Conference Realignment: Texas-San Antonio To Conference USA, And The "Non-AQ" Scramble

The University of Texas at San Antonio football program has yet to play a down at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, but the Roadrunners are on the move again. UTSA will play just one season in the WAC this fall before joining Conference USA.

"The University of Texas System Board of Regents has scheduled a vote on the move for Wednesday. The meeting agenda states that C-USA officials approached UTSA in March and that the school will incur no exit fee for leaving the WAC.

UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa has recommended that the board approve the move."

Conference USA is losing Central Florida, Houston, Southern Methodist and Memphis to the Big East starting in 2013. This is the first move other than the proposed Conference USA-Mountain West merger, which is on one day, off another, to address the departures.

This is likely the first in several more dominoes to fall among the conferences formerly known as "non-AQs." With the 11 conference commissioners and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick announcing this week that the automatic qualifying designation would be no more, you can count on more moves like this as the F.B.S. "have nots" continue to realign and consolidate.

Depending on what happens to the proposed Conference USA-Mountain West merger, I think we'll continue to see further consolidation and realignment among the ranks of the non AQs.

Other possible moves:

-- With a newcomer in UTSA already with one foot out the door, the future of the WAC as an F.B.S. conference seems as much in doubt as it ever has been. Utah State and San Jose State appear to be strong candidates for the Mountain West, while Louisiana Tech could end up with UTSA in Conference USA. If all three bolt, along with UTSA, that would leave the WAC with just three programs -- Idaho, New Mexico State and newcomer Texas State.

-- The Mountain West may ... and I'll stress may ... extend a life raft to both Idaho and New Mexico State, swelling the conference's numbers to an even dozen and giving the MWC an opportunity to split into two divisions and host a conference championship game.

-- North Texas and Florida International still appear on the C-USA's radar and could possibly leave the Sun Belt, which is adding South Alabama in 2012 and Georgia State in 2013. If UNT and FIU bolt for Conference USA, the Sun Belt would remain a nine-program league after 2013. The additions of UTSA, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and Florida International take C-USA back to pre Big East raid 2.0 levels with 12 programs, two divisions and a conference championship game.

-- The odd-team out, Texas State, finds a home in the Sun Belt, rounding the conference up to 10 teams. The WAC as a football conference pronounced D.O.A.

To recap (a.k.a. what I think is the non-AQ equilibrium):

Mountain West (12): Air Force, Colorado State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, New Mexico State, San Jose State, UNLV, Utah State, Wyoming

Conference USA (12): East Carolina, Florida International, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, North Texas, Rice, Southern Miss, Texas-San Antonio, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB, UTEP

Sun Belt (10): Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Georgia State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Middle Tennessee State, South Alabama, Texas State, Troy, Western Kentucky

Finally, worth noting a few wildcards in all this.

-- All this largely hinges on the decisions of Boise State and San Diego State. If the Broncos and Aztecs feel that the new new Big East gives them a greater opportunity to qualify for either a four-team college football playoff or a major bowl game, then they'll stay (obviously). But if they feel as though they have a better shot back in the Mountain West, they could leave the Big East at the altar. I think they'll stay in the Big East, as ridiculous as that stands, based purely on the disparity in TV $$s (and because the new new Big East is probably still a more competitive conference than a Mountain West without BYU, Utah and TCU).

-- Both the Big East and MAC are at 13 programs, opening up the possibility of either searching for a 14th member (round numbers FTW). Of the two, the Big East is probably far more likely to try to even up the ranks by picking off a (yet another) team from Conference USA or the MAC. Should the Big East dip back into Conference USA, taking, say, East Carolina, that would put the total number of former C-USA teams playing in the Big East in double figures.

-- Of these two scenarios, Big East adding a 14th or simply losing a 13th, the latter is still far more likely. See also: Louisville (and BYU?) to the Big 12.

-- I don't think the MAC will be in any hurray to get to 14, if only because they managed fine with 13 when Temple was in the fold. That, and for a lack of viable expansion candidates currently playing in the F.B.S.

Even with the decision coming down this week that the AQ status would be going away, I don't think we'll see significant changes to the membership composition of the conferences "formerly known as AQ conferences." However, the fun is just starting for the non-AQs.

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