Conference Realignment: Lessons Learned

The entire realignment project has been an eye-opening one for me. It’s not easy to create the perfect alignment of team needs, geography, budgets, and academics. Often one (or more) has to give in order for reason to win out.

The conferences that the algorithm created aren’t perfect. For instance, it’s obvious that Rutgers wouldn’t work in the Pac-8. Also, the “What Just Happened” conference is a fun one, but makes near-zero sense.

There were also some great hits. My favorite conferences in this series were the Mid-Atlantic, the Fun Belt, the Cumberland, the Ivy League and the Biggest Sky.

One thing I’ve thought a lot about while preparing and writing this series is what conferences today are particularly outdate or convoluted. A good example is the Western Athletic Conference. There was a time when the WAC was a legit college athletics conference, but that time has past. Now it’s a collection of schools that are bound together mostly by need to have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and scheduling certainty. I’m sure those schools are working hard to find a way out. I also found while doing this project that for all the prestige it has garnered in recent years, and its sometimes appearance as a multi-bid conference, the Missouri Valley isn’t the most cohesive collection of teams due to anything besides geography. I was surprised how little many of those schools have in common.

On the other hand, some conferences today make a ton of sense. The West Coast Conference, outside of Gonzaga and BYU, has an excellent shared identity that was clear to see when developing this project. Those schools definitely seem to be working towards a common goal in the conference. The same came be said for much of the Southland Conference, whose schools formed the backbone of the LaTex Conference in the project. Also, the Big Sky has a number of likeminded schools. So much so that just adding onto that existing infrastructure makes much more sense than breaking the schools apart.

It’ll be really interesting to see how the realignment wheel plays out during the next few months. (And beyond.) The Missouri Valley Conference has already decided to invite Valparaiso, and hasn’t ruled out adding even more teams in the future. The Crusaders, should they decide to accept, will leave the Horizon League in a tough spot. Horizon League commissioner Jonathan Lecrone will likely need to take a bold step—maybe adding as many as three teams—to secure his conference’s future. Of course adding teams has a continued trickle-down effect that could eventually end up creating unviable conferences toward the bottom of the food chain. It’s certainly something to watch.

Thank you for reading this entire series. Finally, if you’re curious about the data that was used in this project I have posted it all to Github. You’re welcome to try your own analyses with it. I’d be interested to hear what you find.