Making Sense of the Letters

Several questions have been submitted asking the difference between the SEC, ACC, BCS, and many other jumbles of letters.  So, this post will hopefully bring SOME clarity to the many conferences of the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association).

I say SOME clarity because more than likely you have heard about “conference realignment.”   The colleges and universities of the NCAA are switching conferences like we switch out handbags … or diets … or boyfriends.


So, what is a conference?

A conference is a group of schools, usually aligned somewhat by geography, participating in athletics together. It is usually within conferences that the great rivalries exist. Each conference governs its own teams, protects the student-athletes, enforces rules, and decides how the schools will share the revenue generated by television contracts.

Sports = Money

This is why conference realignment has been such a hot issue. Some conferences are forming their own television networks while others are signing billion dollar contracts with ESPN.   The bottom line is that schools are trying to align themselves in conferences that present the best opportunity for $$$.

Below are the conferences of the NCAA FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division 1-A)

  • ACC  Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Big East
  • Big Ten actually made up of 12 schools
  • Big 12  actually made up of only 10 schools
  • Conference USA
  • MAC Mid-American Conference, pronounced “mack”
  • Mountain West
  • Pac-12 Pac = Pacific, pronounced “pack-twelve”, the Pac-12 actually has 12 schools
  • SEC Southeastern Conference, not to be confused with Securities Exchange Commission
  • Sun Belt
  • WAC Western Athletic Conference, pronounced “whack”


  • Independents are “power schools” that are not in a conference but still categorized in Division 1-A. The 4 Independent schools are BYU, Army, Navy, and Notre Dame.  (Notre Dame just announced it will be joining the ACC in all sports EXCEPT football, remaining a Division 1-A Independent football program)

A helpful graphic of the realigning conferences can be found here thanks to the NY Times.


Okay, one more important set of initials to mention….

  •  BCS – Bowl Championship Series

The BCS bowl games are the 5 highest rankings post-season games for the NCAA and includes the National Championship Game. For more on the BCS and how it is changing, click here.


Category: The Sidelines