Navigating the Shifting Landscape: A Closer Look at Conference Realignment in College Football



As the collegiate football landscape continues to shift, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of this process that can have a profound impact on the game we all love. From personal experiences to the bigger picture, with this blog I’m exploring how these changes affect teams, players, and fans alike. And while this blog is fairly football-centric, other sports and programs will see profound changes along the way.

The Evolution of Conferences: A Personal Reflection

I remember the days when conference loyalty was unwavering, and rivalries were etched in stone. Just a couple of decades ago, teams switching conferences were few and far between. The camaraderie among conference teams created an unmatched atmosphere, but the winds of change have blown us into uncharted territory. As a former college football athlete and later a coach, I understand first-hand the significance of these shifts. Most recently, I was present for Mizzou’s transfer from the Big 12 to the SEC and it had ripple effects, not just for football, but across the athletic department and the campus. I suppose like everything else, times change, even for college football!

Players in the Spotlight: Navigating Uncertainty

Players are the heart and soul of college football, giving their all on the field while facing the whirlwind of conference realignment. If you think it doesn’t affect them, think again. Imagine you’re a player, and suddenly, the conference you’ve known since your freshman year is completely different. It’s like switching teams mid-season – a challenge that demands resilience and adaptability. These athletes showcase not only their physical prowess but also their mental fortitude as they navigate this shifting landscape.

I know the impact of travel on the players has been a topic of hot debate, and while I don’t disagree with the concern over player health and safety (it’s my job!), I think the jury is still out on the impact it will have. There are of course valid concerns, but I was recently sent the below comparison from Arizona State of travel for conference play. Keep in mind this is just one team’s evaluation, and we won’t actually know the effects until a few years into the new conference play (for all athletes, not just football).

Impact on Rivalries and Traditions

Rivalries and traditions are the spices that make college football a rich stew. But with conference realignment, some of these time-honored rivalries might be shaken up. The matchups that fuel our passion might fade into history as teams find themselves in new conferences. While change is inevitable, it’s crucial to preserve the essence of what makes college football special – the fierce rivalries that elevate the game to legendary status. We can make way for new rivalries, of course, but there have been games for the history books because of the intense rivalries across the country.

Fan Engagement: Riding the Waves of Change

Fans are the lifeblood of college football, and their engagement shapes the atmosphere in stadiums and living rooms across the nation. With conference realignment, fans find themselves riding waves of excitement and uncertainty. The prospect of new matchups can be exhilarating, but the loss of beloved rivalries can be disheartening. Nevertheless, the undying passion of fans remains a constant, proving that the love for the game transcends conference lines.

Media, Exposure, and Recruitment: The Ripple Effect

Conference realignment doesn’t just impact what happens on the field – it also sends ripples through media coverage and recruiting. Different conferences bring different levels of exposure, affecting a team’s national presence and potential for growth. Recruits, too, evaluate schools based on conference strength and competition. Coaches and players must collaborate to showcase their talent and determination, regardless of the conference they call home.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention NIL in this section as well; it’s no secret there are conferences who are able to get players more lucrative NIL deals from their communities and donor bases. The realignment will force schools to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ and find ways to attract and retain talent.

Embracing Change: Building the Future of College Football

Change can be a signal of progress, and conference realignment is no exception. As we adapt to this evolving landscape, we have the chance to redefine college football’s future. Players, coaches, and fans all play a role in shaping the new era. By celebrating the traditions that anchor us while embracing the shifts that propel us forward, we ensure that the spirit of college football burns bright for generations to come.

As a lifelong fan of the game, I am eager to see how the next era of college football takes shape. Being in the trenches of an athletic department, I get a unique perspective behind the scenes, but I still can’t predict the far-reaching impacts of the conference realignments. In that regard, we’re all along for the ride.

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