The Evolution of Intercollegiate Athletics Conferences

Open Access
Kehoe, Christina Rose
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • John C Powell, Thesis Supervisor
  • Jennifer Chang Coupland, Honors Advisor
  • marketing
  • sports
  • NCAA
  • brand
The process of how intercollegiate athletics operate constantly changes throughout the years. Beginning in the late 19th century, college sports ran on a small-scale and in a very unorganized fashion. In contrast, the organized, methodical workings of college sports today pose a very drastic change from some 150 years ago. With the vast growth and expansion of college sports, the alignment of collegiate conferences changes frequently. Previously strong conferences, such as the Big East, evolve into has-beens as universities jump ship to new conferences and new benefits. While schools generally do not reveal the cause for their move from conference to conference, one main source seems to stick out as it skyrockets from deal to deal: media rights. These extreme changes in conference alignment are cause for concern as collegiate athletics stray away from their roots and traditions. These changes also pose a problem for athletes and universities, as the student-athletes travel farther and farther for a single game or match, only to travel all the way back to the university to attend classes. As realignment continues, prominent conferences seek out universities that provide them monetary benefit while ignoring whether or not they fit geographically or within the context of the conference brand or traditions. Although the college sports industry has experienced increasing monetary benefits over the years, the shift in realignment still poses one looming question: Will the current rush to conference realignment produce a structure that best supports the long-term interests of the collegiate sports model, universities, their brands and their student-athletes?