Realignment is a continual undertone beneath college football. What happens when the dam breaks? And how could that impact Rice football?
Much has been speculated about what the landscape of college sports might look like in the coming years. Regional scheduling, realignment, partial realignment and expansion have all been bandied about in some form or fashion. But what does that mean for Rice football? Where will the Owls stand if and when chaos does shake up the sport?
Conference USA and its potential tipping point
The list of “what ifs” is long, but the bulk of the options revolve around the membership situation on Conference USA. If and when that membership changes, Rice will need to be quick to respond.
If someone leaves C-USA for greener pastures (the AAC or otherwise), the conference will need to decide on new membership. At the extreme, C-USA could proactively initiate a merger of some sort, pairing Rice with more geographically similar schools.
Or more chaotic still, what happens if Conference USA folds? Where would Rice go? Could independence or the FCS ranks be options? Independnce would be challenging, both logistically and financially. Playing in the FCS would require the program to swallow some pride, but the long term optics might return some swagger to the program. It’s hard to say definitively if either would be the “best” option for the Owls.
The truth is, everything would likely be on the table if Rice found themselves suddenly conference-less, including the possibility of the Owls founding a new conference in the midst of the chaos.
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As mention in the AAC expansion conversation, the best thing for Rice football to do in the present is win. Winning will open doors while losing will close them. TCU didn’t magically arrive in the Big 12. They were in the right time at the right place, waiting to jump through the door as soon as it opened.
Right now there’s no way to know what doors will open or shut for the Owls in the near future. The current climate of the sport suggests an extended run of stability is unlikely.
Conference USA is nowhere near the top of the pecking order. It shares the lower runs with the Sun Belt in terms of prominence and has little cache as a collective. Individual brands and schools are interesting, but the collection of 14 institutions seems more convenient than beloved. There will be change. When and where? No one knows.