Conference realignment is one of the big stories in college athletics, but its impact on golf will be minimal. College golfers will just have to learn the names of their football teams’ new opponents.
Golf teams, unlike those in other sports, aren’t required to face conference opponents until the conference championship. Teams can play where they want, when they want during the regular season. The conference championship is just one of about a dozen events a team plays each year. The championships of these new conferences could become some of the season’s top events, though. Imagine UCLA battling Oklahoma State for the Pac-16 title, or Georgia dueling Texas A&M for the SEC crown.
“I think you could see some unbelievably deep golf conferences,” said Texas A&M head coach J.T. Higgins, whose team won the 2009 NCAA Championship. “You’ll see conferences where finishing sixth or seventh doesn’t necessarily mean you played bad.”
Texas A&M’s anticipated move to the SEC could come as early as this week, according to The New York Times. The SEC already was among the nation’s premier golf conferences, with traditional powerhouses such as Georgia, Florida and Alabama. The Pac-12 (formerly Pac-10), which added Utah and Colorado this year, could become a 16-team “super-conference” that includes the University of Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. These moves could affect other conferences, such as the Big 12 and Big East.
If these changes occur, golf teams might add events run by their new conference foes and may invite those teams to their own events. They’re not required to do so though. The exposure and revenue generated by these new conferences’ television contracts also could help golf programs, though the impact likely would be small, Higgins said. Most teams involved in the expected moves already have ample budgets.
If Texas A&M joins the SEC, Higgins said he’ll have to move the dates of his Aggie Invitational because it traditionally conflicts with the SEC Championship. He’ll be more apt to invite fellow SEC schools, as well.
Said Matt Thurmond, the men’s coach at Washington, “My first invitations for the Husky Invitational go to conference schools. I look at Utah and Colorado much differently now than I did before.”
The college sports landscape could look drastically different in the coming months. College golf will remain relatively unchanged, though.