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Joly: Time to embrace conference realignment

By: Aidan Joly, Editor-in-Chief

On Tuesday morning, the news that had been expected for a few weeks became official: Monmouth, who has been a member of the MAAC since 2013, will leave the league for the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) on July 1, 2022, along with Stony Brook and Hampton.

Unless the MAAC does some quick work over the next couple months, it will have 10 schools for the first time since 2013, a number it ran with from 1997 until the additions of Monmouth and Quinnipiac, paired with the departure of Loyola (MD).

Schools coming and going in the MAAC — and as a whole across the country in college sports — is nothing new.

Some of these moves are certainly more notable than others. The announcement this past summer that Texas and Oklahoma would leave the Big 12 for the SEC in 2025 was a seismic move that will dramatically shift the landscape of college sports. The Big 12 has remained in the national spotlight, despite the losses of Colorado and Nebraska in 2011 and then Missouri and Texas A&M a year later, but Oklahoma and Texas are the largest brands still there.

The Monmouth move is, in the grand scheme of things, a relatively minor one. Monmouth is one of two MAAC basketball schools (Marist is the other) that sponsors football. The CAA sponsors football, so it makes sense for them to want to be in a league where they can be a “full” member. The MAAC did sponsor football until 2007, five years after Canisius dropped football following the 2002 season.

Nearly every time, the pastures are greener in a new league for schools, as well as for the leagues themselves. Oklahoma and Texas will nearly double their athletic income, according to NBC, while the SEC will gain even more notoriety — if that’s even possible — from getting two established schools that have had success in football as well as basketball, the two major money-makers for any Power 5 school. Meanwhile, ESPN just invested $3 billion for the rights to broadcast SEC football, a contract that runs through 2034.

Not to fret, Big 12. Just after it was announced that Texas and Oklahoma were leaving, the Big 12 announced the additions of BYU, Houston, UCF and Cincinnati in 2025. The latter three come from the American Athletic Conference, a league usually seen as a bunch of misfit toys, as opposed to a highly respected one. It finally got really noticed this past fall, when Cincinnati became the first non–Power 5 program to reach the College Football Playoff. It got curb stomped by Alabama, 27–6. Cincinnati’s move to the Big 12 will benefit the program, seen as something of a sleeping giant in college football land, but the move struggled to be taken seriously prior to this year because of its schedule.

Houston has a fantastic basketball program, which will benefit by moving to the Big 12 as well, meaning it’ll get to play league games against the likes of Baylor and Kansas. It will be interesting to see what the program can do in that league.

On a smaller scale, the league that Canisius rival St. Bonaventure is a member of — the Atlantic 10 — announced the addition of Loyola Chicago last November. Yes: the Sister Jean Loyola Chicago. It leaves the Missouri Valley for a league that has sexy TV deals with CBS and NBC/USA, while the Atlantic 10 gains a program that reached the Final Four in 2018 and has been a top-30 program in the country in the past five-ish years for a league that has lacked some much-needed luster in the past few years.

Not to fret, Missouri Valley. It then gained both Belmont and Murray State, neither of which are slouches in the mid-major basketball landscape. Austin Peay joins, too.

Competitive balance.

There’s no reason to believe that money doesn’t play a role in this. It benefits the schools, which are now doing anything they can to recoup losses following COVID-19’s impact on sports, even if it means moving leagues, but it also benefits the student-athletes in the world of NIL, where you can make more in a big-money conference. Perfect example: Alabama quarterback Bryce Young made $1 million in NIL money before he played a single snap for the Crimson Tide.

Is moving conferences always the best move? Not necessarily. Some moves from the past decade have left many scratching their heads to this day (looking at you, Syracuse). The criticisms for lack of success for some schools or prioritizing one sport over another are justified, as are the complaints of fans not wanting a “superconference.” I don’t think those concerns will be much of an issue. Heck, the old 16-team Big East (I miss it) sent 11 to the NCAA Tournament in 2011 and nobody really batted an eye. On top of that, schools like Texas and Oklahoma in the SEC will give college football fans even more fun conference games in September, October and November. And welcome back, Lone Star Showdown.

Any college sports fan knows that the landscape is changing when you consider NIL, transfers and conference realignments everywhere. Conference realignments are beneficial, and it’s time we embrace it.

Not to fret, MAAC.

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