At this time yesterday, there was, with the exception of Texas, little chatter regarding the ACC and expansion. 24 hours and multiple reports later, all hell is breaking loose on the Right Coast of college football.
Friday night, it was reported that the ACC was engaged in conversations with Big East members Pittsburgh and Syracuse about a possible move. Those talks escalated quickly, apparently, as it was reported Saturday morning that both of the schools had sent a letter to the ACC formally applying for membership to that conference.
Now, multiple media outlets have been reporting, and CFT can confirm, that a vote by ACC presidents and chancellors could take place as early as Sunday. It’s believed that neither institution would have formally applied for membership without some type of backchannel guarantee as to a positive outcome, so a unanimous vote is expected regardless of when it takes place. There’s the possibility that the vote could be delayed until earlier in the week, although such a delay would merely be a matter of scheduling as opposed to any indecision or uncertainty on the part of the ACC.
“I’m not at liberty to get into all of that right now,” said Big East commissioner John Marinatto, who reportedly learned of the developments involving two of his schools while sitting in the press box of the West Virginia-Maryland game. “Just trying to get more information as we go along. It’s been this way all morning.”
Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver, who would neither confirm nor deny the reports regarding his school’s conference, intimated that something on the expansion front could be going down in short order, telling reporters today that “I think some things will take shape in the not-so-distant future.”
Should the ACC vote to accept Pittsburgh and Syracuse, Big East bylaws call for a $5 million exit fee — a veritable pittance in today’s climate of billion-dollar television deals — as well as an advanced notice of 27 months. Such a timeline would technically mean neither school would be contractually permitted to leave until the 2014-2015 academic year; technically, that would also mean next to nothing in this day and age as both sides could make concessions — i.e. “enhanced” financial considerations in exchange for an accelerated time frame for an exit — that would expedite the process.
When this domino falls — and, yes, we’re saying when and not if — it will trigger what will likely become the most seismic shift to the conference landscape in the game’s history.
So, what would it all mean for the future of the various conference entities if this particular domino falls? Let’s take a look at the myriad possibilities, remembering that the belief of a great many officials at various institutions and conferences is that this latest round of expansion will result in a handful of 16-team superconferences.
For the ACC…
Currently at 12 members, the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse would bump that number to… doing the math… 14 institutions and headed straight for the first BcS 16-team superconference. Where would the conference turn for Nos. 15 and 16 if that is indeed their intention? Based on the speculation that’s previously connected them to the conference, Texas would be the first — and most attractive — place to look.
Geographical issues aside, UT and the ACC would appear to be a match made in league heaven, if for nothing more than the school’s beloved Longhorn Network — you know, the entity that helped play a major role in ripping apart one conference — would be the subject of nary a tweak. The thing with UT, however, is they would appear to have at least a couple of options at their disposal; as we detailed this past week, they could stay to help rebuild the Big 12; following the Oklahoma schools to the Pac-12; take the independent football route; or, of course, move on to the ACC.
If you’re going to be at 15 members — and that would be the number with the additions of Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Texas — football scheduling would force you to go out and get a 16th. Based on politics in the state of Texas alone, Texas Tech would appear to be a viable candidate to tag along with big brother UT. Another intriguing possibility would be Kansas; the Kansas City Star is reporting that, if the ACC expands to 16 members, the Jayhawks would be a consideration. As the ACC is a basketball conference first and foremost, the addition of the storied KU hoops program would make an abundance of sense. As the Star notes, the additions of UT and KU would be the best of the revenue sports worlds to the conference.
Of course, the fact that the ACC is suddenly a very proactive conference could also serve as protection against potential poaching from another league. Well, that and the news the conference recently and unanimously approved a bump in exit fees — from roughly $12 million to the current figure of $20 million — means that the league is interested in keeping their current membership intact as well as adding to their current roll.
For the SEC…
As the preeminent football conference in the country, the SEC has already cleared a spot at the table for Texas A&M to come in as its 13th member — as soon as Baylor, which has reportedly made overtures to the Big East, gets off its moral high horse. The SEC has publicly stated that they would be perfectly fine going with 13 schools in 2012; that was publicly stated before the ACC started its mad dash to 16. For those who are unaware, Mike Slive is a commissioner who will not sit on his hands and will respond in kind whether it’s the ACC or the Pac-12 firing off the first superconference shot.
The direction the conference would go, however, appears to be somewhat muddled. The schools that would make the most sense geographically — Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson — also happen to be located in states already represented in the SEC; reportedly, there’s a “gentleman’s agreement” among the current members that they would not add additional members from someone’s own backyard. Virginia Tech, on many levels, would be the optimum candidate but for one glaring exception — the Hokies fought tooth and nail to become a member of the ACC, and have been very vehement in their desire to remain in that conference. There’s also the little matter of the University of Virginia, and the desire of the state to keep the two schools connected at the conference hip.
Additionally, all of those schools mentioned currently call the ACC their home. As previously noted, exit fees that were increased by somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 percent could cause some members to think twice about a move. Then again, if that move is to a financial environment like the SEC would offer, such a number would mean next to nothing.
So, if the ACC schools are out — we do not believe that to be the case, but play along — where would the SEC turn? West Virginia has been long rumored to be a potential target for a 14th-16th slot. Missouri has also been the subject of speculation, although we’ve long been led to believe that, if massive conference expansion were to go down, they would be a better fit in another conference, which we will get to later. How the SEC would get to 16 teams without the benefit of adding schools from the ACC remains to be seen, and could become problematic for the conference.
For the Pac-12…
Commissioner Larry Scott was quoted as saying Saturday evening that “[i]f and when [expansion] happens … we are going to be at forefront of changes.” That process has already begun for a suddenly-rejuvenated conference under Scott, with the Pac-12 already holding talks with, among others, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas. The two Oklahoma schools appear ticketed for a move of conference affiliation out west, with an OU Board of Regents meeting taking place Monday that will likely end with the school’s president being empowered to explore future league options. As OU and OSU are bound at the hip, the Stillwater school will follow the Norman school wherever it goes, which will in all likelihood be the Pac-12 before the end of the month.
While Scott will not say it publicly, he would love nothing more than to add both Oklahoma and Texas, with Oklahoma State and Texas Tech serving as necessary add-ons in order to land the two primary targets. UT has publicly stated their preference is to stay as a part of the Big 12, but that conference’s future is dicey at best. Like their Red River rivals, the UT Board of Regents will hold a meeting Monday that could end with its president receiving permission to explore any and all conference options in an official capacity.
If UT was to decide the Pac-12 is not in their best interests — and being forced to fold the LHN into a regional Pac-12 network as a condition of membership could be just that — the conference’s options would be cut significantly if OU/OSU are added and if they maintain a desire to get to 16 sans the Texas schools. One option we’ve been told the Pac-12 would consider in such a scenario is the addition of TCU and Boise State. TCU is already slated to move from the Mountain West to the Big East in 2012; the uncertainty in their soon-to-be new league could prompt the school to seek more stability elsewhere. Boise State, on the other hand, is not a good fit academically, although the obvious benefit would be a top-ten football program.
BYU, the first-year football independent that has been the subject of rumors tying them to the Big 12, could be another potential option. Their willingness, or lack thereof, to move their other sports from the West Coast Conference could be a hindrance, as would the no-games-on-Sunday edict the Mormon school plays under. Like with Texas, the school’s television network could be a non-starter for this option. One other option? Houston, if for nothing more than the huge television market the Cougars would bring to the table.
For the Big East…
On a scale of 1-10, with one being puppies and 10 being Craig James, how much does the Big East despise John Swofford and the ACC? The Big East has already watched three teams poached by the conference a decade ago, and now are on the verge of seeing two more schools swallowed up by Swofford’s league.
With Pittsburgh and Syracuse all but gone to the ACC, the Big East would suddenly find themselves with just seven schools — provided TCU follows through with their move next year. That’s also provided they’re not raided by a conference other than the ACC (see both above and below). Unbelievably, massive conference upheaval, provided it involves the Big 12, may actually be the best development for the Big East.
Should the Big 12 get whittled down to four members, which is certainly a very real possibility depending on how many dominoes fall, the Big East would be in prime position to pluck that conference’s carcass by adding some combination of Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor. In fact, the latter two schools have already reportedly made overtures to that conference in case the Big 12’s demise is not exaggerated this time around.
There’s also Conference USA; both UCF and East Carolina have long been rumored to be potential targets for expansion. As odd as it may sound, and while becoming a superconference is almost out of the realm of possibility, there appears to be a way, or even several ways, for the Big East to survive, perhaps even as a BcS conference. Add it all up, it’s realistic to state that the Big East could come out of this as at least a 10-team football conference when all of the expansion dust clears.
For the Big 12…
Here’s what we know: Texas A&M will be a member of the SEC, either in 2012 or, at the latest, 2013. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have their bags packed and the car warmed up for a trip out west. Texas’ best conference options do not include the words “Big 12”, their public comments to the contrary notwithstanding. Not only are those five schools half of the conference’s current membership, they also double as the most valuable properties in the league. Without them, there is no Big 12.
How exactly does the Big 12 survive this time around? Their one and only hope is that Oklahoma, for whatever reason, comes down with a case of amnesia regarding its concerns over the instability of the conference and stays, with Texas following suit. Short of that, the Big 12 is dead, with the funeral procession possibly beginning as early as Monday in the board rooms of its two most powerful members.
For the Big Ten…
Commissioner Jim Delany reportedly spent Saturday on the golf course, saying that he’s perfectly content where his conference stands amid all of the tumult going down across the country. And why shouldn’t he be? Along with the SEC, the Big Ten is on the most solid footing of any conference in college sports, thanks in large part to the ATM that is the Big Ten Network.
The Big Ten doesn’t have to do anything; that doesn’t mean they won’t. If Delany sees other conferences around the country making the move toward superconferences, that’s not a man who will be caught flatfooted. In fact, even as it’s been all quiet on the expansion front as it pertains to the Big Ten, you can rest assured that Delany and his bosses, the conference presidents and chancellors, have a plan of attack that they could launch at a moment’s notice if necessary.
What could that plan entail? First and foremost, making another run at Notre Dame — and this time, the Irish may have no choice but to listen. “We’ll see whether we can manage our circumstances to meet that goal,” Irish athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Saturday night. It’s long been thought that the only circumstance that would possibly move Notre Dame away from football independence would be a major shift in the collegiate landscape. With conferences apparently headed in the direction of 16-team leagues, that would certainly represent a significant shift. And the biggest challenge to ND’s football independence in its storied history.
Another no-brainer for the Big Ten would be Missouri, a school that openly flirted with the Big Ten last year before being denied as the conference decided to add just Nebraska to get to an even 12. However, Mizzou has everything the Big Ten would look for in a new member: membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU); quality athletics across the board; and a television market that would include St. Louis and Kansas City, sizable markets that would be a boon for BTN. And, while there has been speculation that the SEC would target Mizzou, we’ve been told that the Big Ten is far and away the school’s preference. Rutgers would be another possibility if the Big Ten decided to join the superconference pursuit, with the Scarlet Knights offering AAU membership and the New York/New Jersey market as significant pluses for inclusion. Plus, it would keep JoePa happy by bringing in an Eastern team, so there’s that.
Two other names to keep in mind if/when the conference apocalypse goes down: Kansas and Maryland. And, yes, both of those institutions are AAU members.
After well over 2,500 words have been typed in this opus, we’re left with just as many questions, if not more, than when we started.
That’s what happens, though, when you have a situation as fluid and as volatile as this latest round of expansion. Where this will all lead, absolutely nobody knows with any degree of certainty. Come Sunday with the expected vote by the ACC on Pittsburgh and Syracuse, and the regents meetings at Oklahoma and Texas the following day, the picture should be a bit clearer within the next 48 hours or so.
Perhaps the only thing that has become clearer is the face of college football is likely to look a helluva different a year from now. Is that a good or a bad thing? Absolutely nobody knows. And that’s scary as hell.