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Moving Day for Mid-Majors: What Schools Will Find In New Conference Homes

Oral Roberts should immediately be a power in the Southland Conference. If only the other schools moving leagues could be so lucky.
Oral Roberts should immediately be a power in the Southland Conference. If only the other schools moving leagues could be so lucky.

In case you missed it, July 1 was the official crossover date for those schools changing conferences.

It meant that Mid-Major Madness said goodbye officially to Butler and VCU as they move to ply their trades in the Atlantic 10. We saw Nevada and Fresno State head off to greener pastures in the multiple bid Mountain West.

And we watched the shuffle continue.

Twenty schools moved conferences on Monday, a trend that will likely reoccur over the next few seasons as teams figure out how they fit into the new football playoff and conference move to make up for losses caused by the concussion-heavy gridiron game.

So how did our mid-majors shake out?

The WAC is the biggest agent of change. Texas-San Antonio, Texas State and Texas-Arlington will each try a stab at the new league for a single season before football takes them elsewhere in 2013. That means a single season to try and succeed in the oddly shaped WAC.

The league looks like it is on its last legs as a powerhouse in any sport. There was a time that the WAC was a legitimate Mountain timezone power. It was a multi-bid league. It sent teams such as Utah to the Final Four.

And then the Mountain West break happened.

The WAC was left with the butt end of the football schools, even if Boise State eventually became a household name. This was a 16-team league with chops reduced to a shadow of its former self. And as its football teams saw greater glory possible elsewhere they all chose to bolt.

The loss of the football powers also meant the loss of the basketball powers. We haven't talked about much out of the WAC except Nevada lately. The Wolfpack and Fresno State will be gone, leaving a league that looks very thin.

Our friends over at The Upset feel that the league is short on days, and the numbers seem to agree. Just four schools are scheduled to be in the league after this coming season, a sure sign that you need to look elsewhere for safety.

Denver and Seattle will be two of the newest -- presumably final members -- of the conference this coming year. The boys in Denver should be among the favorites to take the title this season. The Pioneers were one of the more frustrating teams last season, but in the new league with a lot of ... well, frustrating teams, they are the top of the bunch.

Also departing the WAC is Hawaii, whose football team will join the other refugees of the WAC in the Mountain West. It is pulling a Boise State though. The remainder of its programs will move to the Big West. The biggest school to shake down there is Long Beach State, and given the resources that Hawaii can bring to bear on the smaller league, it won't take long before the Warriors are among the best. And keep in mind that its league foes will need time to adjust to traveling to the islands, something that has plagued WAC members for years.

Three quick ones before we look at the biggest two moves not involving the WAC.

-- North Dakota (previously Great West) will finally have a real conference in the Big Sky. The No Names (North Dakota is still trying to come to an agreement on the Fighting Sioux name) should be a solid basketball addition in the Northwest.

-- Southern Utah will also move up from the Summit conference into the Big Sky. This is a good move for Southern Utah as it reduces the travel footprint for its sports teams. Previously, they needed to travel all over the country for the oddly named Summit conference - which seems to entail mountains and yet includes Oakland and IUPUI. No mountains there.

-- Nebraska-Omaha will move into the Summit conference. The school is lucky that it did not get relegated to Independent status or the Great West after moving up from D-II. Expect a long, long, long road for the athletes headed up by former ESPN talking head Trev Alberts.

And then there were the big ones.

-- Belmont, everyone's favorite upset pick, is moving off to the Ohio Valley from the Atlantic Sun. This is a good step up in competition for the Bruins, and a better fit geographically.

Belmont is still one of the teams in the running for a possible invite to the Horizon league -- another step up, if only in name with the departure of Butler -- and it is the best of the possibilities for that move.

But the Bruins should settle in nicely in the OVC for now, making Tennessee a major battle ground for mid-major basketball.

As coach Rick Byrd said:

"(W)e are aware of the success that the OVC has had in recent NCAA tournaments, and what a school like Murray State has built over 20 to 30 years, and we will need to play at a high level to reach our goals."

-- Even with Belmont moving on, the biggest move might still be Oral Roberts departing for the Southland out of the Summit. As far back as I can remember, the Golden Eagles have been one of the biggest contenders for mid-major basketball. Tulsa was the front line for any team looking to get to the NCAA Tournament.

The Golden Eagles will immediately be a power in the Southland, with only Lamar as a real contender for titles. Don't be surprised if ORU makes a run of five to seven years for the automatic bid.

So it falls to you. Which is the biggest move this offseason, either out of a conference or into a new one for one of the mid-majors?