(*20*)In 1896, a gaggle of directors from Midwestern schools met in Chicago to settle the foundations for what was then known as the Western Conference, which might later be generally known as the Big Ten. They agreed in writing, in response to an account within the subsequent day’s Chicago Tribune, “to maintain inter-collegiate athletic contests inside their correct bounds.” One of these bounds was geographic: For the needs of journey and custom, faculties largely performed the regional rivals that populated their conferences.
(*20*)It’s troublesome to think about, then, how the founders of the nation’s oldest athletics convention would have reacted to the latest realignment information that has shaken school sports activities to its core. Last yr, the Southeastern Conference introduced it might add Texas and Oklahoma to type a 16-team megaconference. Not to be outdone, the Big Ten introduced this summer time that it was increasing to 16 groups as effectively by including UCLA and USC.1 For the primary time, a significant school athletics league goes bicoastal.
(*20*)UCLA, USC, Texas and Oklahoma rank second, third, fifth and tied for 16th in Division I historical past in NCAA staff nationwide titles, respectively. Historically, faculties like these type the bedrock of conferences, versus shattering them. Only one of many 4 has considerably modified convention opponents up to now century.2 Now, all of them match into two super-leagues, and it is doable the Big Ten is not finished but: Commissioner Kevin Warren stated he may see increasing to 20 groups. The evolution of the faculty sports activities map over the previous a number of many years has been startling, dismantling any notion of regionality that conferences as soon as conferred.
(*20*)As lately because the 2000s and early 2010s, school leagues nonetheless usually match into small geographic pockets. Under the previous Bowl Championship Series (BCS), as an example, there have been six main soccer conferences (the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12, Big East and ACC), most of which have been very close-knit — and none extra so than the Big Ten. We calculated the space from every college to the geographic middle of all faculties in its convention, and each Big Ten staff was inside 500 miles of the convention’s middle in 2010. Across the nation, no Power Five college was even 1,000 miles away from its convention middle.
(*20*)But the following 4 years introduced a flurry of convention swaps. From 2011 to 2014, 47 Football Bowl Subdivision faculties modified leagues, making it the busiest four-year interval in historical past for realignment.3 The SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri, and the Big Ten added Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland, venturing into a brand new state every time. These strikes — and the corresponding dominos that fell consequently — worn out one soccer league (the Big East), making a Power Five, and it was clear that school soccer’s basic boundaries have been being stretched. You may nonetheless see selections made underneath the auspices of geography in case you squinted, although. (For occasion, the Big Ten’s new additions have been at the very least in states adjoining to the convention’s previous footprint.) The most far-flung faculties within the Big Ten and SEC have been Rutgers and Texas A&M, which carried distances of 593 and 560 miles, respectively , from their new convention facilities.
(*20*)Even with their expanded boundaries from the 2010s, the Big Ten and SEC have been nonetheless, coming into 2021, probably the most compact of the Power Five leagues. But that modified final summer time, when the SEC moved additional west by agreeing so as to add Texas and Oklahoma. In doing so, the league not solely elevated its footprint but additionally plucked the fourth- and fifth-ranked faculties on school soccer’s all-time wins leaderboard. While complete wins aren’t an ideal metric,4 the Big 12 is now bereft of basic powerhouses, with West Virginia its next-most profitable college at No. 27. In extra fashionable phrases, Oklahoma was the one Big 12 college that has reached the College Football Playoff.
(*20*)Texas and Oklahoma aren’t completely outlandish cultural or geographic matches within the SEC. They shall be 576 and 489 miles from their new convention middle, versus the 425 and 84 miles they sat from their Big 12 foes in 2010. They also can protect the Red River Rivalry, and Texas will resume its rivalry with Texas A&M. While the brand new distances are an adjustment, 29 faculties (throughout eight leagues) are extra faraway from their convention facilities than any staff within the new-look SEC.
(*20*)However, the way in which different conferences responded to the SEC’s additions has considerably warped the college-sports map. To fill its vacancies, the Big 12 added Brigham Young, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston, and now stretches from Provo, Utah, to Orlando, Florida. BYU and UCF are 986 and 917 miles from their convention foes. In response to thatthe American Athletic Conference plundered Conference USA, and Conference USA did what it may to remain intact — in order that league now stretches from Miami to Las Cruces, New Mexico.
(*20*)And the actual nail within the coffin of the entire “regional conferences” thought would be the new Big Ten, the primary really nationwide school league. Whereas solely Penn State and Minnesota have been greater than 300 miles from the middle of the Big Ten in 2010, now 10 faculties within the convention exceed that mark, after factoring in UCLA and USC.5 The distance from Los Angeles to the geographic middle of the Big Ten is a whopping 1,621 miles.
(*20*)The latest bloat in common distances between faculties and their convention rivals is obvious within the general numbers. In 2010, the typical distance for an FBS staff to its convention middle was 336 miles. By 2021, that common rose to 365 miles. Within 4 years of that, the typical shall be 412 miles.
(*20*)It’s necessary to recollect, too, that each one of those distances are measured because the crow flies, fairly than as street journeys. This is especially necessary for the sports activities outdoors soccer and basketball — and for smaller faculties on the whole — each of which depend on bus rides greater than constitution flights. (Everybody has a special definition of “driving distance,” however by any definition, BYU seems to be the primary college — in addition to Hawaii, for apparent causes — to be unable to drive to go to any convention foe.)6 In non-revenue sports activities, the Big Ten’s UCLA-USC match is deeply unusual for a lot of causes: Both faculties play sports activities that the convention does not supply and do not play sports activities the Big Ten does compete in. They may dominate their cold-weather counterparts in some sports activities, reminiscent of softball and baseball, and battle in others — all whereas maintaining that grueling journey schedule by way of bus rides.
(*20*)All of this implies the time of conferences as we as soon as knew them — small, regionally constrained teams of comparable schools with shared histories — is all however over. And the period of the super-league seems to be taking its place. Of course, the concept of a 20-team, nationwide sports activities league is not unprecedented. All 4 main North American males’s leagues, plus Major League Soccer and many of the main European soccer leagues, have at the very least that many golf equipment. Nobody thinks twice in regards to the Indianapolis Colts enjoying street video games in each Las Vegas and East Rutherford, New Jersey, throughout the identical season. That’s as a result of the NFL is a financially pushed group intent on maximizing its market. But that is the purpose — increasingly yearly, school soccer begins to seem like the NFL. And in the event that they weren’t already, the convention beliefs drawn up in Chicago in 1896 are a relic of the previous.
(*20*)CORRECTION (Sept. 22, 2022, 3:51 pm): An earlier model of the 2025 Big 12’s map confirmed the University of Cincinnati as being in Kentucky. It is in Ohio.