Alabama hoisted the crystal ball trophy some six months ago, Louisville cut the Final Four nets in April. The spring sports titles are in the books. But college sports officially closed the operating year on June 30 and opened the ledger for 2013-14 on Monday.
It also means the first day of new conference addresses for 49 schools in Division I.
These moves are largely realignment trickle down, fallout from changes in previous years that reshaped the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Big 12, Atlantic Coast and Pac-12.
Oh, there are some heavyweight moves: Notre Dame enters the ACC for its sports other than football, and Syracuse and Pittsburgh bring all their sports to the basketball-centric conference.
The Big East as we know it is gone, replaced by two entities, the football-playing
American Athletic Conference
, and the non-football new Big East with familiar names Georgetown and Marquette linking with newcomers Butler, Creighton and Xavier.
The remaining power-league moves — Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten, Louisville to the ACC — happen in 2014.
This year, it’s about Conference USA, the Colonial, Sun Belt and Western Athletic, which now includes UMKC. They all made moves to strengthen and survive. The WAC was on life support a year ago, but will continue without football and keeps its automatic qualifier status to the NCAA Tournament.
One conference did not survive. The Great West officially dissolved on Monday, ending a 10-year run.
The league was down to five members in 2012-13: Chicago State, Houston Baptist, NJIT, Texas-Pan American and Utah Valley. All but NJIT have found new conference homes.
The Great West could never obtain an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for its champion, which ultimately doomed the conference.
Is college sports finished reshaping? In the short term, it appears so. Schools and conferences at the top level seem content to move along with current membership and see how the College Football Playoff, beginning in 2014, shakes out.
Also, media contracts signed by the major conferences in the past few years extend into the 2020s and beyond.
Still, after a period of about four years of massive shakeups, no commissioner or athletic director will become complacent. Schools constantly are evaluating their value in the marketplace — Kansas’ recently announced third-tier deal with ESPN3 is the latest example — and that will guide future decisions.
But here’s something to consider. The next phase of realignment may not involve schools jumping conferences, but the richest conferences banding together to form a new classification, complete with its own financial structure and rulebook.
In a new classification, richer schools and conferences could determine issues like stipends for athletes – or even allowing them to cash in on their likeness, allowing them to operate without restrictions that apply to other schools because they don’t have the same budgets or ambitions.