Conference realignment has left many schools outside the circle of influence and prosperity. And some of those schools once were inside the circle. Here are the universities most adversely affected by conference realignment and their prospects for returning to the circle.
Story: A 40-year football success, since Lavell Edwards coached BYU to success in the 1970s and the 1984 national championship. Conference realignment made BYU decide to go independent for football in 2011, with its other teams competing in the West Coast Conference. But football independence is a hard road for anyone other than Notre Dame. BYU’s current bowl options are: 1.) produce a resume’ better than every team in the five mid-major conferences and get selected for one of the major bowls, which won’t be easy with an independent schedule; or 2.) the Miami Beach Bowl against a team from the American Athletic Conference.
Strengths: Solid television brand. The best among any school outside the five major conferences and better than many inside the big five. Excellent fan base that fills a 65,000-seat stadium.
Weaknesses: Geography. It’s a long way from Provo to anywhere. Oklahoma City is closer to Morgantown, W.Va., than to Provo, Utah. And religion. BYU’s affiliation with the Mormon church keeps its athletic teams from competing on Sundays, which makes conference play/championships quite problematic.
Outlook: If the Big 12 decided to expand with no regard to geography, BYU probably would be the choice. But those are two big ifs. The Pac-12 has made it clear it wants no part of BYU and its Latter-day Saints church associations. Nothing else comes close to making sense.
Story: Instituted football in 1979 and went through every NCAA classification, from Division III to Division II to Division I-AA to Division I in 1996. Won Conference USA titles in 2007 and 2010, then joined the Big East in 2013, just as it fractured and became the American Athletic Conference. UCF won the American title in 2013 and beat Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl, but now the American doesn’t have an automatic berth to a major bowl.
Strengths: Geography. In major metro (Orlando) in the fertile Florida recruiting ground. Opened a new stadium in 2007 that seats 45,000; the Golden Knights averaged 42,000 last season. UCF ranks with Arizona State as America’s largest campus enrollments; each have just over 60,000 students.
Weaknesses: Not much name brand. Even football die-hards have trouble distinguishing between Central Florida and South Florida. And football success has been only recent and under coach George O’Leary.
Outlook: Attractive only to a league trying to get into Florida (the Big 12?), but then not a geographic fit.
Story: A long-time traditional mid-major that joined Big East football in 2005 and found big-time success. The Bearcats made the Orange Bowl in 2008 and the Sugar Bowl in 2009. But the breakup of the Big East resulted in the American Athletic Conference, which didn’t make the cut for an automatic berth into one of the major bowls.
Strengths: Geography. Cincinnati has a metro population over two million and is in the football-crazed state of Ohio.
Weaknesses: Not great facilities. Nippert Stadium is undergoing an $86 million renovation, but even that will not bring UC’s capacity to 40,000. And Cincinnati’s television brand is not strong.