The NCAA Convention kicks off next week, and although it likely won't make national headlines, a brewing battle between big time college football programs is likely to come to a head with an explosive division. Conference representatives will vote on legislation proposed by the Big 12 Conference to deregulate the concept of conference championship games in football.
The Big 12 proposed that a conference be able to host a conference championship game based upon its own rules. The NCAA currently requires football conferences to have 12 or more members and two divisions in order to host a conference championship game. It would also eliminate the requirement to have a round-robin style of play to its conference schedule, which, according to the league, would allow for more "preservation of non-conference rivalries."
The move would allow the Big 12 to host its own conference game despite having 10 teams and no divisions. It would also allow a league like the ACC to split and form three divisions, a first for college football.
Opposing the vote is the Big Ten Conference, which is fine with hosting a conference championship game for leagues with less than 12 teams. But the B1G doesn't want a league to host a conference championship game without splitting into two divisions. While the move appears to be a complete block against the Big 12, the move instead stems from a concern that deregulation of a conference schedule would lead, essentially, to absolute chaos.
The vote itself may not make national headlines, but it will have major ramifications throughout college football. For starters, if the vote passes, league scheduling will be deregulated, meaning league teams will not be required to schedule all of their brethren. It would also deregulate the way a league creates its conference championship rules, and there could be downstream impacts to the ACC in terms of its divisional alignment.
If the vote doesn't pass, the Big 12 is more than likely going to expand to 12 teams so it can host a conference championship game. That could lead to another wave of realignment and expansion, coming just as the dust is settling from the last wave of changes. Only three programs changed conference affiliations this past football season, but none were coming from an existing FBS conference. UNC-Charlotte joined Conference USA to replace the departing UAB program, which shuttered its doors for a couple of seasons. Navy, previously an independent, joined the American.
Next season, there will be only two changes, as Coastal Carolina elevates its program from the FCS to the Sun Belt and UMass goes from the MAC to life as an independent. Following the 2017 return of UAB to Conference USA, there are no announced future changes in college football.
All of that could change based on this ruling. If the vote goes against the Big 12, they'll need to split into two divisions in order to host a conference championship game, and that likely means the league will expand by a factor of two. That places the American, which has 12 football members, right in realignment's crosshairs—just as its predecessor, the Big East, was.
There's a bulk of the AAC that sits within prime territory for the Big 12, namely its home state of Texas. The Big 12 is the spiritual successor to the old Southwest Conference, so it conceivably could reform that league in part by taking on schools like Houston or Southern Methodist. Houston, at present, looks like a juicy opportunity after defeating Florida State in a New Year's Six game.
But the Big 12 needs to look well beyond its footprint to really put down roots in the event of expansion. West Virginia left the Big East because it needed a new home, and it took up residence in a league where geographically, it's a major outlier. That's where the AAC offers teams closer to the eastern seaboard, teams like Memphis and East Carolina. Cincinnati's a team that's been thrown out frequently.
Should the Big 12 look west, there's the Mountain West Conference, but the MWC is, for the most part, incredibly stable for a G5 league following the collapse of the WAC. But there is opportunity, namely for a team from Boise State (who originally was bound for the Big East before they decided against it) or Colorado State. BYU also represents an opportunity, given their independence. It would be incredibly tough, though, given West Virginia's eastern status.
That's where downstream impacts sit galore. UMass is entering a period of independence for at least the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Should the AAC lose any teams to the Big 12, the Minutemen all of a sudden become a legitimate contender for a slot in that league. With contracted games against Boston College, we can only hope it doesn't become a second New Mexico State situation where the Minutemen have to bail on a contracted game.
But if the vote does go through and passes, the ACC is likely to be impacted in its structure and footprint. If the ACC radically splits into three divisions, Boston College's schedule will change greatly, including who and where they play. It could also lead to further realignment and expansion, and scheduling, which is already incredibly hard for the Eagles, would be front and center in a deregulated world.
Whatever the vote, the status quo in college football stands to be upset once more in coming years. How it impacts Boston College may not be known in the immediate or even for years to come, but one thing is for sure: it will impact Boston College, and it's something we all should be paying a very close attention to as the NCAA Convention kicks off following the national championship.