• Diane Roberts

The Athletic's Chris Vannini Talks College Football Realignment

by Diane Roberts

We wanted to dig deeper into the college football conference realignment, so I connected with a reporter who has his finger on the pulse of the story: Chris Vannini, national college football reporter for The Athletic. Here is our conversation:

Diane Roberts: So, joining me now is Chris Vannini. He's the National College Football Reporter for The Athletic. He's been on top of this realignment story since it broke this summer. Of course, Chris, we tried to talk to you last week and then everything that was a maybe became reality, and it's all final now.

So, what do you make of the realignment for the AAC, the expansion? What does it mean for the service academies?

Chris Vannini, The Athletic: Well, it's not totally done because you've got the Sun Belt and Conference USA still working on their deal, but as far as the service academies, it likely is done. The American has added six teams from Conference USA. I think three of them come from Texas, and I think that's where, if you're Navy, that's where the biggest benefit comes from.

The state of Texas is obviously a big place for all of the service academies to recruit players [and] to play games. I mean, Air Force and Army are playing here in Dallas in a couple of weeks [in the Commanders' Classic on November 3rd], so I think Navy has to be pretty happy with that.

The American will be up to 14 teams, so it's going to be pretty big. I'm curious if the conference goes to divisions, if Navy could be in the West to be with those Texas teams for that exact reason. But yeah, so Navy's got a lot of new partners in football.

Air Force is sticking in the Mountain West and Army's sticking as a football independent.

Diane: You mentioned Army. They are an independent, at least in football. How does this realignment play out for them, do you think?

Chris Vannini: I think they stick with where they're are. I mean, they have a couple of goals and they currently accomplish those goals. They do what they can in the Patriot League for most sports, they play the Army-Navy game at the end of the year and they try to have a good season with an independent schedule. But I think Army generally likes where they're at.

You know, they don't have aspirations to try to necessarily win a conference championship, play in a New Year's Six-type of bowl game. I think they know what they want to do, and their current setup sets them up to do that.

I think the fact that the American went to 14 [football schools] would seem to indicate that any expansion further would be a tall task. Obviously, Air Force was interested in the American, but now that the American is so big, making that kind of move, I'm curious if it's more or less likely now.

Obviously, there's a lot of Texas schools -- Air Force likes that. -- but if it's already a conference that's 14 teams deep, I'm not sure how appealing that is either, so I think it'll be a few years before we can get anything major coming out of them.

Diane: Navy has -- I believe it's three -- commitments for three non-conference games every year. And of course, the CIC rivals and then Notre Dame. So what might this new ACC realignment do for scheduling in that regard?

Chris Vannini: Well, it's mostly just going to impact conference play, and that's going to mean probably a lot more trips up to Texas, to Houston for Rice, to San Antonio for UTSA, to Dallas for both North Texas and SMU, which is already, obviously, a game that happens. And Navy, I believe was in the West Division before UConn left, and they kind of got rid of divisions for a couple of years. So I wouldn't be surprised if we see Navy traveling out to Texas a lot more in the regular season in those conference games.

Diane: So now here in college football, we see a lot of what looks like mega conferences now, and I asked Chet Gladchuk about that as well.: Does he sort of see this as the future? And he says that is kind of the way it's going. What do you make of it?

Chris Vannini: Now, whether it's a couple of conferences, whether it's one big conference, I mean, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the same thing in an interview last week. We're down the road. Maybe it's the top 40, 50 teams or something like that do something on their own because frankly, there will just be more money to do that.

It's the same way soccer works in England, where the richest teams all try to kind of want to do their own thing. And overall, I think it's bad for college sports. I don't think consolidation in any form is going to be helpful. But in a time when everybody is thinking short term, you know, in a time where money is everything, that feels like the way it's going to go.

So I don't know if it's five years, 10 years, 20 years ... who knows? But Texas and Oklahoma going to the SEC is a clear indication of where priorities largely are.

Diane: Well, you touched on it -- money, money and exposure. For fans it's a game, but for schools, it's a business. So it's about more than just playing the game and the rivalries and the opponents. It's about big money in television and all of that as well. Do you see any potential geographical rivalries that might crop up with the addition of all these Texas schools into the AAC for Navy and for Navy?

Chris Vannini: Yeah, I think Navy, especially if, again, if they're in a western division with those schools, I think you're going to see that a lot. I did a a survey of Texas high school coaches over the summer to kind of get their feeling of just what recruiting is like in the state of Texas. And when you ask them who recruits Texas well, a number of them said the service academies. Because they're not going for the five-star, the four-star kid, but they're going for a lot of kids. Because they signed gigantic classes because, you know, the rules are a bit different for them.

So they get a lot of kids from Texas. And now, you know, the UTSA's, the Rices, the North Texases, now they're going to be going up against Navy, not only in recruiting, but also on the field.

So I'm curious to see kind of what that relationship is going to be like down the road.

Diane: Do you ever foresee a time where Navy, Army and Air Force can all be in one conference?

Chris Vannini: It's possible. The biggest thing is the Army-Navy Game and whether it's at the end of the year or not. I know Chet Gladchuk said he was open to it. I don't think Army is as open to it, and with the expanded playoffs coming at some point, that could impact the schedule as well, that first round playoff could overlap with the game.

So it's possible that the schedules get moved around and things can happen. But the future of Group of five conferences over the next 10 years, I'm not really sure where it goes.

Diane: Thank you so much, Chris Vannini, the National College Football Reporter for The Athletic. Where else can we find your work?

Chris Vannini: Yeah, just The college football section, always got a lot of stuff going on there. And then just @ChrisVannini on Twitter.

Diane: Very good, Chris. Thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

edited for web by Joe Harman