How I Think About Conference Expansion

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Hmm, another article about expansion. Just what you needed, right? But let’s
face it, expansion is the biggest issue in our time. It was the biggest issue in
the history of Virginia Tech athletics back in 2003, and when the conferences
start shifting soon, it will be again. And note that I didn’t title this article
“What I think about expansion” — which would imply that I have some
sort of clue how it’s going to unfold — but “how” I think about
expansion. Maybe my viewpoint will bring something new to the table for you.

It’s “Realignment,” Not Expansion

While the 2003 shift was indeed expansion on the ACC’s part, I prefer to
think of the coming changes in college athletics as “realignment.”
It’s true, the Big Ten is going to expand, and the SEC might expand as well, but
what’s really going on here is the realignment of schools from their current
conference configuration to some future configuration that can’t yet be seen or

Think of college conferences as tectonic plates in the earth’s crust. They
are always rubbing up against each other, pushing against each other, and
building pressure. Occasionally, there’s an earthquake, like there was in the
early 90s when PSU joined the Big Ten, the SEC expanded, and the Big East
Football Conference was formed. Or the mid-1990s, when the SWC imploded and the
Big Eight joined with former SWC teams to form the Big 12. Or, of course, 2003,
when the ACC raided teams from the Big East, and the Big East in turn raided
Conference USA and picked up other schools.

Another earthquake is coming. The plate that’s going to shift this time is
the Big Ten, and it’s going to send shockwaves through the rest of the college
sports landscape. Conferences are going to realign, but I think that where they
end up won’t be the final configuration. Instead, the pressure will slowly start
to build again, and at some point, there will be other future earthquakes.

The sources of the pressure that causes these earthquakes can never be
foreseen far in advance. In the