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MailTribune.com
  • COLLEGES

    Nearly 50 schools change leagues

  • Alabama hoisted the crystal ball trophy about six months ago. Louisville cut the Final Four nets in April. The spring sports titles are in the books. But college sports officially closed the operating year on June 30 and opened the ledger for 2013-14 on Monday.
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  • Alabama hoisted the crystal ball trophy about six months ago. Louisville cut the Final Four nets in April. The spring sports titles are in the books. But college sports officially closed the operating year on June 30 and opened the ledger for 2013-14 on Monday.
    It also means the first day of new conference addresses for 49 schools in Division I.
    These moves are largely realignment trickle-down — fallout from changes in previous years that reshaped the Southeastern, Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast and Pac-12 conferences.
    Oh, there are some heavyweight moves: Notre Dame enters the ACC for sports other than football, and Syracuse and Pittsburgh bring all their sports to the basketball-centric conference.
    The Big East as we know it is gone, replaced by two entities: the football-playing American Athletic Conference, and the non-football new Big East with familiar names Georgetown and Marquette linking with newcomers Butler, Creighton and Xavier.
    The remaining power-league moves — Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten and Louisville to the ACC — happen in 2014.
    This year, it's about Conference USA, the Colonial, Sun Belt and Western Athletic, which now includes UMKC. They all made moves to strengthen and survive. The WAC was on life support a year ago but will continue without football and keeps its automatic qualifier status to the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
    One conference did not survive. The Great West officially dissolved on Monday, ending a 10-year run.
    The league was down to five members in 2012-13: Chicago State, Houston Baptist, NJIT, Texas-Pan American and Utah Valley. All but NJIT have found new conference homes.
    Is college sports finished reshaping? In the short term, it appears so. Schools and conferences at the top level seem content to move along with current membership and see how the College Football Playoff shakes out.
    Also, media contracts signed by the major conferences in the last few years extend into the 2020s and beyond.
    Still, after a period of about four years of massive shake-ups, no commissioner or athletic director will become complacent. Schools constantly are evaluating their value in the marketplace — Kansas' recently announced third-tier deal with ESPN3 is the latest example — and that will guide future decisions.
    But here's something to consider. The next phase of realignment may not involve schools jumping conferences, but the richest conferences banding together to form a new classification, complete with its own financial structure and rule book.
    In a new classification, richer schools and conferences could determine issues such as stipends for athletes — or even allowing them to cash in on their likenesses — allowing them to operate without restrictions that apply to other schools because they don't have the same budgets or ambitions.
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