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Conference Realignment Series: Perspectives of University Administrators

This is the second installment of our realignment series this summer.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The month of July is a major bookmark in the world of college athletics. It marks the beginning of a new fiscal year, the recruiting evaluation period for several basketball programs, and media days for numerous college football conferences.

With the multitude of events surrounding college athletics in full swing, it seems appropriate to revisit our Conference Realignment Series. The series is a collaboration between the Mountain West Connection and myself in which we examine the topic of NCAA Division-I conference realignment.

Inspired by prior research on the topic, the first part of the series identified and defined factors which incentivize NCAA Divison-I institutions to engage in conference realignment. Today, we examine NCAA Division-I conference realignment from the perspectives of university presidents and athletic directors.

The Research

Of the 148 participants in the dissertation study that inspired this series, 17 were presidents and 34 were athletic directors. These presidents and athletic directors, collectively referred to as university administrators, represent approximately 34% of the sample size in the dissertation study and approximately 15% of the overall population.

Although these figures are underwhelming in statistical terms, they help provide insights of the perceptions of university administrators pertaining to what factors influence NCAA Division-I conference realignment.

Results from a survey administered to university administrators as well as an exploratory factor analysis indicate the order in which the participants rank the importance of the factors as seen in Table 1.

Rankings According to University Administrators




Team Travel


Academic Prestige






Athletic Prestige


Competitive Balance

*For full explanation of factors, please visit Conference Realignment Series: An Introduction

Overall, university administrators ranked these factors in the order depicted nearly unanimously. This is justified by examining each factors average rating and standard deviation values.

Paired samples t-tests and one-way analyses of variance revealed that Team Travel is the most influential factor that incentivizes institutions to change athletic conference affiliation while Competitive Balance is the least influential that incentivizes institutions to change athletic conference affiliation according to the university administrators in the dissertation study.

Findings are best explained by placing them in the appropriate context of conference realignment. As previously noted in this series, Team Travel refers to the geographic footprint an athletic conference claims in regard to member institutions and intra-conference competition. As such, the factor is a broader construct of items including, but not limited to, regional proximity and student-athlete well-being (i.e. missed class time due to travel).

The desire to compete against those intuitions within a certain regional proximity has been identified as a means for a university to showcase the and endear itself to key constituents. This seems to allude to the overall direction of the university and its athletic programs which has been identified as a chief concern for university administrators.

With regard to student-athletes’ missed class time, Team Travel is identified as an issue of well-being because students/student-athletes are integral to their universities and athletic programs. Their well-being is identified as paramount and seems to be a chief concern for university administrators.

These findings help to explain why Team Travel emerged as the most influential factor among university administrators. What is not fully clear is why the Academic Prestige and Revenue factors did not emerge as equally influential incentives to Team Travel.

Academic Prestige is associated with the overall mission of universities while Revenue is associated with the financial health of the university and its athletic programs. University administrators hold direct oversight of these issues which is why it is noteworthy that the Academic Prestige and Revenue factors did not emerge as equally influential incentives to Team Travel for NCAA Division-I institutions engaging in conference realignment.

So What Does This All Mean?

We now have a framework with which to view NCAA Division-I conference realignment from the viewpoint of university administrators charged with overseeing theses decisions. When considering or engaging in conference realignment, the Team Travel factor appears to be the incentive that most influences the process. It should not be interpreted as Team Travel is the only factor that is considered, however.

The first part of this series provided a foundation for factors that influence institutional decisions related to conference realignment, helping inform stakeholders of college athletics and providing an analytical lens to view conference realignment.

The second phase of the series presented here expands on the foundation by providing insights from over 50 university administrators in regard to which factors they believe are incentives that most influence conference realignment decisions.

It should be noted that conclusions drawn may be limited due to the small sample size of university administrators and also due to the fact that it’s not completely clear why factors such as Academic Prestige and Revenue, factors that seemingly align strongly with the mission of universities and their athletic programs, did not emerge as incentives equally influential alongside Team Travel. Nonetheless, we now have a general sense of which factors incentivize NCAA Division-I institutions in regard to conference realignment.

Stay tuned throughout the remainder of the summer as we continue to expand our Conference Realignment Series.

About the Author

G. K. Nwosu is a guest contributor for our series on conference realignment and the president of Star Stats, LLC-a research consulting firm that provides accessible, high-quality, custom research and analysis focusing on strategic insights toward data-driven decision making in a number of industries.He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in Higher Education from the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV). He has previously held positions with Arizona State University and the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He has also worked in intercollegiate athletics at UNLV and the University of Oklahoma. For more information regarding this research or other research related questions and comments, he can be reached via email at