Sean Pendergast

10 Biggest Rivalries College Sports Realignment Has Crushed

Realignment has robbed us, for now, of the Texas and Texas A&M rivalry, and we all miss it.
Realignment has robbed us, for now, of the Texas and Texas A&M rivalry, and we all miss it. Photo by Jack Gorman
When the book on college football this decade is written, with the good, the bad, and the ugly all outlined, anything and everything having to do with realignment of conferences should be filed, best case, under "bad" with plenty of it qualifying as "ugly."

Sure, it's been good for some. Teams like TCU and Utah moved out from the Group of Five shadows into the Power Five thunder dome. Teams like Maryland and Rutgers filled their coffers with Big Ten Network money. The University of Texas got its own network!

However, it's been largely terrible for fans, as we're left with a Power Five constituency with bloated conferences and annual match-ups for which virtually nobody was clamoring. Worst of all, realignment has robbed the casual and diehard fans alike of compelling, annual rivalry games, and robbed some of the schools of their rich branding identity. (Granted, some of those schools could have said "no" to moving to a new conference, but at what cost?)

Perhaps, the biggest irony in all of the realignment churn is that the driving force was broadcast rights dollars fueled by geographic conference expansion by state. Conferences were incentivized to expand their state by state footprint because that's how cable metrics worked. Now, here we are, just four years after the dust kind of settling, and the next wave of football watching is beginning to slowly skew away from cable and toward streaming on the internet, which is a state-agnostic medium, in terms of measuring viewership.

Tom Herman captured the current environment pretty well, when it comes to trying to grab some of that rivalry magic back, at his Touchdown Club of Houston appearance, when asked about playing the Aggies again:

So let's sift through the rubble of realignment and assess exactly "What are the biggest match-up losses from collegiate sports' early 2010's cash grab?" Here we go....

10. COLORADO vs NEBRASKA (Football)
Back in 2010, the two schools to leave the Big XII for greener pastures were these two, with Colorado going to the Pac-12 and Nebraska to the Big Ten. They left behind a rivalry that really began to heat up in the early '90s when Colorado had a ton of NFL talent and Nebraska had Tommie Frazier and a bunch of roid corn fed behemoths blocking for him. Good news on this one is that they will finally renew their rivalry this season in Lincoln, in Boulder in 2019 and 2023, and back in Lincoln in 2024.

These two, along with TCU, were the gold standard for non-power conference chalk in the first decade of the 2000s. Utah was a Mountain West power, and Boise State owned the WAC. When Utah left for the Pac-12, Boise slid into the Utes spot in the Mountain West. (Amazingly, Boise State was on track to join the Big East, but the crumbling of that conference for football was already imminent.) Utah and Boise State didn't play annually or anything — their last meeting was in the 2010 Maaco Bowl — however, if realignment hadn't led the Utes to the Pac-12, MAYBE we wind up with these two duking it out from time to time for a spot in a BCS/New Year's Six bowl. Instead, Boise State has slipped back into a garden variety decent Mountain West team, and Utah is a middle of the pack Pac-12 team. Yay.

7. MARYLAND vs ACC POWERS (Basketball)

The somewhat forgotten story of realignment is how it bastardized college basketball for so many fans along the eastern seaboard. The Big East, while still powerful in hoops, doesn't have Syracuse, UConn, or BC, three original members. (Not to mention Pitt, Notre Dame, and West Virginia, three members added over time.) Syracuse playing in the ACC feels weird and stupid, but not as weird and stupid as Maryland playing in the Big Ten. What the hell, realignment?!? And then there's poor UConn, whose athletic brand has been mangled by hitching its wagon to college football, and now its sports teams are all forced to play in a conference where they routinely travel to Texas, Florida, and the Carolinas. UConn's football and men's basketball teams are like the lobotomized Jack Nicholson at the end of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest — just a weird, sad shell of what they were only a few years ago.

5. TEXAS FOOTBALL DISENFRANCHISEMENT (Football mainly, but kind of all sports)
While we are discussing lost rivalries in terms of overall dynamic rather than specific teams facing off, let's go ahead and include college football in the state of Texas, where teams don't play each other nearly enough to satisfy our needs. Sure, there are four Texas teams in the Big XII, and yes, they play the SMUs and Rices of the world from time to time, but there's not nearly enough Texas on Texas violence for the tastes of many of us down here.

4. KANSAS vs MIZZOU (Football)
Now, we get into some serious rivalries that have been lost. While Kansas football has been a running joke for years, it was fun watching the Border War, especially when there was some Mangino vs PInkel action deciding big things back in 2007 and 2008. When the series ended in 2011, it was the second-most-played rivalry in FBS football history, with 120 games played.

3. WEST VIRGINIA vs PITT (Football)
You know a rivalry is rivalry when it has a nickname, and the Backyard Brawl is an awesome nickname. (My personal rule on rivalry nicknames — of it sounds like the name of a WWE pay per view, it's a good nickname.) Fortunately, this is another one that will be resumed in the coming years, with the teams agreeing to resume a four game series between 2022 and 2025.

2. OKLAHOMA vs NEBRASKA (Football)
The roots of this rivalry go back to the days of the Big Eight, when this game routinely decided the conference, a de facto conference title game before there were conference title games. Again, in a trend that is encouraging, these two rivals have agreed to home and home series in 2021 and 2022, as well as 2029 and 2030.

1. TEXAS vs TEXAS A&M (Football)
I think everyone reading this knows where this one stands — while member schools of the other prominent rivalries in this piece have generally laid their weapons down and agreed to play football again, Texas and Texas A&M remain engaged in a staring contest, complete with terrible trash talk and lots of finger pointing.

Get it done, fellas!

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast