The Impacts of Conference Realignment on College Athletes

Last week, USC and UCLA made big moves–both schools announced their commitment to move to the Big Ten Conference in 2024. Naturally, sports media descended on the storylines and speculation of what other teams from other conferences might make moves, or even of a potential Pac-12/Big Ten merger sometime in the future.

Perhaps even more naturally, the people whom conference realignment arguably affects the most–college athletes–went unnoticed in the media flurry. This is a glaring oversight. As the forces that drive the college sports industry, college athletes and their interests should always come first when making/covering such decisions. Here are just two ways that conference realignment impacts college athletes

1.) Conference realignment affects travel. Now, Big Ten athletes from the northern U.S. will have to travel to Southern California and Pac-12 athletes from the Southwestern U.S. will have to travel to Michigan on a fairly regular basis. Although it’s easy to look at that situation from the outside and envy these athletes for the free travel they’re getting, it’s important to remember that these aren’t vacations. Traveling with a college team is a business trip and traveling is tiring. Not to mention, it’s a lot of wear and tear on the body, especially for athletes who are nursing injuries or who need access to a full training room to feel and perform at their best.

2.) More traveling affects academics. Because athletes will be flying across the country more frequently, they will have to miss more class and do more assignments on busses and planes which is less than ideal. It also calls the idealist notion of “student-athlete” into question. When college athletes have to fly across the country multiple times a semester and miss classes nearly every week, they’re functioning as what Isaiah Thomas famously coined “athlete-students.” 

Conference realignment isn’t just jarring for fans and coaches. It’s also a big change for the athletes and athletes deserve a say in decisions that majorly impact them.

Katie (M.K.) Lever is a former Division 1 athlete and current doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin where she studies NCAA discourse and policy. She is also a freelance sportswriter and creative writer on the side. She is the author of a new book Surviving the Second Tier available on AMAZON. Follow Katie on  Twitter and Instagram@leverfever.

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