The dominoes are falling again. Did they ever really stop? I'm not sure. But today Middle Tennessee announced that they will be moving with Florida Atlantic out of the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA. Athletic Director, Chris Massaro, said at today's press conference he saw the move as a bigger "platform" to continue growth in donations, ticket sales, recruiting base, and national recognition. He had been having discussions with the league for over a year, and they heated up last spring. At that point CUSA had made it clear it wanted (for the foreseeable future) to remain at 14 teams but that Middle was on their radar. Leagues like the Sun Belt, Conference USA, and the WAC are almost resigned to the fact that for now they will be in constant flux. When the Big Ten made the move to take Rutgers from the Big East and Maryland from the ACC, the maneuvering began again. The ACC jumped in and grabbed Louisville, further weakening the Big East.
The Big East, who has been raided from all angles going back several years, has had no choice but to grab other schools and "move them up". When they grabbed Tulane and Memphis recently from Conference USA, it was Middle who received a call, and Massaro had them ready to move. So the upward chain looks something like this (for now):
Sun Belt--> Conference USA--> Big East--> ACC/Big Ten
This chain is oversimplified. But clearly the top leagues are getting bigger, and each school who is not already at the top is trying to get into "the club" (or as close to it as you can). It is easier to launch into the club from Conference USA than from The Sun Belt, though the Sun Belt has been better in football this year without a doubt. Conference USA has sent teams up the chain to the Big East, the Sun Belt has not.
The whole process is a moving target, and who knows what the end game is? That is the challenge for Massaro who has to position his program as best he can to deal with whatever lies ahead. Though on the surface it may seem like a lateral move, Middle Tennessee is better positioned for the future in Conference USA.
Here are a couple of articles that will attack the biggest questions of all-- when will this game of Musical Chairs end? How will it end? What will it mean for each school left outside of "the club" of teams from the 5 power conferences (SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, PAC-12)?
This one has at least for now the chart of what league these teams are in now, and where they are going to be (for now). There will be no quiz later (thank goodness):
This one is a loose discussion but speculates on the ultimate end game-- a breakaway by the richest leagues from the NCAA to form their own Association:
(Photo courtesy of MTSU Athletics/B. Lambert)