Another surge of realignment is on the college athletics horizon. This will be the third shakeup of the conference landscape since 1989. This one is likely to be the Big One, the realignment that cements most schools in conferences for decades to come.
Let's suppose we are rearranging conferences in a perfect world. Under our rules, every school will be an ideal fit in a new conference and every conference will end up with the best-case scenario.
Notre Dame, of course, is going to make the first move. Let's assume Notre Dame does not want to become the 12th member of the oddly named Big Ten Conference. The Fighting Irish remains an independent in football, and a member of the Big East in basketball.
The first moving van pulls into Columbia, Mo., where Missouri shifts from the Big 12 to the Big Ten. The move causes a domino effect never before seen in college athletics, one that will leave South Carolina where it should have been all along - in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Missouri's departure for the Big Ten creates the perfect opening for Arkansas, which leaves the Southeastern Conference for the Big 12. For Arkansas, it means a return to a league with many of its natural rivals - Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
The SEC immediately seizes on the opportunity to get Florida State and Miami in the fold. For those two ACC football powers to join the SEC, though, one more SEC team must depart.
USC is the likely choice. While it has been a nice run, and certainly better than operating as an independent, USC is much like Arkansas. Both schools have always seemed to operate on the fringe of the SEC, both geographically and athletically.
Like Arkansas in the Big 12, USC returns to a league that includes many of its natural rivals. Besides Clemson, USC now renews rivalries with Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest. The North Carolina schools have remained rivals of USC despite going nearly 40 years without playing them on a regular basis.
One other SEC-ACC shakeup occurs because it makes too much sense: Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech swap leagues.
So, the SEC is left with an East Division of Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Kentucky, Miami and Tennessee; and a West Division of Alabama, Auburn, Georgia Tech, LSU, Mississippi and Mississippi State.
As for the ACC, to this point it has lost Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech, while gaining USC and Vanderbilt. East Carolina also joins the ACC fold, jumping from Conference USA. One final move has Boston College leaving the ACC to return to the Big East, and West Virginia going the other way in the swap.
Now, the ACC is left with an Atlantic Division of Clemson, East Carolina, Maryland, N.C. State, USC and Wake Forest; and a Coastal Division of Duke, North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.
Out West, the Pacific-10 becomes the Pacific-12 by pilfering Brigham Young and Utah from the Mountain West. That leaves the Pac-12 with the perfect symmetry it always has possessed with six pairs of teams - Utah and BYU, Oregon and Oregon State, Arizona and Arizona State, Washington and Washington State, Southern California and UCLA, and Stanford and California.
While the Mountain West loses a pair of its big-name programs, it brings Boise State of the Western Athletic Conference into the league, along with Texas-El Paso of Conference USA. Seizing an opportunity to expand to 12 teams, the Mountain West also brings in Fresno State, Utah State and New Mexico State from the WAC.
That leaves the WAC with only five franchises, so it merges with the 10 remaining Conference USA members. Needing a 16th program, the new All-of-USA Conference swipes Troy from the Sun Belt, leaving that league with eight teams.
Again, it is all a pipedream, one that makes a lot of sense.
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