Behind The Scenes

Conference realignment gets aligned by ESPN senior researcher

Louisville is bound for the ACC and kissing the Big East goodbye. (Getty Images)

Paul Kinney is on vacation this week.

Normally, the idea of an ESPN senior researcher getting some time away from the office isn’t exactly newsworthy.

But in Kinney’s case, it’s hard not to draw a parallel between the timing of his vacation and the most recent round of NCAA conference realignment which last week saw Rutgers, Maryland and Louisville announce pending departures from their current leagues.

“No,” said Kinney, a 20-year ESPN veteran, “it had been planned before the latest round.”

Still, the seemingly constant shuffling of schools from conference to conference is enough to to force anyone into “realigning” a work schedule.

A shrunken version of the official ESPN realignment spreadsheet

Kinney oversees maintenance and updating of the shared file, created by ESPN Research, titled, “CONFERENCE MEMBERSHIP PROGRESSION SINCE 2011 (FOOTBALL ONLY).” It is kept in an easily accessible electronic folder slugged, “Conference Re-Alignment Spreadsheet.” The spreadsheet contains six vertical columns and more than 100 horizontal cells. In the columns, league name is first, followed by the years 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and lastly a NOTES column (used to clarify when new memberships are slated to begin).

The document is not one for casual perusal, instead it’s necessary to take a deep dive into it, especially considering the “when” of the changes occurring differs from school to school. Some schools are transitioning in all sports in 2014. Some other schools may move to the same conference but for football-only in, say, 2015.

“We started it last season when conference alignment became a hot story and changes were happening rapidly,” Kinney said. “It’s easy to lose track of who is where.”

Is it ever! But at ESPN, it’s essential to have a firm grasp on who’s where now and where they will be in the coming years.

“We get requests from show groups routinely, that’s why we try to update the document and distribute when applicable and it’s available through SharePoint all the time,” Kinney said. “We’re always monitoring the newswire and breaking news so we don’t miss anything.”

With this being the “football only” document, Kinney was asked if there is a basketball version as well?

“Not that I’m aware of,” he said. “There are so many more conferences in basketball. That might be something our college basketball folks could do in the future.”

Let that serve as fair warning to Human Resources: Someone’s going to need a long vacation after working on that.

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