The realignment saga began Dec. 15, 2009, with a three-paragraph press release in which the Big Ten announced its intention to "conduct a thorough evaluation of options for conference structure and expansion." As the rumor mill began furiously spitting out potential candidates -- from Notre Dame and Missouri to Rutgers and Pittsburgh -- the threat of potential dominoes hovered over other conferences.
It turned out the Big Ten's only move was modest (adding one team) and largely unforeseen (surprise! It's Nebraska), but the ensuing chain of events has been massive. Over the past two years, every one of the 11 FBS conferences has undergone or will soon undergo a change in membership. By 2015, at least 31 schools -- exactly 25 percent of the FBS roster -- will have changed league affiliations, and a few of them more than once.
This week, the wheels of realignment finally reached the lowest rungs of the FBS ladder. While the Big 12 may have lost four schools and the Big East and Mountain West have ceased to resemble their former selves, at least they're still standing. That's more than we can say for the WAC. Of its seven football schools, only two will remain after Friday. San Jose State and Utah State are expected to join the Mountain West; Louisiana Tech will bolt to Conference USA; Texas State is headed to the Sun Belt; and Texas-San Antonio, which played its first season of football in 2011, will do the same.
And so, two-and-a-half years after the Big Ten first got the train rolling, the last schools left in the station appear to be Idaho and New Mexico State, the lone remaining WAC members. With their conference destroyed and no invitations pending from another league, the two may have no choice but to drop down to the FCS. This, less than three years after Idaho won a thrilling Humanitarian Bowl, 43-42, over Bowling Green.
In an attempt to make sense of the madness, here is a conference-by-conference primer on members old and new, with a (mostly) chronological recap from there to here.
KEY:Years in parentheses represent the first season a school will compete in its new conference.* Was not yet a member of that league in 2010** Will be a football-only member upon joining
• 2010 membership (11): Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin
• Added: Nebraska (2011)
• Widespread, and ultimately off-base, speculation that the conference was targeting Missouri planted the first seeds of uncertainty in the Big 12, eventually leading that league's presidents to issue an ultimatum in June 2010 for schools to pledge their continued allegiance. Nebraska took the opportunity to flee, making it official June 12.
• 2010 membership (10): Arizona, Arizona State, Cal, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Washington, Washington State
• Added: Colorado (2011), Utah (2011)
• With the Big 12 vulnerable and commissioner Larry Scott looking to beef up his 10-team league for upcoming television negotiations, the conference made a run at Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado. When only the Buffs took the bait, joining June 11, Scott turned to Utah from the Mountain West to achieve a 12-team league.
• 2010 membership (12): Baylor, Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech
• Lost: Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri, Texas A&M
• Added: TCU (2012), West Virginia (2012)
• The aftereffects of the league's near-collapse carried over to August 2011, when Texas A&M, irked in part by the emergence of the Longhorn Network, began negotiations with the SEC. Missouri, after initially pledging support to help rebuild the Big 12, followed the Aggies a couple months later. The Big 12 quickly tabbed TCU to replace the Aggies and, after entertaining BYU, Louisville and others, finally settled on West Virginia on Oct. 28, provoking a rash of lawsuits.
• 2010 membership (12): Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
• Added: Missouri, Texas A&M (2012)
• Commissioner Mike Slive has continually maintained that his league had no interest in expanding until Texas A&M sought a lifeline. At that point, the league needed a 14th team to even out the divisions. It's believed in-state rivals blocked any possibility for schools like Florida State and Clemson, and West Virginia was rebuffed. Now, in a geographically clunky addition, Mizzou will play in the East Division alongside schools like Florida and Georgia.
• 2010 membership (12): Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, N.C. State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
• Added: Pittsburgh, Syracuse (2013)
• In a move that managed to remain a secret until about 24 hours prior to the Sept. 18, 2011 announcement, the ACC raided the Big East for the second time in eight years, with founding member Syracuse's departure a real stomach punch, particularly for basketball. The two were contractually obligated to remain in the Big East for 27 months, but subsequent moves have seemingly cleared a path for them to leave a year early.
• 2010 membership (8): Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, USF, West Virginia
• Lost: Pittsburgh, Syracuse, TCU,* West Virginia
• Added: Temple (2012), Boise State,** San Diego State,** Houston, Memphis, SMU and UCF (2013), Navy (2015)
• The Big East initially went on the offensive, adding TCU on Nov. 29, 2010. Eleven months later the Frogs were gone to the Big 12, before ever playing a game in the Big East. After also losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, the league responded by going big. Grabbing back Temple (formerly of the MAC) in March keeps the league at eight this fall, while the basketball-driven addition of Memphis will put it as high as 13 in 2015, barring further defection.
• 2010 membership (9): Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, TCU, UNLV, Utah, Wyoming
• Lost: Boise State,* BYU, TCU, Utah
• Added: Fresno State, Hawaii** and Nevada (2012), San Jose State and Utah State (2013)
• For about six days in June 2010, after inviting Boise State from the WAC, the MWC boasted four programs (TCU, Utah, BYU and Boise) that finished the previous season in the Top 25. All four have since left, including BYU going independent that August. The league swiped Fresno and Nevada from the WAC in an attempt to retain BYU, then added Hawaii after BYU left anyway. Now faced with losing Boise and San Diego State, the league added two more WAC schools this week.
• 2010 (3): Army, Navy, Notre Dame
• Lost: Navy
• Added: BYU
• Whereas other schools embraced the mega-conference concept, BYU went the opposite direction, leaving the Mountain West to get out from under that league's nightmarish TV deals. The school inked its own deal with ESPN and now shows games on BYUtv. There were discussions between the school and the Big 12 after that league lost Texas A&M, but it didn't gain traction.
• 2010 membership (12): East Carolina, Houston, Marshall, Memphis, Rice, SMU, Southern Miss, Tulsa, Tulane, UAB, UCF, UTEP
• Lost: Houston, Memphis, SMU, UCF
• Added: Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, UT-San Antonio (2013)
• The Mountain West and C-USA have talked openly about a possible merger to compensate for their respective losses, but now it appears C-USA will get back to 12 on its own with the additions of two Sun Belt and two WAC programs. Presumably FIU and La Tech will replace Memphis and UCF in the East, with North Texas and UTSA (which moves up from FCS this year) to the West.
• 2010 membership (13): Akron, Ball State, Bowling Green, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Kent State, Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois, Ohio, Temple, Toledo, Western Michigan
• Lost: Temple
• Added: UMass** (2012)
• The conference reached an agreement with UMass, an Atlantic 10 member in all other sports now making the move up to FBS, on April 20, 2011, finally evening the league's two divisions at 14 total teams. Less than a year later, on March 7, Temple announced it was heading back to the Big East -- for 2012. Thirteen it is.
• 2010 membership (9): Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Middle Tennessee State, North Texas, Troy, Western Kentucky
• Lost: FIU, North Texas
• Added: South Alabama (2012), Georgia State, Texas State (2013)
• The wheels of realignment managed to avoid the FBS' youngest football conference entirely until this week's departures of FIU and North Texas to Conference USA. South Alabama, a member in all other sports, had planned for some time to move up from FCS, while the league added Georgia State's two-year-old program last month and Texas State this week.
• 2010 membership (9): Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, New Mexico State, San Jose State, Utah State
• Lost: Boise State, Fresno State, Hawaii, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, San Jose State, Texas State,* UT-San Antonio,* Utah State
• It's hard to believe, but a league that produced three BCS teams in four years from 2006-09 is now on the verge of dying. This week's mass exodus involves five of the seven remaining football members, including two (Texas State and UTSA) yet to play their first WAC games. Unless former commissioner Karl Benson, now in charge of the Sun Belt, decides to expand further west, Idaho and New Mexico State become the last dominoes, faced with little choice but to drop down to the FCS.
So there you have it. After two years of dizzying developments, the FBS landscape is dramatically different. Next up: basketball, where this week Butler joined the Atlantic 10, and the latest rumors are ...