Utah and TCU
These former Mountain West rivals elevated into the power five during the last round of realignment — TCU in the Big 12, Utah in the Pac-12 — and have flourished with new facilities, highly successful coaches who have stuck around and the kind of staying power that indicates TCU and Utah will be factors in their conferences for a long time. They are two of the best examples of how schools can jump up in competition yet still maintain their winning ways. TCU has a .633 football winning percentage since joining the Big 12 in 2012; Utah has won at a .614 clip as a member of the Pac-12 since 2011.
Going back to the 2000s, no conference has been more active in expansion than the ACC. Commissioner John Swofford had two goals by growing the conference’s membership: improve football and prepare the league to start its own channel. The ACC has posted solid wins on both fronts. Led by Clemson and Florida State, the ACC has changed its profile from a basketball conference to more of a balanced league that’s capable of competing with the nation’s best in football. Even though Notre Dame isn’t a full-fledged member in football, as part of its ACC membership in other sports the Fighting Irish agreed to play at least five ACC teams each season, further enhancing the league’s football brand. The ACC Network, meanwhile, is scheduled to launch in August, and Swofford is confident that revenue from the channel will close the financial gap with the SEC and Big Ten, if distribution goes well.
Chris Del Conte
Texas’ energetic athletic director emerged as one of the best and brightest administrators in the business earlier this decade when he ran the program at TCU. First, Del Conte engineered the Horned Frogs’ move from the Mountain West to the Big East. In a matter of months, Syracuse and Pittsburgh departed for the ACC, severely weakening the Big East. So, Del Conte pivoted and negotiated TCU into an even better situation — the Big 12. When the Longhorns had an opening at AD late last year, UT President Greg Fenves talked to just one candidate and the deal was done for Del Conte to be the new boss at Texas. He continues to be among the most respected ADs in the country for his creativity and tenacious fundraising.
Texas and Oklahoma
Sometimes the best move can be doing nothing. Texas and Oklahoma explored a leap to the Pac-12 before ultimately deciding to stay put. That enabled the Longhorns to keep their TV network and the Sooners to maintain their media rights deal with Fox. And by staying, Texas and Oklahoma kept the Big 12 viable at 10 schools. The conference may decide to expand one day, but Commissioner Bob Bowlsby has at the very least stabilized its membership and finances. The challenge will be growing the Big 12’s revenue with its next media contract.
This conference was left for dead until the old-school Big East members rolled the dice that they could make it as a basketball league. The gamble paid off handsomely, with Villanova winning two of the last three national championships and the Big East hitting a home run with its media rights deal with Fox. One of the greatest testaments to the strength of the Big East is the way new members Butler, Creighton and Xavier have flourished in their new digs. The Big East clearly has established itself as one of the power conferences in basketball.