Now that we have seemed to reach a pause in major-school realignment, at least for a while, which individual school and which major conference would you deem the biggest winner and the biggest loser from how realignment has played out? (And by limiting this question to "major conferences," I'm eliminating the Big East and remaining members UConn and Cincinnati from consideration for biggest loser, since this would otherwise be too easy a question to answer.) And what wound up surprising you the most about how realignment has played out?
For an individual school, the biggest winner is Rutgers. Some other schools might have made bigger immediate financial gains by moving from non-AQ conferences to power leagues, such as Utah to the Pac-12 and TCU to the Big 12, but it took some Herculean accomplishments on the football field for them to make those jumps.
Rutgers, on the other hand, will be getting the largest long-term financial, exposure and prestige windfall based almost entirely on being in the right location (right outside of the New York City market) at the right time (the Big Ten needed another Eastern school to come in with Maryland). To be sure, Rutgers did make significant football investments over the past decade and they have become a competitive program, but they still ultimately got an invite to the most powerful and academically prestigious athletic conference based the size of its TV market and potential as opposed to historical accomplishments. As a Big Ten guy, I hope that the move works out (although I've stated my reservations about it on my blog several times).
It's tough to say that any individual school that's still in a power conference is a "loser" since it's such a stark difference between being in a power league versus getting stuck in the Gang of Five. What conference realignment did, though, was put some schools on notice that they're not necessarily protected if conferences ever start blowing each other up again.
Look at how close Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State and even a powerful basketball blue blood like Kansas were to getting relegated when Texas and friends were considering Larry Scott's Pac-16 proposal. When people were talking about the ACC getting picked apart (and to be clear, I was consistently arguing that John Swofford's group was much stronger than what people gave them credit for when rumors were flying around about their demise), a school like Wake Forest had to start thinking about contingency plans that they never thought would be necessary. I think it's fair to say that anyone in the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 is safe, but the schools that don't generate a great amount of revenue in the Big 12 and ACC are never going to be fully comfortable.
As for conferences, it pains me to say this as a Big Ten fan and will probably pain the Texas fans reading here to hear it, but the SEC was the biggest winner. The Big Ten got the best national brand name available in conference realignment (Nebraska) and will almost certainly continue to make the most TV money by far with the additions of Rutgers and Maryland, so it's not as of though they've slouched at all, yet the SEC getting Texas A&M had the highest impact for as a combo for both football on-the-field and TV dollars off-the-field. (The households in Missouri are gravy.)
I'm not just talking about A&M's success last year -- it's the fact that the SEC already had the best pound-for-pound football recruiting territory in the country and now has added a legit permanent foothold in the state of Texas. I'm the furthest thing from an ESS-EEE-SEE bloviator, but the long-term implications of combining elite recruits from Texas on top of the ones from Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi should scare the crap out of any non-SEC fan.The move also allowed the SEC to come back to the table to renegotiate its TV deal with ESPN to create the SEC Network that will draw in cable dollars from markets from Texas to Florida. With all of this, the SEC even managed to improve its academic profile since A&M and Missouri are both AAU members.
To that end, the Big 12 was definitely the biggest loser in realignment. The league has been able to keep up the quality on-the-field play by integrating TCU and West Virginia, will probably always draw in great football recruits simply because of its presence in the state of Texas, and managed to increase its TV and bowl payouts despite the defections, but the conference is clearly worse off compared to the other power conferences.
A national brand with a massive fan base (Nebraska), the second most popular school in the state of Texas (A&M), and two AAU flagship institutions with what were the conference's largest non-Texas population bases (Missouri and Colorado) all left. It doesn't matter how many wins TCU and West Virginia can garner on-the-field: there's no college administrator in the country that would ever trade the four institutions that left the Big 12 for the two that came in to replace them. (That's not a knock on either TCU and West Virginia, who have incredibly well-run athletic departments, but rather speaks to the quality that the Big 12 lost.)
The demographics of the state of Texas proper are great, yet the Big 12 demographic profile outside of the Lone Star State is the worst of any power conference (which is the exact same problem that faced the old Southwestern Conference and Big 8 two decades ago prior to partially combining to form the Big 12).
Now, Texas as an individual institution may be perfectly fine with that since that's the school that has the ultimate combo of a national brand name, top academics, a massive market, and an elite recruiting territory. So, UT itself might be better off today (with the significant exception of rival A&M now having the differentiator of being in the SEC as a selling point to fans and recruits), but the Big 12 overall isn't.