In nearly 60 years of existence, the ACC had seen just one of its member schools depart, that being founding member South Carolina bolting for independence in 1971 before joining the SEC in 1992.
Over four decades after that initial departure, the conference has seen another as Maryland confirmed Monday that they were leaving the ACC for the money-green pastures of the Big Ten.
In what’s nothing short of the most gracious statement you’ll ever see in this type of situation, commissioner John Swofford extended the best wishes to and lamented the loss of the university as a conference member.
“Our best wishes are extended to all of the people associated with the University of Maryland. Since our inception, they have been an outstanding member of our conference and we are sorry to see them exit. For the past 60 years the Atlantic Coast Conference has exhibited leadership in academics and athletics. This is our foundation and we look forward to building on it as we move forward.”
There was no indication from Swofford in which direction the ACC will head, whether it be standing pat with 13 members (highly, highly unlikely) or move to fill the hole created by Maryland’s departure (highly likely). If it is indeed the latter, the early odds-on favorite to become the 14th member is UConn of the Big East.
The Northeast school has openly flirted with the ACC throughout the last two rounds of conference expansion, with officials both directly and indirectly associated with the university pushing for inclusion in one of the power conferences. If the tea leaves are correct, those individuals will see the move come to fruition in short order, although there are some in the ACC pushing for a school such as Louisville.
Of course, losing UConn would be the tail-end of a one-two gut punch for a wobbly Big East. Along with Maryland, the Big Ten is expected to grab the Big East’s Rutgers to push its membership to an even 14. That announcement is expected to officially come tomorrow, although various media outlets are already reporting it as a done deal.
The Big East will lose Pittsburgh and Syracuse in July of 2013, but will gain Boise State, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State, SMU and UCF the same year, and Navy in 2015. That would leave the conference with 10 football-playing members in 2013 — including current members Cincinnati, Louisville, Temple and USF — and 11 two years later; the Big East is looking to get to 12 members in order to conduct a conference championship game in football, with Air Force, BYU and Army among the rumored targets.
All of this upheaval is particularly damaging to the Big East as the conference is currently in the midst of negotiating a new television contract. The instability, through no fault of their own, threatens to devalue the conference product and potentially cost member institutions millions of dollars annually.