2021–2024 NCAA conference realignment

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Beginning in the 2021–22 academic year, extensive changes occurred in NCAA conference membership, primarily at the Division I level.

Most of these changes have involved conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of Division I. Of the 10 FBS conferences that existed at the start of the realignment cycle, only the Mid-American Conference and Mountain West Conference have seen no change in their core membership. The most notable change is the effective demise of the Pac-12 Conference, which has so far seen 10 of its 12 members leave for other conferences—four each to the Big Ten Conference and Big 12 Conference, and two to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) also saw significant changes, most notably the beginning of football sponsorship by the ASUN Conference; the return of football by the Western Athletic Conference, which previously sponsored football at the FBS level until the end of the 2012 season; and two football-only conference mergers, one involving the ASUN and WAC and the other involving the Big South Conference and Ohio Valley Conference (OVC).

Other sports saw significant change. The most notable changes have been the reinstatement of men's soccer by the Sun Belt Conference, which ultimately led to both Conference USA (C-USA) and the Mid-American Conference dropping the sport; the later addition of men's soccer by the OVC; the addition of men's volleyball by the Northeast Conference (NEC), making it the second D-I all-sports conference to sponsor the sport; the addition of men's lacrosse by the Atlantic 10 Conference, leading to the NEC and the Southern Conference dropping the sport; the merger of the men's tennis leagues of the OVC and the Horizon League; the merger of the baseball leagues of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and NEC; the addition of men's water polo by the West Coast Conference and the Big West Conference,[1] which led to the demise of the men's side of the water polo-only Golden Coast Conference; the absorption of the Southland Bowling League by C-USA;[2] and the reestablishment of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) in men's ice hockey, which led to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) disbanding its men's league and becoming a women's-only conference.[3][4]

FBS conferences affected[edit]

Southeastern Conference[edit]

On July 21, 2021, the Houston Chronicle reported that Oklahoma and Texas had approached the Southeastern Conference (SEC) about the possibility of joining that league.[5] On July 26, Oklahoma and Texas notified the Big 12 Conference that the two schools did not wish to extend their grant of television rights beyond the 2024–25 athletic year and intended to leave the conference.[6] On July 29, the presidents and chancellors of the 14 current SEC members voted unanimously to extend invitations to Oklahoma and Texas, effective in 2025.[7] The two schools eventually reached a buyout agreement with the Big 12 that will allow them to join the SEC in 2024.[8]

Big 12 Conference[edit]

With the losses of Texas and Oklahoma, the Big 12 Conference was reduced from 10 to 8 teams. On September 10, the Big 12 announced that BYU, an FBS independent and full member of the non-football West Coast Conference (WCC), along with American Athletic Conference (The American) members Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF would join the conference no later than 2024–25.[9] At the time of announcement, BYU stated that it would join the Big 12 in 2023.[10] The other three schools entered into negotiations with The American regarding their departure date, and on June 10, 2022, an agreement on a 2023 departure date was announced.[11]

On November 2, 2022, ESPN reported that Gonzaga University athletic director Chris Standiford had met with Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark while the Gonzaga men's basketball team was in the Dallas area, home to the Big 12 offices, for a scrimmage with Tennessee. This meeting was reportedly part of discussions regarding a possible Gonzaga move to the Big 12 as a full member without football (Gonzaga has not had a football program since 1941). Gonzaga men's basketball has become by far the dominant program in the otherwise mid-major WCC. Going into the 2022–23 season, the Bulldogs had played in every NCAA men's tournament in the 21st century, made national championship games in 2017 and 2021, and had been a top regional seed in four of the previous five NCAA tournaments. Gonzaga, which has been transparent with the WCC about its talks with other conferences, has reportedly also been in membership discussions with the Pac-12 Conference and the Big East Conference (the latter a non-football league).[12] Yormark would later confirm that the conference had met with both Gonzaga and UConn regarding possible membership, but the possible addition of both schools was shelved after the addition of the "Four Corners" Pac-12 members.[13]

In late spring 2023, with the Pac-12 Conference still not having finalized a new media rights deal, multiple media reports linked Colorado, which had left the Big 12 for the then-Pac-10 in 2011, with a potential return to the Big 12. Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com reported that Colorado had been in what was described as "substantive" talks with the Big 12.[14] Greg Swaim, an Oklahoma radio host described by the sports and culture news site OutKick as "very plugged into the Big 12 landscape," reported over the weekend of June 3–4 that he had been told by multiple sources that Colorado and Arizona were both preparing to join the Big 12.[15] It was also widely rumored that newly hired football head coach Deion Sanders and several influential boosters were pushing for Colorado to return to the Big 12.[16]

Speculation about Colorado's future increased in July. First, in advance of a meeting of Pac-12 chancellors and presidents set for July 20, Colorado chancellor Phil DiStefano publicly suggested that conference commissioner George Kliavkoff provide details on a potential media deal. None were presented, and many within the conference suggested that DiStefano's request was intended to pressure Kliavkoff. After the end of the conference's football media day, which took place the day after the chancellors/presidents meeting, Colorado athletic director Rick George had to dodge many reporters while exiting the event venue. In the meantime, Big 12 officials had reportedly set a deadline of July 25 for Colorado to make a decision on its conference future. The school's board of regents scheduled two meetings for July 26 and 27 at which a Big 12 move was expected to be on the agenda, and the regents posted an agenda for the latter meeting that indicated that a formal vote of some kind was likely. The Big 12 chancellors and presidents held their own meeting on July 26, with conference expansion reportedly on the agenda,[17][18] and that body reportedly voted unanimously to approve Colorado should it formally apply for membership. An application was expected after the Colorado regents' meeting the following day.[19] On July 27, Colorado announced it would be returning to the Big 12 after 13 years.[20]

In the days after Colorado's announcement, the Pac-12 chancellors and presidents met on August 1, at which time they were presented with the first details of a new media rights deal. This deal was reportedly an exclusively streaming deal with Apple, with returns based mainly on subscription rates.[21] Phil Knight, co-founder and retired CEO of Nike and also an Oregon alumnus and major donor to both the university and its athletic program, strongly supported the Apple deal.[16] This was apparently not enough to satisfy multiple members, including Arizona. On August 3, the Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state's three public universities,[a] met, reportedly to discuss a potential Arizona move to the Big 12. That conference's chancellors and presidents met that same day and reportedly approved an Arizona application to join.[22][23] However, there was an apparent reversal, as the Pac-12 chancellors and presidents called a meeting for the morning of August 4 during which they would accept the Apple deal and sign a grant of rights (GOR),[b] with a 10th school to be added later to replace Colorado. Later reports came out that two schools were to receive invitations if the Pac-12 had entered into the GOR—San Diego State and SMU.[24] Then, 10 minutes before the meeting was to start, Washington informed the Pac-12 that it would move to the Big Ten. Washington football coach Kalen DeBoer and the university administration were concerned about the prospect that no Pac-12 games would be available on linear television.[16] Shortly after the morning meeting was canceled, Oregon followed Washington to the Big Ten, and Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah announced they would join the Big 12 beginning in 2024.[25]

Pac-12 Conference[edit]

Shortly after Oklahoma and Texas announced their departure for the SEC, Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff was told by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby that the eight remaining Big 12 members were interested in joining the Pac-12. The Pac-12 then formed an expansion committee made up of one official from each of the conference's travel pairings.[c] The first and ultimately only committee meeting ended after only a few minutes when USC president Carol Folt, who represented the conference's two Los Angeles schools (UCLA and USC), objected to adding more teams and expressed surprise the Pac-12 was talking about the subject. Kliavkoff, presumably aware of USC's importance to the conference, did not push back against Folt.[16]

On August 24, 2021, the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, along with the Atlantic Coast Conference, announced that the three leagues would be forming a scheduling alliance, likely in response to the SEC's recent expansion. It consisted of adding games between teams in these three conferences in football, as well as men's and women's college basketball.[26]

On June 30, 2022, media reports indicated that UCLA and USC had started the process of leaving the Pac-12 Conference for the Big Ten Conference, with the latter conference's presidents and chancellors having scheduled a meeting that evening to vote on the addition of the two Los Angeles schools. Shortly after this meeting, the Big Ten and both schools issued statements confirming this move, setting a 2024 entry date, which is immediately after the current Pac-12 media rights contracts expire.[27][28]

However, UCLA's move to the Big Ten required approval of the Regents of the University of California, the governing body of the University of California system. In a move widely viewed as public posturing, the regents threatened to block UCLA's move. Kliavkoff was privately engaged with a group of regents in an effort to work out a deal to keep UCLA in the conference. The regents told Kliavkoff if he could guarantee UCLA a media payout of $52 million a year over the five years of a new Pac-12 media deal—roughly equal to the planned Big Ten payout, less anticipated travel expenses—plus a $15 million payment to the Big Ten to break the school's agreement to join, the regents' vote would be heavily in favor of UCLA staying in the Pac-12. When Kliavkoff presented this offer to the Pac-12 board, interim Oregon president Patrick Phillips ended the discussion by saying that Oregon did not want to be in a conference in which it made less money than UCLA.[16] The UC Regents would approve UCLA's move on December 14.[29][30][31]

In October 2022, the Pac-12's exclusive negotiating window for a new media rights deal with its then-current primary broadcast partner, Fox, expired without a new deal. ESPN was still interested in partnering with the Pac-12, even without UCLA and USC. Kliavkoff presented the conference chancellors and presidents with an offer of $30 million annually for each member. Internal Pac-12 analysis had indicated that the media rights were worth somewhere in the vicinity of $35 million each, giving the sides room for negotiation. However, an August 2023 report by the Los Angeles Times revealed that one of the Pac-12 presidents—not identified in the Times report, but speculated by other outlets to be Arizona State president Michael Crow[32]—had worked with a professor on his campus to come up with an estimate of $50 million per school. Kliavkoff presented ESPN with the larger number, which caused ESPN to end negotiations.[16]

As noted in the Big 12 section, Colorado announced its 2024 return to that conference on July 27, 2023, with Arizona reportedly soon to make its own move to that conference. On August 3, 2023—the same day that the Big 12 met to approve Arizona's application to join the conference—the Big Ten presidents and chancellors met and authorized commissioner Tony Petitti to explore the addition of two other Pac-12 members, Oregon and Washington. No offers were made at that time, nor was any vote to add more schools taken. Washington's governing board met that same day, reportedly to discuss that school's options in realignment.[33] The Big Ten presidents and chancellors met the following day, reportedly to finalize the addition of Oregon and Washington. The two schools reportedly agreed to accept a reduced payout during their first few years as Big Ten members, possibly as low as 50%—but still more in dollar terms than the reported Pac-12 deal with Apple.[34] On August 4, 2023, Oregon and Washington announced they would leave the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten effective July 1, 2024.[35] As noted in the Big 12 section, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah announced that they would leave for the Big 12 in 2024 on the same day that Oregon and Washington's move was announced.

In an August 10 interview for an Ohio State fan forum, the school's athletic director Gene Smith stated that Fox, the Big Ten's primary media partner, provided extra money to facilitate the addition of Oregon and Washington. According to Smith, Fox agreed to pay $30 to $35 million per year for each of those two schools from their 2024 arrival in the conference through the end of the media deal in the 2029–30 school year. This meant that the 14 then-current Big Ten members, plus UCLA and USC (which will receive full shares from the new media deal upon their arrival in the conference), will see no decrease in payouts during that deal.[36]

Shortly after the August 4 mass departure, Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated noted that the apparent (and eventual) demise of the Pac-12 could have major implications for the US Olympic team in multiple non-revenue sports. Two of the four schools that then remained in the Pac-12, California and Stanford, are key feeders for the US Olympic program, and also train a significant number of athletes who represent other countries. Forde noted that at the 2020 Summer Olympics, 32 US athletes were Stanford students or alumni,[d] and 16 others had the same connections to Cal. He also cited a 2017 study by researchers at the website OlympStats.com that found Stanford had produced more US Olympic athletes than any other university up to that time, and Cal was fourth (UCLA and USC were second and third).[37] CBS Sports journalist Shehan Jeyarajah added that Stanford had won the NACDA Directors' Cup, an annual award presented since 1993–94 to the top overall college sports program, 26 times through 2022–23, and that "a number of non-revenue sport opportunities have been created because of the money paid out by being part of a major football league." He also asked a rhetorical question that even for the West Coast schools that joined the Big Ten, "will the insane costs of flying cross-country for routine conference games be a major deterrent to fielding robust athletic departments?"[38]

On September 1, 2023, the presidents and chancellors of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) voted to approve California and Stanford as members effective August 2, 2024.[39][40] This left Oregon State and Washington State as the last two Pac-12 members. On the same day that the ACC made its announcement, American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco, whose conference had evaluated the two schools as potential members, announced that The American would not add any schools in the Pacific Time Zone.[41]

The Pac-12 then scheduled a board meeting for September 13; an email from the conference's general counsel indicated that some kind of vote could be taken. This led Oregon State and Washington State, along with their presidents, to file a civil action in Whitman County, Washington (where Washington State is located) on September 8 against the Pac-12 and Kliavkoff, requesting a temporary restraining order against the conference. The filing called for a hearing on the restraining order on September 11. The two schools contend that as the only members that have not announced their departure, their presidents are the only legitimate members of the conference's board of directors. According to a report by ESPN's Pete Thamel, "The essence of Washington State and Oregon State's concerns, if the league's 12 schools formally meet, is that the current members could vote to dissolve or evenly distribute the remaining assets." In the court filing, OSU and WSU pointed out that Pac-12 bylaws state that any member that announces its intent to leave "automatically cease(s) to be a member of the Pac-12 Board of Directors and shall cease to have the right to vote on any matter." The filing added that UCLA and USC were immediately stripped of their board seats and voting rights once they announced their move to the Big Ten. OSU and WSU reportedly wish to use the conference's remaining assets, including the "Pac-12" brand, as a lure for an amicable merger with the Mountain West Conference.[42] At the September 11 hearing, Whitman County Superior Court Judge Gary Libey granted the restraining order, preventing the full Pac-12 from meeting until the ownership of the league's assets could be determined.[43]

Atlantic Coast Conference[edit]

Prior to the addition of three new members, multiple media reports emerged in May 2023 that seven of the Atlantic Coast Conference's (ACC) 14 football members—Clemson, Florida State, Miami (FL), NC State, North Carolina, Virginia, and Virginia Tech—had met with legal teams in recent months to examine the grant of rights (GOR) agreement within the conference's media rights deal.[44] In May 2012, the ACC signed a 15-year media deal with ESPN, which was extended in 2016 and currently runs through the 2035–36 school year. Under the GOR, if a school leaves the ACC before 2036, all remaining media revenue under the current broadcast contract will revert to the conference. In March 2023, Florida State athletic director Michael Alford expressed frustration with the conference's revenue distribution model in a call to ACC commissioner Jim Phillips, noting that by 2024, each ACC school's share of media revenue would be at least $30 million below those of Big Ten and SEC members.[45] Following the ACC spring meetings later in May 2023,[44] the league agreed to a new revenue sharing model in which revenue derived from the College Football Playoff (CFP) and NCAA men's basketball tournament will be distributed based on each school's success in those competitions. Other league revenue will continue to be split evenly between member schools. The new model takes effect when the CFP expands from 4 teams to 12 in 2024.[46] Another aspect of the media deal that would prove important in later expansion discussions is that the contract contains an escalator clause that requires ESPN to increase its payout to the ACC if it expands beyond 14 football members. By 2023, the escalator clause reportedly called for ESPN to pay the ACC an additional $24 million per year per added member.[24]

However, this change was apparently not enough to fully satisfy Florida State. During an August 2 meeting of the university's governing board, president Richard McCullough told the board that Florida State would have to "very seriously" consider leaving the ACC, barring a more radical change to the conference's revenue sharing model.[47]

On August 7, following the mass exodus of schools from the Pac-12, media reported that the ACC had started exploring the addition of California and Stanford, two of the four schools left behind in the exodus.[48] However, following a conference call of ACC presidents and chancellors on August 9, it was reported that the potential expansion "hit significant roadblocks." The report also confirmed that Notre Dame, a full but non-football ACC member and thus having voting rights on conference expansion, was strongly pushing for the expansion; significantly, Stanford is one of the three schools that Notre Dame football plays every year.[49] By August 11, the potential expansion was described by sources as being "on life support", with Clemson, Florida State, NC State, and North Carolina opposed. ACC bylaws require the approval of 12 of the 15 full members for any proposed expansion.[50]

Despite this, the ACC had not completely ended expansion discussions. On August 23, reports came out that the ACC was seriously considering the addition of not only Cal and Stanford, but also SMU. At the time, SMU had been in deep discussions with both the Pac-12 and ACC for more than a year, and had also been involved with the Big 12 before that conference lost interest.[24] All three schools were reportedly willing to make major financial concessions to join the conference, with Cal and Stanford being willing to take reduced shares of conference media payouts for at least several years, and SMU being willing to take no broadcast revenue during its first seven years as an ACC member. The three schools' financial concessions would create a pool of funds that the ACC would split among its members. The conference was working on possible financial models for this fund. At the time of the report, no formal vote on expansion had been taken.[51] An ESPN report on August 28 indicated that there was "continued momentum" toward adding all three schools, with one of the four ACC members that had objected to expansion expected to change its vote in the coming days. A conference call involving ACC presidents and chancellors had been scheduled for that day, but was canceled due to a shooting at the North Carolina campus.[52] The conference call was rescheduled for September 1, at which time the presidents and chancellors voted to approve the addition of all three schools.[39][40] Reportedly, Clemson, Florida State, and North Carolina still opposed expansion, but NC State changed its vote.[53] The two California schools will reportedly join at about 30% of a full share of media rights, while SMU will not take any conference media revenue for nine years instead of the previously reported seven. In its ACC membership pitch, SMU also offered to serve as a hub for at least some Olympic sports[e] contests involving Cal and Stanford, reducing travel burdens for all other members.[24][54]

American Athletic Conference[edit]

The losses of Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF left the AAC with 8 remaining schools. After invitations to Mountain West Conference members Boise State, Air Force, Colorado State, and San Diego State to join the AAC were all declined,[55] the AAC then pivoted to Conference USA (C-USA) to add 6 of its members on October 21, 2021: Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, UAB, North Texas, Rice, and UTSA.[56] In June 2022, the six schools' entry date of July 2023 was officially confirmed.[57] The additions put the AAC at 14 members for both football and basketball, with Navy being a football-only member and Wichita State being a non-football full member.

In May 2022, The American announced that the four schools that had remained in C-USA men's soccer after the Sun Belt Conference took five schools from the C-USA men's soccer league to reinstate the sport effective with the upcoming 2022 season—Charlotte, FIU, Florida Atlantic, and UAB—would become men's soccer members in the 2022 season, thus spelling the end of C-USA men's soccer. Of these schools, all but FIU became full members of The American in 2023. FIU and Florida Atlantic would also join in women's swimming & diving in July 2022, as did eventual American Conference members North Texas and Rice.[58]

As noted in the ACC section, The American will lose SMU to the ACC effective July 1, 2024 after the ACC voted to admit SMU into the conference on September 1, 2023.[39][40] On the same day as the ACC announcement, American commissioner Mike Aresco ruled out any expansion in the Pacific Time Zone, stating that the conference would instead "focus any expansion efforts on schools that allow for sensible and sustainable competition and student-athlete well-being within our strong geographic footprint."[41] The day after SMU's departure was announced, reports came out that The American had targeted Army as a football-only replacement for SMU, and that Aresco had begun membership discussions with Army athletic director Mike Buddie. Army's service academy rival Navy is already a football-only American member. With Army being an FBS independent, a potential football-only conference move would not have the same financial complications as a normal conference change.[59]

However, Army's potential move has unique financial issues of its own. As an independent, Army has a TV contract with CBS Sports Network (CBSSN) for its home games through the 2028 season, while The American's current broadcast partner is ESPN. Should Army join, the CBSSN contract would remain in place unless the conference or ESPN reaches a buyout agreement. Also, Army has over 80 football games scheduled in the coming years, with reported exit fees of over $35 million. The Army program has hired a consultant in an attempt to cancel or reschedule as many of the games as possible. Revenue distribution is also a potential issue, as the members that joined in 2023 will not receive a full share of media revenue for several years, though The American has received significant exit fees from the schools that left for the Big 12, and will receive more with SMU's departure. The conference and Army have reportedly agreed that should Army join, the Army–Navy Game will continue to be played after the conference championship game, and the two academies will not play each other prior to the traditional date except in the conference title game.[60]

Sun Belt Conference[edit]

The departures of the aforementioned 6 schools reduced Conference USA's membership from 14 to 8, and sensing the instability of the conference, the remaining members looked to join other conferences. In late October 2021, C-USA members Southern Miss, Old Dominion and Marshall applied and were accepted to the Sun Belt Conference (SBC) to begin play in the 2022–23 season.[61][62][63] On November 6, the Sun Belt added James Madison, a Colonial Athletic Association member playing FCS football. Due to the Colonial's policy of prohibiting departing members from participating in conference tournaments, JMU was initially slated to play the 2022–23 football season as an FBS independent with other sports playing as de facto Sun Belt affiliates; full membership would have begun with the 2023–24 season.[64][65][66] However, on February 2, 2022, JMU and the Sun Belt announced that JMU would join for all sports sponsored by the conference, including football, on July 1.[67] On February 11, Southern Miss, Old Dominion, and Marshall announced that they too would join the Sun Belt Conference in 2022. However, C-USA had previously indicated on January 20 that it expected all three schools to remain in the league through 2022–23. ESPN journalist Adam Rittenberg cited an unnamed source regarding this development, "It's not going to be an amicable split. It's gotten ugly, and I assume it's going to get uglier."[68] The source's prediction was apparently proven true when Marshall filed suit against C-USA in its local court in an attempt to force a 2022 move.[69] On March 1, the Sun Belt released its 2022 football schedule with Marshall, Old Dominion, and Southern Miss included, making no mention of the ongoing legal dispute or the possibility that the three schools would not become members for the 2022–23 school year.[70] By the end of that month, the three schools and C-USA reached a settlement that allowed the schools to join the Sun Belt in July 2022.[71]

The increase in the SBC football membership led to reports that the conference's two non-football members, Little Rock and UT Arlington, would leave the conference; this eventually did happen, with Little Rock joining the Ohio Valley Conference and UT Arlington rejoining the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), a league in which it had been a member in the 2012–13 school year.[72][73]

SEC-Big 12 Alliance in Men's Soccer moves to Sun Belt[edit]

These various moves also led the SBC to reinstate men's soccer, a sport that it had dropped after the 2020–21 school year when a combination of COVID-19 impact and earlier realignment had left the conference with only three men's soccer programs, half of the number required for a D-I conference to maintain its automatic NCAA tournament bid. With three of the four incoming members (Marshall, Old Dominion, and James Madison) sponsoring men's soccer, SBC commissioner Keith Gill had announced in November 2021 that the sport would be reinstated in 2023–24.[74] After the entry of the aforementioned schools was pushed forward to July 2022, the SBC announced on April 6, 2022 that men's soccer would be reinstated for 2022–23. The three incoming members, plus existing full members Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, and Georgia State, were joined by the Southeastern Conference and Big 12 Conference members that sponsor the sport -- Kentucky, South Carolina, and West Virginia.[75] Later on, the Sun Belt also announced that future Big 12 member UCF would join as a men's soccer affiliate upon joining the Big 12 in 2023, effectively creating a "6-4" format of six Sun Belt schools and four schools from the non-sponsoring SEC or Big 12 conferences.[76]

The reinstatement of SBC men's soccer left the future of men's soccer in C-USA and the Mid-American Conference in serious doubt, as the two Georgia schools and West Virginia had been MAC men's soccer members (West Virginia had, however, planned to move that sport to C-USA before the Sun Belt reinstated men's soccer), while Coastal Carolina, South Carolina, and Kentucky had been C-USA men's soccer members. This then left both leagues with only four members in the 2022 season. Additionally, C-USA was set to lose three of its four remaining programs for the following season, with Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, and UAB making their move to The American in 2023. This would leave C-USA with only two institutions that sponsor the sport in 2023: FIU and Liberty, the latter of whom would be joining C-USA that season. Due to this, The American decided to admit the existing four C-USA soccer programs to their own league, with all four competing as affiliates in 2022 and FIU continuing as an affiliate after the other schools become full members.[77] For a time, Liberty was left without a conference for its own program, but it would join the newly formed Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) men's soccer league in time for the 2023 season.[78] Meanwhile, the MAC was able to add Chicago State, who was departing from the Western Athletic Conference in all sports, as a men's soccer associate, bringing their own membership to 5.[79] Chicago State ended up becoming an all-sports independent.

At the end of the 2022 season, the MAC discontinued men's soccer as a sponsored sport, having failed to find the sixth member needed to maintain its automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.[80] Of the four full MAC members that sponsored men's soccer in the 2022 season, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan moved the sport to the Missouri Valley Conference,[81] and Akron moved it to the Big East Conference.[82] Chicago State eventually joined the newly established OVC men's soccer league.[78]

Conference USA[edit]

Having lost 6 of its 14 members to The American and 3 to the SBC, Conference USA was left with 5 remaining members, short of the NCAA minimum of 6 and the FBS minimum of 8. On November 5, 2021, C-USA invited four schools: FBS independents Liberty and New Mexico State, who then respectively played non-football sports in the ASUN Conference and Western Athletic Conference; full ASUN member Jacksonville State; and full WAC member Sam Houston. All four schools began C-USA play with the 2023–24 season.[83] Per NCAA rules Jacksonville State and Sam Houston serve a two-year probationary period. Liberty and New Mexico State are established FBS members and do not have to serve probationary periods.

Around the same time, reports surfaced that C-USA members Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee were poised to join the Mid-American Conference (MAC). However, Middle Tennessee elected to remain in C-USA, and the MAC did not invite Western Kentucky after Middle Tennessee did not join.[84]

In April 2022, it was announced that Dallas Baptist would be moving its baseball program from the Missouri Valley Conference to C-USA effective that July (with play starting in the 2023 season). While all other Dallas Baptist University teams compete in Division II, primarily in the Lone Star Conference, the baseball team competes in Division I. DBU is also the last D-II member playing D-I baseball.[85][86]

On October 14, 2022, C-USA announced that another ASUN member, Kennesaw State, would start a transition to FBS after the 2022 football season[87] and join C-USA in 2024.[88]

C-USA announced on May 10, 2023 that it would add the women-only sport of bowling[f] effective in 2023–24. The new bowling league was established by C-USA absorbing the Southland Bowling League (SBL), which the Southland Conference had created in 2015 as a separate single-sport league. Accordingly, C-USA inherited the SBL's automatic berth in the NCAA Bowling Championship. The eight SBL members, which include established C-USA member Louisiana Tech and new C-USA member Sam Houston, were joined by another new C-USA full member in Jacksonville State, which started a women's bowling program in 2023–24.[2][89]

Mountain West Conference[edit]

The Mountain West Conference (MW) has so far had no membership change. However, multiple media reports indicated that San Diego State University, which had been heavily linked with the Pac-12 after the departure of UCLA and USC was announced, had sent a letter on June 13 to the MW stating it intended to leave the conference in 2024. The school had also reportedly asked the MW for a one-month extension of the June 30 withdrawal deadline, citing "unforeseen delays involving other collegiate athletic conferences beyond our control", likely a reference to the upcoming Pac-12 media deal that had yet to be finalized. This led to an exchange between the MW and SDSU, with university president Adela de la Torre indicating that the June 13 letter was not a formal resignation. The MW's exit fee with a year's notice is $16.5 million, which increases to $34 million with less than a year's notice—which explained SDSU's reported request for a one-month extension to the deadline. In addition to the Pac-12, SDSU has been seen as a potential Big 12 target.[90][91] The MW soon responded with a letter to SDSU starting that it would not approve any such extension, and also considered the June 13 letter to be an effective notice of withdrawal.[92] The MW and SDSU reached a settlement the next month, with SDSU remaining a member.[93]

FCS conferences affected[edit]

Western Athletic Conference[edit]

On January 14, 2021, the Western Athletic Conference, which last sponsored football at the FBS level during the 2012 season, announced its intention to reinstate football as a conference-sponsored sport at the FCS level, as well as the addition of five new members to the conference in all sports. The new members announced included four Southland Conference members from Texas in Abilene Christian, Lamar, Sam Houston, and Stephen F. Austin, plus Southern Utah from the Big Sky Conference. Those five schools joined existing WAC members Tarleton and Utah Tech (known as Dixie State before May 2022)[g] to make up the WAC's initial football membership.[94] The four Southland schools were initially planned to join the WAC for the 2022–23 school year, but the WAC pushed their entry forward to 2021–22 after the Southland expelled all four schools.[95][96] Southern Utah joined on its originally planned schedule of 2022–23, with SUU and the Big Sky agreeing to honor their scheduling commitments for 2021–22.[97]

That same day, WAC non-football member UTRGV announced that it would begin sponsoring football no later than the 2024 season,[98] while the WAC announced that Chicago State, a geographical outlier for much of its time in the WAC, would depart the conference on July 1, 2022.[99] UTRGV would later delay the addition of football to 2025.

On November 12, the WAC added Southland member Incarnate Word for the 2022–23 season.[100] Though fellow Southland member McNeese was rumored to be joining the WAC along with Incarnate Word, it instead chose to remain in the Southland.[101] On January 21, 2022, the WAC added Sun Belt Conference member UT Arlington, which had joined and left the WAC in the early-2010s realignment cycle, for the 2022–23 season.[73]

On April 8, Lamar University announced that it would rejoin the Southland Conference for 2023-24, spending only two years in the WAC.[83] On July 11, Lamar's transition was moved up to the 2022-23 season.[102]

The WAC and ASUN Conference jointly announced on May 18 that they would renew their football partnership, which was originally intended to operate only in the 2021 season. Each conference had planned to have 6 members that were eligible for the FCS playoffs in the 2022 season, but the start of FBS transitions by outgoing ASUN member Jacksonville State and outgoing WAC member Sam Houston rendered both ineligible for the 2022 playoffs.[103]

On June 24, 2022, one week before it was scheduled to join the WAC, Incarnate Word announced that it would instead remain in the Southland Conference.[104] Along with the departures of New Mexico State and Sam Houston to Conference USA and Lamar back to the Southland, the WAC will have 11 members going forward, 6 of which will play football in the conference.

ESPN reported on December 9, 2022 that the WAC and ASUN had agreed to form a new football-only conference that plans to start play in 2024. The initial football membership would consist of Austin Peay, Central Arkansas, Eastern Kentucky, and North Alabama from the ASUN, and Abilene Christian, Southern Utah, Stephen F. Austin, Tarleton, and Utah Tech from the WAC. UTRGV would become the 10th member upon its planned addition of football in 2025. The new football conference also reportedly plans to move "from what is currently known as FCS football to what is currently known as FBS football at the earliest practicable date."[105] The two conferences made this official on December 20, announcing that they would operate a single football league, tentatively known as the ASUN–WAC Football Conference, starting in 2023. Because of prior scheduling commitments, the football league will play a six-game schedule in the 2023 season and play a full round-robin in 2024. This announcement did not mention a potential move to FBS.[106] The new football league was officially rebranded as the United Athletic Conference (UAC) on April 17, 2023.[107]

ASUN Conference[edit]

On January 29, 2021, the ASUN Conference (which would revert to its previous branding as the Atlantic Sun Conference in 2023)[h] announced that it too would begin sponsoring football at the FCS level beginning in 2022–23, as well as announcing three new members for the 2021–22 season: Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky from the Ohio Valley Conference, and Central Arkansas from the Southland Conference. Those three schools plus existing ASUN members Kennesaw State and North Alabama, which had been playing football in the Big South Conference, would make up the first five ASUN football members, with a requisite sixth member to be announced at a later date.[108] For the 2021 football season, the ASUN and WAC formed a football-only partnership, with the three new ASUN members competing alongside WAC members for an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs.[109]

On September 17, that sixth football member was revealed to be Austin Peay, which would join the conference for 2022–23.[110] Though the ASUN had the requisite 6 football members for the 2022 season, the impending departures of Jacksonville State in 2023 and Kennesaw State in 2024 necessitated replacement football members to meet the conference minimum. No such member had been announced. ASUN full member Stetson plays football in the Pioneer Football League, a conference for Division I FCS schools that do not offer football scholarships. Another full member, Bellarmine, added football in 2022 but plays sprint football, a non-NCAA variant played under standard NCAA rules but with player weights limited to 178 pounds (81 kg).

Shortly before Peay was announced as an incoming member, media reports indicated that the ASUN had approached at least five Division II members regarding possible membership—football-sponsoring Valdosta State, West Florida, and West Georgia and non-football Lincoln Memorial and Queens (NC).[i][111] On May 7, 2022, Queens, from the D-II South Atlantic Conference, announced that it would move up to Division I and join the ASUN Conference beginning with the 2022–23 season.[112] The ASUN made this move official three days later.[113]

On May 18, the ASUN and WAC announced that they had renewed their 2021 football partnership for the 2022 season.[103] That October, Kennesaw State announced its 2024 departure for Conference USA.[87] This was followed in December 2022 by the two conferences announcing their football-only merger. On September 8, 2023, the ASUN announced that West Georgia would join both the ASUN and UAC in 2024.[114]

Southland Conference[edit]

With much of the Southland Conference's (SLC) football membership leaving for the WAC and ASUN, on September 28, 2021, the Southland announced that Division II school Texas A&M–Commerce would move up from the D-II Lone Star Conference to Division I and join the conference beginning with the 2022–23 season.[115] At the time, this left the Southland with 8 full members, 6 of which play football.

Shortly after A&M–Commerce was announced as an incoming member, the Southland and Ohio Valley Conference, which had lost three football-sponsoring schools in this realignment cycle (and would later lose a fourth), announced a football scheduling alliance for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.[116]

On April 8, 2022, Lamar University announced that it would rejoin the Southland Conference for 2023-24, spending only two years in the WAC before rejoining a conference where it had been a member from 1963 to 1987 and again from 1999 to 2021. On July 11, Lamar announced that it would instead move to the Southland in time for the 2022-23 season.

On June 24, 2022 Incarnate Word announced that instead of joining the WAC on July 1 as previously planned, it would remain in the Southland Conference.

During this cycle, the SLC expanded its affiliate membership far beyond its primary post-2021 footprint of Louisiana and Texas. Nine schools in all joined, with six from East Coast states and single schools from California, Idaho, and Illinois. First, on June 22, 2021, the SLC announced that NJIT would join in men's and women's tennis effective that July.[117] Two days later, the SLC added four schools for golf, also for 2021–22—Francis Marion, a Division II member that plays D-I men's golf, in that sport; Delaware State and Maryland Eastern Shore in women's golf; and Augusta, a D-II member that fields D-I teams in men's and women's golf, in both.[118] In June 2022, the SLC added two more schools as affiliates effective the next month, with Boise State joining in beach volleyball[119] and Bryant joining for men's & women's golf and tennis.[120] However, it would lose two of those new affiliates in 2022–23 when Delaware State and Maryland Eastern Shore moved women's golf to the more geographically appropriate Northeast Conference (NEC) after that conference entered into a partnership with those schools' full-time home of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in baseball and men's and women's golf.[121] Shortly after the MEAC–NEC announcement, the SLC gained a men's tennis affiliate in UIC, whose new home of the Missouri Valley Conference sponsors tennis only for women.[122] Also, San Jose State joined for beach volleyball, uniting it with Boise State, the only other Mountain West Conference member sponsoring that sport.[123] UIC men's tennis spent only one season in the SLC, moving to the Mid-American Conference after the 2022–23 season.[124]

As noted previously, the Southland Bowling League, a bowling-only conference that had been supported by the SLC, was merged into Conference USA after the 2022–23 season.

Ohio Valley Conference[edit]

In addition to three Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) football members joining the ASUN, two additional OVC members have announced their intent to leave the conference. On September 28, 2021, non-football member Belmont announced it would join the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) for the 2022–23 season.[125] On January 7, 2022, Murray State announced that it too would join the MVC for 2022–23.[126] Though the MVC does not sponsor football, Murray State applied to (and eventually joined) the Missouri Valley Football Conference (a separate entity from the Missouri Valley Conference) starting with the 2023 season.[127] At the time of this announcement, the expected 2023 departure of Murray State football would have left the Ohio Valley Conference with 5 football members. (Full OVC member Morehead State plays non-scholarship football in the Pioneer Football League.)

On December 9, 2021, Sun Belt Conference non-football member Little Rock was announced as the newest OVC member starting with the 2022–23 season.[72] Following this, reports began to surface that the OVC had anticipated Murray State leaving, and had actively been exploring other options for expansion, with current D-I FCS schools Arkansas-Pine Bluff of the Southwestern Athletic Conference and Western Illinois of the Summit League, as well as D-II schools Southern Indiana, Hillsdale, Grand Valley State, and Lincoln Memorial, all being named as potential candidates.[128] Exactly two months after Little Rock joined, on February 9, 2022, it was confirmed that Southern Indiana, a non-football sponsoring member from the D-II Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC), would begin the process of reclassifying to D-I and would join the OVC in July 2022.[129] Later that same month, on February 23, another GLVC member, the football-sponsoring Lindenwood, was announced as a July 2022 entry.[130]

The day before the Lindenwood announcement saw a major change to the FCS landscape when the OVC and Big South Conference announced their plans to merge their respective football leagues effective in 2023. Certain major details of the alliance—specifically, whether it would be operated by the Big South or OVC, or become a completely separate entity—were not revealed at the time.[131] The alliance was eventually unveiled as the Big South–OVC Football Association, officially classified as "an association of their [i.e., the two conferences'] football member institutions" instead of a full-fledged conference (similar to the football arrangement between the ASUN Conference and Western Athletic Conference before the creation of the United Athletic Conference).[132]

On July 6, 2022, the OVC and Horizon League announced their plans to merge their respective men's tennis leagues effective immediately. OVC members that sponsor the sport now compete as affiliate members under the banner of the Horizon League men's tennis championship. The expanded Horizon men's tennis league also includes Belmont, which had officially left the OVC for the MVC days earlier.[133]

The OVC announced on March 28, 2023 that it would add men's soccer as a sponsored sport effective with the upcoming 2023 season. Full members Eastern Illinois, Lindenwood, SIUE, and Southern Indiana were joined by affiliates Chicago State, Houston Christian, Incarnate Word, and Liberty.[78]

On May 12, 2023, the OVC announced that Western Illinois, which had reportedly been considered for membership in 2021, would become a full member effective that July. WIU football will play the 2023 season in the Missouri Valley Football Conference before becoming part of the Big South–OVC alliance in 2024.[134] WIU would also keep men's soccer in the Summit League through the 2023 season, keeping that league at the 6 members needed to maintain the Summit's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.[135][j]

Colonial/Coastal Athletic Association[edit]

The departure of James Madison left the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), renamed in 2023 to the Coastal Athletic Association,[136] with 9 all-sports members, with 11 schools participating in the technically separate entity of CAA Football. On January 18, 2022, NJ.com reported that Monmouth, a full member of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and football-only member of the Big South Conference, would join both sides of the CAA starting in 2022–23. They also reported Big South full member Hampton and America East Conference member Stony Brook would probably join the CAA.[137] Hampton had been working toward an eventual CAA invitation since at least 1995,[138] and Stony Brook had been a member of CAA Football since 2013. On January 25, all three schools were officially announced as new members of the all-sports CAA for 2022–23, with Hampton and Monmouth also joining CAA Football.[139]

On February 18, 2022, North Carolina A&T received approval from its board of trustees to move from the Big South to the CAA, and the CAA officially announced A&T's move on February 22. While A&T joined the all-sports CAA for the 2022–23 season, it did not join CAA Football until the 2023 season.[140]

On August 3, 2022, Campbell announced that it too would leave the Big South for both sides of the CAA beginning with the 2023–24 academic year.[141] A year later, CAA Football announced that Bryant would become that league's 16th member in 2024.[142]

Big South Conference[edit]

On January 25, 2022, the Colonial Athletic Association announced that Big South Conference full member Hampton and football-only member Monmouth would join both sides of the CAA for the 2022–23 season. On February 22, the CAA announced that North Carolina A&T would join the all-sports CAA in 2022–23 and CAA Football a year later. These departures, along with football-only members Kennesaw State and North Alabama leaving to play in the ASUN Conference, at the time brought the Big South membership down to 10 full members and 5 football members, the latter being one short of the conference minimum.[108][137] (Big South full member Presbyterian plays non-scholarship football in the Pioneer Football League.) On March 29, 2022, the football membership was restored to 6 with the announcement that Bryant would join as a football-only member effective with the 2022 season,[143] but A&T's 2023 departure for CAA Football would again reduce the football membership to 5. On August 3, 2022, the Big South lost another football member as Campbell announced that it would join both sides of the CAA for the 2023–24 academic year, followed on August 10, 2023 by Bryant announcing its own move to CAA Football for 2024–25.

As noted previously, the Big South and OVC effectively merged their football leagues in 2023.[131]

Big Sky Conference[edit]

Southern Utah left the Big Sky Conference for the WAC on July 1, 2022. Southern Utah's departure left the Big Sky with 10 full members, all of which sponsor football, with Cal Poly and UC Davis as football-only members.[94]

Northeast Conference[edit]

On March 29, 2022, Bryant announced that it would leave the Northeast Conference (NEC) that July, with most sports joining the America East Conference and football joining the Big South.[144] On April 5, the NEC responded by adding Stonehill College for 2022–23, a football-sponsoring Division II institution from the Northeast-10 Conference.[145]

ESPN reported on April 27 that Mount St. Mary's, a full NEC member without a football program, was in the process of a move to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), where it would join several other basketball-focused private schools. The conference change was officially announced on May 2, 2022, effective that July.[146]

During this realignment, the NEC also announced that it would begin sponsoring men's volleyball in the 2023 season (2022–23 school year) with six teams. The NEC became the second D-I all-sports conference to sponsor the sport, after the Big West Conference. Before the 2022 season, only three NEC members (Sacred Heart, St. Francis Brooklyn, and Saint Francis (PA)) had men's volleyball programs, all competing in the single-sport Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association. In the 2022 season, two more full NEC members, Fairleigh Dickinson and LIU, began sponsoring men's volleyball, competing as independents. When announcing its new men's volleyball league, the NEC announced that Merrimack, an all-sports member transitioning from Division II, would launch a men's volleyball program and become the sixth member, thereby reaching the required membership level for an eventual automatic bid to the combined D-I and D-II championship. The EIVA retained six members, maintaining its automatic bid.[147] The NEC eventually added two Division II schools,[k] Daemen and D'Youville,[148] as associate members for its first men's volleyball season.[l]

On May 9, 2022, NEC commissioner Noreen Morris indicated in a Twitter post that the NEC would not sponsor men's lacrosse after the 2021–22 school year.[149] The conference had already lost full members Bryant and Mount St. Mary's, and the impending addition of men's lacrosse by the Atlantic 10 Conference (A-10), confirmed later that month, took away both NEC men's lacrosse affiliates (Hobart and Saint Joseph's). Three of the remaining four NEC men's lacrosse schools, full conference members LIU, Sacred Heart, and Wagner, would be taken in by the MAAC as affiliate members.[150] According to Morris, the fourth, Merrimack, was in membership discussion with multiple lacrosse-sponsoring conferences; it eventually joined the America East Conference for that sport effective with the 2023 season (2022–23 school year).[151]

On July 12, 2022, the NEC and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) entered into a partnership for baseball and golf, under whose terms all MEAC members that sponsored baseball, men's golf, and women's golf became NEC associate members effective immediately. This marked the end of the MEAC baseball league, which had been reduced to four members due to earlier realignment. Howard, already an NEC associate in six sports, added men's golf to its NEC membership. Coppin State and Norfolk State joined for baseball; Delaware State joined for baseball and women's golf; North Carolina Central joined in men's and women's golf; and Maryland Eastern Shore joined in all three sports.[121] Several months later, the NEC announced that Delaware State would add women's lacrosse and women's soccer to its NEC membership in 2023–24.[152]

St. Francis Brooklyn, which had been a full non-football NEC member since the league's founding in 1981, announced on March 20, 2023 that it was eliminating its athletic program at the end of the 2022–23 school year.[153] Less than two months later, the NEC announced that non-football Division II upgrader Le Moyne would replace St. Francis Brooklyn effective in 2023–24.[154]

Missouri Valley Football Conference[edit]

On April 4, 2022, the Missouri Valley Football Conference announced that Murray State's football team would join the conference beginning with the 2023 season. The move was made as a result of Murray State's previously announced move of its other sports from the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) to the Missouri Valley Conference, a separate entity from the MVFC that does not sponsor football.[155]

The MVFC would eventually lose Western Illinois, which left the non-football Summit League for the OVC in 2023. The football team will play the 2023 season in the MVFC before leaving for the Big South–OVC football alliance in 2024.[134]

Southern Conference[edit]

While the Southern Conference (SoCon) had no change to its full membership, the addition of men's lacrosse by the Atlantic 10 Conference led to the SoCon disbanding its men's lacrosse league after the 2022 season. The SoCon had sponsored men's lacrosse since the 2015 season, when it took over operational control of the ASUN men's lacrosse league.[156] As part of an agreement with the SoCon, the ASUN reestablished men's lacrosse for the 2022 season, with full member Bellarmine joined by five new single-sport members, while another full ASUN member, Jacksonville, stayed in SoCon men's lacrosse with a mixture of full SoCon members and affiliates.

With Hampton moving to the CAA and affiliates High Point and Richmond (the latter a full A-10 member) moving the sport to the A-10, the SoCon was left with only three men's lacrosse members, with six required to maintain its automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Accordingly, Jacksonville and full SoCon member Mercer moved that sport to the ASUN,[157] while VMI, also a full SoCon member, returned to its former men's lacrosse home of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.[158]

Non-football Division I conferences affected[edit]

America East Conference[edit]

On May 6, 2021, America East Conference (AmEast) member Hartford's governing board voted to begin the process of transitioning the school's athletic program from Division I to Division III.[159] The plan calls for the following steps:

  • January 2022: Formal request for reclassification with the NCAA.
  • 2022–23: No athletic scholarships will be awarded to incoming students.
  • 2023–24: Become a provisional member in a D-III conference to be determined; transition remaining students off athletic scholarships by the end of that school year.
  • 2024–25: Become a full member of the aforementioned D-III conference.
  • 2025–26: Full D-III membership.

Hartford left the AmEast on July 1, 2022, competing as a Division I independent in 2022–23 before joining its new D-III home of the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) in 2023, with the CCC announcing Hartford's arrival on June 21, 2022.[160]

On January 25, Stony Brook was announced as a full member of the Colonial Athletic Association (now known as Coastal Athletic Association) starting in 2022–23. The school has been a member of CAA Football since 2013.

A little more than two months later on March 29, Bryant was announced as a new member of the America East Conference starting in 2022–23. As noted earlier, Bryant football joined the Big South Conference at that time, became part of the Big South–OVC football alliance in 2023, and will join CAA Football in 2024.

Atlantic 10 Conference[edit]

On November 16, 2021, the Atlantic 10 Conference (A-10) announced that Loyola Chicago would join the conference starting with the 2022–23 season. As the A-10 does not anticipate gaining or losing any further full members for the foreseeable future, the conference now has 15 members.[161]

Formation of A-10 men's lacrosse league[edit]

For several years, the A-10 had been working toward establishing a men's lacrosse league. As of the 2022 season (2021–22 school year), four of its full members (Richmond, St. Bonaventure, Saint Joseph's, and UMass) sponsored men's lacrosse, two short of the number of members required for an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.[156] On February 2, 2022, USA Lacrosse Magazine reported that the A-10 was evaluating Fairfield, High Point, and Hobart as potential affiliates to reach the required membership total.[162] The A-10 officially announced the addition of men's lacrosse on May 23, 2022, with the four full members joined by High Point and Hobart.[163]

Accordingly, this meant that all of the aforementioned programs would be leaving their current conferences in order to join the A-10's new league. The Colonial Athletic Association, which was the former home of UMass men's lacrosse, was also going through a realignment of its own (see CAA section) and planned on bringing in more lacrosse sponsoring institutions to the conference, while the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, St. Bonaventure's former home, still sat at 6 members even after the Bonnies' departure. However, the Northeast Conference, former home of Saint Joseph's and Hobart, as well as the Southern Conference, former home of High Point and Richmond, were put in a more trying situation. The NEC, while also losing the aforementioned two programs, was also losing Bryant and Mount St. Mary's, two full NEC members that both sponsored men's lacrosse. Meanwhile, the SoCon was already sitting precariously at 6 men's lacrosse institutions, and simply couldn't afford to lose any of their members. This left both conferences with only 4 men's lacrosse sponsoring members each, and with no other option available to them, both conferences announced they would stop sponsoring the sport effective with the 2023 season.[164] Three of the four lacrosse programs in the NEC (LIU, Sacred Heart, and Wagner) announced they would join the MAAC as men's lacrosse affiliates, while the fourth, Merrimack, ultimately announced it would house its men's lacrosse program in the America East Conference.[165] For the SoCon, VMI announced it too would be joining the MAAC in lacrosse, which was its former home for the sport from 2002 to 2013. Meanwhile, Jacksonville returned to its full-time home of the ASUN Conference,[m] joined by Mercer as an affiliate, while Hampton, who was poised to join the CAA as a full member in 2022, had already made plans to move its lacrosse program to the conference as well.

Horizon League[edit]

On January 22, 2022, CBSSports.com reported that UIC would leave the Horizon League for the MVC in July.[166] This report was confirmed on January 26 when UIC was unveiled as a new MVC member, effective that July.[167] The Horizon League dropped to 11 members going forward.

On July 6, 2022, the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) and Horizon League announced their plans to merge their respective men's tennis leagues effective in the 2022–23 academic year, as already noted. OVC members that sponsor the sport, as well as Belmont, which had left the OVC days earlier for the Missouri Valley Conference, now compete as Horizon affiliate members. Chicago State also became an affiliate member in both men's and women's tennis. The Horizon's men's tennis championship now has 11 members.[133]

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference[edit]

On May 2, 2022, the MAAC announced that Mount St. Mary's University would be Monmouth's replacement in the conference starting with the 2022-23 season, maintaining the MAAC's membership at 11 schools.[146]

Missouri Valley Conference[edit]

Losing Loyola Chicago, whose men's basketball team had made the Final Four in 2018 and Sweet Sixteen in 2021, was a significant athletic blow to the MVC, but was arguably a larger institutional blow. The Chicago area, especially its suburbs, is a major source of students for many MVC members, and Loyola's departure would leave the conference without a significant presence in the city.[n][168] The basketball issue was addressed with the addition of Belmont and Murray State, both frequent contenders for NCAA men's tournament berths, putting the Missouri Valley Conference at 11 members.[125][126][161] The issue of a Chicago presence was addressed by entering into negotiations with the city's largest university, UIC. CBSSports.com reported on January 22, 2022, that UIC had indeed been invited and accepted;[166] this move was made official four days later.[167] The conference reportedly reached out to Kansas City of the Summit League for potential membership before this, in addition to UIC, as well as Sun Belt member UT Arlington (which instead rejoined the WAC).[169]

Summit League[edit]

On May 12, 2023, Western Illinois University announced that it would leave the Summit League for the Ohio Valley Conference that July.[134] As noted earlier, the men's soccer team will remain in the Summit through the 2023 season, after which it will join the OVC. Western Illinois had been a member of the Summit since its 1982 formation as the Association of Mid-Continent Universities, and was the last one of these schools to remain in the conference.

West Coast Conference[edit]

With Brigham Young University leaving the West Coast Conference for the Big 12 in 2023, the WCC dropped to 9 members going forward.[9]

On July 19, 2022 it was announced that the WCC would add men's water polo in 2023–24 with seven members—the four WCC members that sponsor the sport (Loyola Marymount, Pacific, Pepperdine and Santa Clara) plus three affiliates (Air Force, California Baptist and San Jose State).[170] Consequently, two water polo-only conferences were directly affected: the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) lost four of its then-current nine men's members and the Golden Coast Conference (GCC) lost three of its then-current six men's members (neither conference's women's side was affected).

Big West Conference[edit]

The Big West Conference (BWC) has so far had no changes in its full-time membership during the realignment cycle. However, the conference announced plans to add three sports.

Men's water polo was added effective in the 2023 season (2023–24 school year) with six full conference members—Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara.[1] Of these schools, Long Beach State, UC Irvine, and UC Santa Barbara had been the last three members of the men's side of the GCC; UC Davis and UC San Diego had been in the WWPA; and Cal State Fullerton launched new varsity teams in both men's and women's water polo.[171]

Men's and women's swimming & diving will be added in 2024–25.[172]

Ice hockey conferences affected[edit]

Central Collegiate Hockey Association[edit]

On June 28, 2019, seven schools from the ten-member men's side of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) began the process of withdrawing from the conference, with the intent of forming a new conference for the 2021–22 season. These seven schools were Bemidji State, Bowling Green (who had retained the rights to the CCHA name), Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan. The seven schools cited a more compact geographic footprint as one reason for the move; the remaining three WCHA members, Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska and Alaska–Anchorage, all geographic outliers in the WCHA, were notably absent.[173] On February 18, 2020 these seven schools announced they would begin competing in a new CCHA in 2021–22.[174] Later that year, the University of St. Thomas, a former D-III school who had been granted a waiver by the NCAA earlier in the year to transition directly to D-I, was announced to be joining the new CCHA as a member on July 29, 2020, bringing the membership up to an even eight teams.[175]

On May 17, 2022, Augustana University was announced as the league's ninth member. The Vikings will play a partial league schedule in the 2023–24 and 2024-25 seasons before playing a full league schedule in 2025-26.[176]

Western Collegiate Hockey Association[edit]

The WCHA men's side was forced to disband after seven of its 10 schools left the conference to reestablish the CCHA starting in the 2021–22 academic year.[3][4] Of the other three remaining programs, Alabama-Huntsville program was disbanded after the 2020–21 season, Alaska program became independent, and Alaska–Anchorage program would be cut after the 2020-21 season due to a reduction in state funding unless the program could raise $3 million, and the program went on hiatus that year while its future was uncertain.[177] Ultimately, the program was saved, and it returned to play in the 2022-23 season as an independent, following the dissolution of the men's side of its former conference, the WCHA.[178]

The WCHA still operates as a women's ice hockey-only conference and the women's WCHA announced a further expansion effective in 2021–22 with the arrival of St. Thomas, a Twin Cities school that received NCAA approval to directly transition from Division III.[179][180] The Summit League offered the Tommies a D-I home, and backed the school's bid to directly transition from D-III.[181] Interestingly, St. Thomas is a member of the men's ice hockey-only CCHA (the conference that replaced the WCHA on the men's side), while being a WCHA member for its women's program.

National Collegiate Hockey Conference[edit]

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference, which had not had a membership change since its formation in 2011 and start of play in 2013, announced on July 5, 2023 that Arizona State would become the league's ninth member in 2024. The Sun Devils have played as a D-I independent since being elevated from club to varsity status in 2015.[182]

Women's ice hockey[edit]

New England Women's Hockey Alliance[edit]

Stonehill, which had announced a move up from Division II, added women's ice hockey starting in 2022–23, joining the New England Women's Hockey Alliance (NEWHA).[183]

On June 29, 2022, the NEWHA announced that it would expand to 8 members with the addition of Assumption University, which officially joined for administrative purposes on July 1 but did not start conference play until launching its varsity program in the 2023–24 season.[184]

Men's water polo[edit]

As noted above, the men's side of the Golden Coast Conference (GCC) disbanded following the 2022 men's season (2022–23 school year) after all of its final six members left for the new men's water polo leagues of the Big West and West Coast Conferences. The GCC remains in operation as a women-only conference.[185]

The men's side of the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA), which lost four of its members to the West Coast Conference's new league, reloaded by adding four Division II members effective with the 2023 season—Gannon, McKendree, Mercyhurst, and Salem. All were already WWPA women's members.[186]


  1. ^ Arizona, Arizona State, Northern Arizona
  2. ^ A contractual term that, in this context, calls for all conference members to sign over their media rights to the conference in exchange for annual payouts during the term of the contract.
  3. ^ Arizona–Arizona State, California–Stanford, Colorado–Utah, Oregon–Oregon State, UCLA–USC, and Washington–Washington State
  4. ^ One of those Stanford products was Forde's daughter Brooke, a swimmer.
  5. ^ In the NCAA context, "Olympic sports" most often refers to sports other than football and basketball, whether or not they are contested in the Olympic Games.
  6. ^ The NCAA sponsors bowling only for women. Men's college bowling is governed outside the NCAA by the United States Bowling Congress.
  7. ^ While the school's legal name did not change until July 1, 2022, it began using "Utah Tech" as its forward-facing name that May.
  8. ^ The conference still uses "ASUN" as its official abbreviation.
  9. ^ Representing Queens University of Charlotte, and not to be confused with Queens College in New York City, which remains in D-II.
  10. ^ Once a conference drops below the required level of sponsorship to qualify for an automatic bid in a given sport, it has a two-year grace period before it loses that bid. With WIU men's soccer staying in the Summit League through 2023–24, that conference has until 2026–27 to restore its men's soccer membership to the required level.
  11. ^ The NCAA's top-level championship in men's volleyball is open to both D-I and D-II members, and scholarship limits are the same across both divisions.
  12. ^ At the time of announcement, Daemen was a full D-II member, while D'Youville was shortly to enter the final year of its three-year transition from NCAA Division III.
  13. ^ When the ASUN reestablished its men's lacrosse league for the 2022 season, Jacksonville remained in SoCon men's lacrosse under the terms of an agreement between the ASUN and SoCon.
  14. ^ At the time, the MVC had another member in the Chicago area, Valparaiso, but that school is on the eastern fringes of the federally defined Chicago area (as opposed to Loyola being in Chicago proper), and has less than a third of the enrollment of Loyola.

Membership change statistics[edit]

Full membership[edit]

Conference Old membership total New membership total Net change Members added Members lost
ACC 15 18 +3 3 0
America East 10 9 −1 1 2
American 11 13 +2 6 4
ASUN 9 11 +2 5 3
Atlantic 10 14 15 +1 1 0
Big 12 10 16 +6 8 2
Big East 11 11 0 0 0
Big South 12 9 −3 0 3
Big Sky 11 10 −1 0 1
Big Ten 14 18 +4 4 0
Colonial/Coastal (CAA) 10 14 +4 5 1
Conference USA 14 10 −4 5 9
Horizon 12 11 −1 0 1
Independent 0 1 +1 2 1
MAAC 11 11 0 1 1
Missouri Valley 10 12 +2 3 1
Northeast 10 9 −1 2 3
Ohio Valley 12 11 −1 4 5
Pac-12 12 2 −10 0 10
SEC 14 16 +2 2 0
Southland 13 10 −3 2 5
Summit 10 9 −1 0 1
Sun Belt 12 14 +2 4 2
West Coast 10 9 −1 0 1
WAC 9 11 +2 6 4


The following table is reflective of both football-only membership changes and full membership changes that include football. This does not reflect the impending football-only merger of the Big South and OVC because full organizational details of the merger have yet to be announced.

Conference Subdivision Old membership total New membership total Net change Members added Members lost
ACC FBS 14 17 +3 3 0
American FBS 11 13 +2 6 4
ASUN FCS 0 4 +4 6 2
Big Sky FCS 13 12 −1 0 1
Big South FCS 9 3 −6 1 7
Big 12 FBS 10 16 +6 8 2
Big Ten FBS 14 18 +4 4 0
CAA Football FCS 12 16 +4 5 1
Conference USA FBS 14 10 −4 5 9
MAC FBS 12 12 0 0 0
MVFC FCS 11 11 0 1 1
Northeast FCS 8 8 0 1 1
Ohio Valley FCS 9 7 −2 2 4
Pac-12 FBS 12 2 −10 0 10
SEC FBS 14 16 +2 2 0
Southland FCS 11 8 −3 2 5
Sun Belt FBS 10 14 +4 4 0
WAC FCS 0 6 +6 8 2

See also[edit]


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