This is part of an ongoing series covering various college realignment news for all three NCAA Divisions as well as the NAIA. The roundup below will cover news and reports since mid-February 2023 and provide additional updates/reports on previously discussed topics. As a reminder, all official moves starting with the 2023-24 academic year and beyond can be found on our realignment list.
We’ll break out the reports for each Division in the following order: Division 1, Division 2, Division 3, and NAIA. Clicking the links will bring you to that specific section. If a division is not highlighted, there has been no news in the preceding month.
Pac-12 Inching Closer to Implosion?
Ever since UCLA and USC left the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten, the college sports world has been waiting for the conference’s response… And waiting and waiting. Without a full 12 members and no TV rights deal, some conferences have been circling the waters. Now, The Athletic is reporting another round of contact between the Big 12 and Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah. The rumor mill has been hot in the last few weeks with almost every current Pac-12 school connected to another Power 5 conference. It looks like the Pac-12 days are numbered with the current membership but this is realignment and everything can change quickly including a conference sticking together after being condemned to break up.
ACC Grant of Rights Becomes a Hot Topic
Power 5 realignment rumors never truly stop and some of the biggest news involved the ACC Grant of Rights. The General Counsel for Florida State University believes the amount it would take for them to get out of the Grant of Rights (GoR) is $120 million. That figure doesn’t include some other considerations such as the loss of media revenue or the possibility of not being on TV until 2036. There’s a lot of smoke out there and it’s not hard to see what it is: certain ACC teams see all the TV revenue from the Big Ten and SEC and now they want to be a part of it.
Matt Brown has a pretty solid write-up on the whole Grant of Rights saga and thinks unequal revenue might be a possible solution. He even believes that 2027 might be another watershed moment for realignment within college athletics. What do we think? That realignment is completely circular. Certain schools left previous conferences in search of more money, which they received. Now other teams want to do the same with unequal revenue splits, which will lead to… more realignment. Will the Clemsons and Florida States of the world continue to miss out on higher TV contracts? No, they’ll pull a Texas and find more revenue by joining a new conference or leaving in the breakaway. There are a lot of ways this can go and legislation could throw a wrench into the whole thing but realignment will never stop.
WCC Hires Stu Jackson as Commissioner
The West Coast Conference announced the hire of Stu Jackson as Commissioner to run the conference. Jackson was previously the Executive Assistant Commissioner of the Big East where he oversaw all the operations for the conference. Jackson brings a wealth of basketball experience and knowledge including NBA experience. At face value, this looks like a strong hire for the WCC especially as the realignment waters get murkier as the WCC will need to shore up its ranks with BYU on the way out and Gonzaga perpetually linked to the Power 5 conferences.
ASUN-WAC FBS Conference Plan on Hold
In December, ESPN‘s Pete Thamel reported the ASUN and WAC football teams agreed to form a football-only conference and attempt to join the FBS. At the end of February, Hero Sports FCS writer Sam Herder reported that the plan has been put on hold for now. Herder stated the conference wants to establish itself as an FCS league before attempting a wholesale jump to the FBS. In the same thread, Herder echoed some of the same concerns if the NCAA allowed the move to happen. One final note from this report was that Tarleton State is targeting a jump to the FBS in the future. The 2023-24 academic year represents Tarleton State’s final transition year from Division 2 to Division 1. After that, they will be a full Division 1 member and would only need an invite from an existing FBS conference (and any legislative approvals), assuming the ASUN-WAC football conference to FBS move fails.
Talladega Applies for NCAA Division 2 Membership
Talladega College (Talladega, Alabama) plans to leave the NAIA and join the NCAA at the Division 2 level. The school announced it submitted its application for NCAA Division 2 membership in mid-February. The Tornadoes are currently a member of the Southern States Athletic Conference in the NAIA and are looking to re-join a familiar spot in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Talladega was a charter member of the SIAC when it was formed in 1913 but left in 1941. While the school did not provide a timetable for the D2 transition, it’s safe to assume it will be as soon as possible meaning a 2023-24 start would see them on a path similar to Roosevelt University (also another NAIA to NCAA D2 potential change).
Middle Georgia State Plans to Join NCAA Division 2
Middle Georgia State (Macon, Georgia) announced they plan to apply to become an NCAA Division 2 member (paywall warning). MGSU is a member of the NAIA’s SSAC alongside Talladega College. Unlike Talladega, the Knights plan on joining the Peach Belt Conference as they cited travel costs with 3 additional Georgia-based schools in the conference. MGSU is planning to play as a provisional member beginning with the 2025-26 academic year and has contingency plans in case the move to D2 doesn’t work out, according to school President Christopher Blake.
Jessup University Eyes NCAA Divison 2 PacWest Conference
Jessup University (Rocklin, California) is yet another NAIA team that is looking to join the NCAA’s Division 2 level. The school has already submitted its application to the NCAA and expects to be a provisional member in 2023-24. Jessup is currently a member of the Golden State Athletic Conference and would be the third GSAC member to leave the conference for the PacWest alongside Menlo College and Westmont College. The PacWest is losing Holy Names University starting in 2023-24 as the school has decided to drop sports after this year.
Penn State Brandywine Approved for Exploratory Year in Division 3
The NCAA has granted Penn State Brandywine an exploratory year for 2023-24 in Division 3. PSU Brandywine is currently a two-year school within the Penn State University Athletic Conference, which is part of the United States College Athletic Association (USCAA). Should the school complete the exploratory year successfully and wish to proceed with joining the NCAA, it will become a provisional D3 member beginning with the 2024-25 academic year. PSU Brandywine will compete in the USCAA during the 2023-24 exploratory year but which D3 conference they join has not been provided.
Five other Penn State University campuses are members of the Division 3 ranks: Abington, Altoona, Behrend, Berks, and Harrisburg. Abington will serve as the mentor institution for Brandywine having completed a similar transition to Division 3 from 2009 through 2012. Abington, Berks, and Harrisburg are members of the United East Conference while the duo of Altoona and Behrend are members of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference.
Finlandia University Shutting Down
Finlandia University (Hancock, Michigan) announced on Thursday, March 2 that it would not enroll students for the 2023-24 academic year. The school stated the declining enrollment numbers and its high debt as the main reasons for closing. Finlandia also announced that it would not finish the 2023 spring athletic competitions with those seasons ending the same day without a proper send-off for any senior athletes. The school has reached four agreements with Adrian College, Bay College, Michigan Tech, and Wartburg College for students to finish their studies. They are currently trying to get a fifth agreement with Northern Michigan University.
Finlandia was a member of the NCAA Divison 3 Coast to Coast Conference for all sports except football and hockey. The football team was a member of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC), which is now down to 6 members. The men’s and women’s hockey teams were in the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association, which will be down to 9 members starting in 2023-24 assuming no further changes to the membership.
Birmingham-Southern March Update
We noted back in February that Birmingham-Southern was facing financial difficulties and the school said it would provide an update around March 7. Well… it’s March 15 and there has been no update from the school on what will happen beyond the 2022-23 academic year although being linked with state funds means a potential legislative battle. We will provide an update whenever a new update has been announced for BSC’s future.
Two Schools Headed to SAA as Full Members
If there’s one area of the US that seems to be at the epicenter of realignment the last 6 months, it’s Texas. In March, two D3 schools – Southwestern University (Georgetown, Texas) and Trinity University (San Antonio, Texas) – were announced as full members of the Southern Athletic Association starting in 2025-26. The move itself is no big deal except three months ago both teams were headed to the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference for football starting in 2026-27. Things certainly can change in a hurry when realignment is afoot.
To summarize, Southwestern is currently a member of the SCAC in a majority of sports except for football, which will join the SAA as an affiliate in 2023 after spending 2017 through 2022 in the American Southwest Conference. Southwestern will then move all of its sports to the SAA in 2025-26. As for Trinity, they are also a member of the SCAC except for football, which already plays in the SAA (they’ve been an affiliate since 2017). The remainder of Trinity’s sports programs will also move to the SAA in 2025-26.
American Southwest Conference Seeking New Commissioner
The American Southwest Conference will need a new commissioner after the ASC announced Amy Carlton would leave the position by the end of the 2022-23 academic year on June 30. The conference does not have a replacement lined up for Carlton and is accepting candidates with a decision to be made by May 31. We can’t help but note the timing of the announcement happened on the heels of a number of departures from the ASC. As of this writing, the ASC has only 4 playing members committed for the long term: East Texas Baptist, Hardin-Simmons, Howard Payne, and Mary Hardin-Baylor. Three schools will be leaving the conference for the SACAC by 2026: Austin College (2024), McMurry University (2024), and Texas Lutheran (no later than 2026). Southwestern University is leaving for the SAA in 2023-24 (see the two paragraphs above this) while Sul Ross State is planning to move up to Division 2 to join the Lone Star Conference in 2024-25.
The new commissioner will have their hands full as they will need to immediately work on getting at least two new football members to join the ASC by 2024-25. The NCAA requires a minimum of 6 schools to maintain the automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA Division 3 Playoffs. Given that Mary Hardin-Baylor is a perennial title contender and Hardin-Simmons is usually in line for an at-large bid, the new commissioner will have to make sure they don’t lose its two biggest reasons for new schools to join the conference. We’ll be watching this for developments because the D3 playoffs wouldn’t be the same if UMHB had to fight for an at-large every season and it’s unlikely they would let that happen for long, if at all.
NAIA’s Trinity International Moving to Online Only
Trinity International University (Deerfield, Illinois) will be removing in-person classes and shifting to an online-only model beginning with the 2023-24 academic year due to the increasing costs of higher education combined with declining enrollment. While the open letter to the TIU community did not mention athletics, the FAQ for students makes it clear that athletics will not be part of the school in the future. The Trojans are currently a member of the NAIA’s Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference and compete as a National Christian College Athletic Association member in some sports. The CCAC will be losing 2 members in 2023 as Roosevelt University is planning a move to the NCAA Division 2 level.
GSAC Adding 4 Members in 2024
The Golden State Athletic Conference (GSAC) will add 4 new members for the 2024-25 academic year to help offset other losses in recent months. The four new members – Benedictine-Mesa (Arizona), Embry-Riddle Aeronautical (Prescott, Arizona), Park-Gilbert (Arizona), and the University of Saint Katherine (San Marcos, California) – will all leave the Cal Pac conference. The GSAC will lose Jessup University, Menlo College, and Westmont College over the next two years with all three joining the NCAA Division 2 PacWest Conference.
Ohio Christian Leaving NAIA
Ohio Christian University (Circleville, Ohio) will leave the NAIA following the 2023-24 academic year. The school decided to fully commit to the National Christian College Athletic Association as it aligns more closely with the institutional goals. The Trailblazers previously joined the NCCAA in 1981 and have maintained an association with the NCCAA even after they became a member of the River States Conference of the NAIA in 2015. The school will compete in the RSC for the 2023-24 academic year and will be a full member of the NCCAA’s Division 1 in 2024.
Photo courtesy of Utah University Athletics