Realignment Shuffles Plenty Of Conferences

Football- and basketball-driven realignment has left college athletics in a state of great upheaval, and baseball is just along for the ride, like every other sport. Some baseball programs will benefit from the jostling, while others will suffer. Some conferences are getting stronger in baseball, and others are getting weaker.

There are plenty more changes on the way over the next few years, and every week seems to bring new rumblings of potential moves that have not yet come to fruition. All college baseball coaches can do is hang on tight and hope for the best.

For now, we’ll concentrate on what we know for sure: 11 conferences will welcome a total of 20 new teams for the 2013 baseball season. Below, we’ll chart all this year’s newcomers and break down which teams and conferences stand to gain from the transactions, and which will be worse off.

Atlantic 10 Newcomers

Butler (from Horizon)

Virginia Commonwealth (from CAA)

BOTTOM LINE FOR BASEBALL: Butler and VCU join the A-10 a year ahead of schedule because the by-laws in their previous conferences would have made them ineligible for conference tournaments this year after they announced their intentions to depart. The A-10 adds a quality VCU program that has regularly contended for regionals in the deeper Colonial Athletic Association. Butler gives A-10 basketball a serious jolt, but the Bulldogs haven’t posted a winning baseball season since 2003. Still, these two schools are acceptable replacements for Charlotte (to Conference USA) and Temple (to the Big East), who leave  next year.

Atlantic Sun Newcomer

Northern Kentucky (from Division II)

BOTTOM LINE FOR BASEBALL: The Norse reclassifies as a D-I institution after a strong run in D-II. Northern Kentucky has averaged 36 wins per year in 12 seasons under coach Todd Asalon. But the A-Sun loses a robust Belmont program that has made back-to-back trips to regionals, winning 38 and 39 games over the last two seasons. This is a clearly a net loss for the league.

Big 12 Newcomers

Texas Christian (from Mountain West)

West Virginia (from Big East)

BOTTOM LINE FOR BASEBALL: The Big 12 replaces a power (Texas A&M) with a comparable power (TCU), and a quality Missouri program that has made seven regionals in the past decade with a much weaker cold-weather program in West Virginia, which hasn’t been to regionals since 1996. The Big 12 only takes a minor hit in this transaction, and TCU is a huge winner, because it has the talent and infrastructure in place to compete annually in a stronger conference. West Virginia faces a long, grueling road to respectability in its new league, but hiring the seasoned and determined Randy Mazey as head coach was a step in the right direction. This move also will force the school to ramp up its commitment to baseball through facilities improvements and budget upgrades.

Big South Newcomer

Longwood (from D-I independents)

BOTTOM LINE FOR BASEBALL: The Lancers have quickly established themselves as a sound Division I program since reclassifying from D-II in 2008, posting four straight winning seasons after a respectable 23-26 debut. Long-time coach Buddy Bolding will retire after this season, but he’ll leave his program in good shape, and it should be a nice addition for the stable Big South, which does not have any other changes looming on the horizon.

Big West Newcomer

Hawaii (from Western Athletic Conference)

BOTTOM LINE FOR BASEBALL: This move is a big win for the Rainbows and for the Big West, although it does create added travel expenses for a league previously confined to California. The Big West is a much better geographic fit for Hawaii than the WAC—this means no more trips to Shreveport, La., to play conference games at Louisiana Tech. And it gives Hawaii more recruiting inroads in the Golden State; coach Mike Trapasso said his program has already experienced a recruiting uptick since the switch to the Big West was announced. Of course, it will be more difficult for Hawaii to win conference championships in the more-competitive Big West, but the Rainbows have the best facility and fan base in the conference and should be able to compete just fine. As for the Big West, adding a stout program with a rich tradition only makes the conference stronger.

Mountain West Newcomers

Fresno State (from WAC)

Nevada (from WAC)

BOTTOM LINE FOR BASEBALL: Certainly, the Mountain West will miss TCU, the dominant program in the league since it joined in 2006. But Fresno is a very suitable replacement with a more storied tradition, great facilities and, of course, a recent national title. The Bulldogs are also a better geographic fit for a conference that is now entirely situated in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. Nevada is a solid addition that has produced plenty of big leaguers over the last 15 years and won 32 or more games four times in the last six years, though it hasn’t been to a regional since 2000. The addition of these two programs also gets the MWC back to six teams, keeping its automatic bid intact. San Jose State joins next year, boosting the league membership to seven. The future of the Mountain West now seems more secure.

Ohio Valley Newcomer

Belmont (from Atlantic Sun)

BOTTOM LINE FOR BASEBALL: Belmont, coming off two straight titles in the stronger A-Sun, gives the OVC a serious jolt. But this move will hurt the Bruins in the Ratings Percentage Index—they won’t get a realistic chance to earn an at-large bid out of the Ohio Valley Conference, and that door was open to them while they were in the A-Sun. The path to the automatic bid should be a bit less rigorous in the OVC, but this league still has plenty of solid programs, led by Austin Peay State, Eastern Kentucky, Jacksonville State and Eastern Illinois, so it will be far from a cakewalk for Belmont.

Southeastern Conference Newcomers

Missouri (from Big 12)

Texas A&M (from Big 12)

BOTTOM LINE FOR BASEBALL: The rich get richer with these additions. The SEC was already the predominant baseball power, and Texas A&M gives the league yet another marquee program with a gorgeous new facility. Missouri also has a strong program, but the relatively cold-weather Tigers will likely find it more difficult to make regionals out of the incomparably deep SEC. So while Mizzou should reap some recruiting advantages by moving to the league’s best conference, this move is a net loss for it.

Southland Newcomer

Oral Roberts (from Summit)

BOTTOM LINE FOR BASEBALL: The Southland receives a major shakeup, losing stalwarts Texas State, Texas-Arlington and Texas-San Antonio while welcoming Oral Roberts. Texas State and Sam Houston State have been the most successful programs in the league in recent years, but Oral Roberts at least makes up for the loss of Texas State. The Golden Eagles were the perennial juggernaut of the Summit League, where they captured 15 straight automatic bids, and they figure to fit in at or near the top of the Southland, as well. This is a great move for ORU, which now also has a realistic shot at an at-large bid, which was an impossibility in the RPI-challenged Summit. Of course, the Southland figures to take a bit of an RPI hit next year when it welcomes reclassifying programs Abilene Christian and Incarnate word, along with D-I independent New Orleans and the Great West’s Houston Baptist.

Summit Newcomer

Nebraska-Omaha (from D-I independents)

BOTTOM LINE FOR BASEBALL: Losing Oral Roberts is a huge blow to the overall quality of the league, but at least it makes the path to regionals more manageable for all the holdovers. And adding Nebraska-Omaha keeps the Summit at six teams, ensuring the safety of its automatic bid (the NCAA requires a conference to field at least six teams to earn an automatic bid, though there is a grace period).

Western Athletic Newcomers

Cal State Bakersfield (from D-I independents)

Dallas Baptist (from D-I independents)

Seattle (from D-I independents)

Texas-Arlington (from Southland)

Texas-San Antonio (from Southland)

Texas State (from Southland)

BOTTOM LINE FOR BASEBALL: It isn’t easy to sort out the ever-shifting permutations of the WAC, but we’ll try. The league’s two primary powers, Fresno State and Hawaii, are gone, along with Nevada. The four holdovers are joined by a strong group of six newcomers this year, giving the WAC a chance to earn multiple NCAA tournament bids in 2013. But the four Texas schools are only making a one-year cameo in the WAC before moving on—DBU for the Missouri Valley Conference, UTSA for Conference USA, Texas State and UTA for the Sun Belt. Louisiana Tech also leaves next year for C-USA, and San Jose State will head to the Mountain West. That will leave Cal State Bakersfield, New Mexico State, Sacramento State and Seattle in the WAC, along with next year’s four newcomers—Utah Valley, Northern Colorado, Chicago State and reclassifying Grand Canyon. Got all that? Us, neither. Anyway, when (or perhaps we should say if) the dust settles next year, the WAC will be left as a weaker baseball conference, though Utah Valley, Cal State Bakersfield and Seattle seem to be programs on the rise, and all three are winners by virtue of heading to a conference with an automatic bid. The new-look league should be respectable, at least.