clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Conference Realignment Series: Factor Importance

Our conference realignment series takes a deeper look at the factors that influence schools to change conference affiliation.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Today, the third part of our series examines which factors are the most and least influential incentives in the realignment process. This helps to expand the framework for which NCAA-Division I leadership can utilize in evaluating their institution’s engagement in realignment.

The series is a collaboration between the Mountain West Connection and myself, inspired by original research on the topic.

The Research

One hundred forty-eight NCAA Division-I presidents, athletic directors, and other athletics administrators participated in the study. These administrators, referred to as university leadership, represented a cross section of Division-I conferences. It should be noted that two of the participants did not designate what their position was at their university. The breakdown of the overall sample is indicated below:

17 presidents

34 athletic directors

44 senior woman administrators+

51 faculty athletic srepresentatives+

2 other

+The senior woman administrator and faculty athletics representative roles are NCAA mandated positions. Please follow the respective links above for more information.

Results from the survey administered to university leadership as well as an exploratory factor analysis revealed the order in which the participants rank the importance of the factors, indicated below:

1. Revenue

2. Academic Prestige

3. Team Travel

4. Athletic Prestige

5. Market

6. Competitive Balance

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

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

Paired samples t-tests and one-way analyses of variance revealed that Revenue and Academic Prestige are equally (statistically speaking) the most influential factors that incentivize institutions to change athletic conference affiliation. Competitive Balance is the least influential factor that incentivizes institutions to change athletic conference affiliation according to university leadership.

An interesting result that emerged from the paired samples t-tests and one-way analyses of variance was that there was no significant statistical difference between Team Travel, Athletic Prestige, and Market. This suggests that university leadership believe these factors incentivize institutions to change athletic conferences rather equally.

Prior research in this area indicates that institutions typically align with athletic conferences so that their own interests and those of the conferences are met through the partnership. Because different institutions may have different interests, a single factor did not emerge as more of an incentive for an institution to consider a change in conference affiliation than another.

Financial resources have been identified as determinant to institutional and conference decision making. Rising expenses associated with intercollegiate athletics, particularly at the NCAA Division-I level may fuel a desire for more revenue among institutions. If expenses are escalating at a rapid pace, it stands to reason that Revenue (e.g. the ability to increase it) highly incentivizes institutions to consider changes in conference affiliation.

The NCAA mandates that amateurism, the student-athlete experience, and education are the pillars of intercollegiate athletics. Because the enterprise of intercollegiate athletics could not function without the higher education institutions that support them, member institutions’ must ensure that their athletic programs operate grounded in the pillars identified above. Because education is a central pillar of intercollegiate athletics, it helps to explain why the Academic Prestige factor emerged as a highly influential incentive. Additionally, conference member institutions typically share similar academic profiles so when schools evaluate a change in conference affiliation, the academic fit is evaluated.

Prior research indicates a level playing field within a conference can produce a favorable perception of the conference. However, a balanced conference as posed in this context, may not be perceived as favorable. Consider the case in which all members of a conference are highly competitive. Members, as part of the intra-conference schedule, may continually beat one another resulting in multiple losses for all members. Although speculative, university leadership may not see equality across conferences as beneficial, particularly if university leadership were already in a balanced conference. This helps to explain why the Competitive Balance factor is the least influential incentive.

So What Does This all Mean?

Data indicate that some factors are regarded as highly influential incentives(Revenue, Academic Prestige), some factors are regarded as equally influential incentives (Team Travel, Athletic Prestige, Market), and the Competitive Balance factor is regarded as the least influential incentive. University leadership can weight these factors accordingly when assessing realignment.

This research continues to expand on the framework provided thus far in the series by examining which factors are the most and least influential incentives in the evaluation process of NCAA Division-I conference realignment. The first part of this series established a framework which NCAA Division-I leadership can utilize in evaluating their institution’s engagement in realignment. The second part of the series provided insight on the perceptions of university presidents and athletic directors in regard to which factors they believe are incentives that most influence conference realignment decisions.

As our series progresses throughout the remainder of the summer, we will continue to provide an analytical and in-depth look at conference realignment. Stay tuned!

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 recently joined the "Coaches Corner Show with Jim Bolla & Tyler Bischoff" on AM 720 KDWN Las Vegas to discuss this research and the landscape of NCAA Division-I conference realignment.

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