Conference upheaval is nothing new. Two of the greatest college football conferences ever, the Southwest Conference and the Southern Conference, are either defunct or now exist in name only. The Pac-8 became the Pac-10 and now the Pac-12, and a Pac-16 may not be far off. More recently, the Big East was forced to reshuffle its deck six years ago.
That all seems minor and quaint at present, with the Big 12 and Big East facing rumors they might fold amid news that some of their oldest and proudest members are bolting for new leagues. Syracuse and Pittsburgh brought the crisis to the Northeast this weekend with news that they plan to join the ACC as soon as possible.
The timing of all this movement is no coincidence. The Bowl Championship Series reportedly will re-evaluate its membership after the 2011 season, which means conferences with automatic BCS berths (known as "automatic qualifier" conferences) could lose that honor. An even bigger threat is that the SEC, Big Ten, ACC and Pac-12 could form four "super conferences," secede from the NCAA and govern their own football body, complete with a true playoff system. This would cut into those big paychecks bowl executives and NCAA receive under the existing bowl system.
At the very least, the Big East's automatic qualifier status is in jeopardy. Since 2004, the conference has lost Miami, Boston College, Virginia Tech and now Syracuse and Pitt. The Mountain West Conference, which has produced BCS busters Boise State, TCU and Utah (now a member of the Pac-12), might be poised to steal that status, if the BCS determines it still wants five or six AQ members.
If the Big East loses its BCS status, it could spell the end of its days as Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) conference altogether. It's unlikely West Virginia and Rutgers would want to throw in with the likes of Villanova and Georgetown, if it comes to that. And if the conference loses its prime money-making sport, what are the chances it might fold entirely?