and Texas A&M both went forward without missing a beat — but then, those are major college programs, and the Big 12 is hardly a step below the Big Ten and the SEC in terms of competitiveness. However, Missouri and Colorado also left the Big XII, but those teams have not done so well in their new conference homes. Mizzou has 3 fewer wins than last year, and Colorado, which was not that great in their final Big 12 years, has steadily gotten worse.
And those were all considered “lateral” moves. What about the teams that moved “up” in conference stature? TCU has four fewer wins in conference and five fewer wins overall this season. By the way, TCU, which actually won the Mountain West last year, is currently in sixth place in the Big 12. West Virginia has taken a similar drop in the won-lost column, with three fewer wins in conference, five fewer overall, and going from tied for first in the Big East last year to currently seventh place in the Big 12.
The two new Pac-12 teams have not fared any better. We’ve already discussed Colorado, which only has one win in 10 games so far this season. But what about Utah, the darling of the non-AQ conferences and former “BCS buster?” In their final season in the Mountain West, Utah had 10 wins; in their second season in the Pac-12, the Utes have only four wins (two in-conference) and are sitting in ffith place out of six teams in their division.
The Big East, which has lost several teams and will lose two more next season, has also (re)acquired a new team — Temple. The Owls won nine games in their final MAC season. How are they doing in the Big East? Just two conference wins and three overall.
Here are trend charts to summarize the effect of changing conferences on the number of wins for each team:
What does this say about Pittsburgh and Syracuse as they plan to join the ACC in 2013? Check out part two!
Read more from Hokie Mark over at ACCFootballRx, where he gives his prescription for fixing what ails the ACC on the gridiron.