There’s so much talk in conference expansion and realignment about the criteria a conference uses when plucking a school from another conference, and often times, it’s related to the size of a media market or the number of television sets a program brings with it. Academics look great on paper, but it varies on the scale of priorities depending on who’s doing the expanding.
The point is that much of conference realignment is speculation, and trying to figure out who goes where is usually nothing more than connecting logical dots.
The Boston Globe has a very interesting report* about what went on behind the scenes in the ACC when it acquired Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East a few weeks ago. Syracuse, of course, was on the original ballot to join the ACC when it expanded in 2003-04, but was eventually replaced by Virginia Tech. As the Globe writes, the move to add Pitt and ‘Cuse was designed to secure the ACC’s eastern footprint — Pitt had reportedly been on the Big 12’s radar for some time — and delegate more money to the conference.
(*note: just a heads up, you have to enter an e-mail address and password to read it, but it’s free and a good read)
“We wanted new playmates and we wanted Eastern playmates. When the Big 12 inquired about Pittsburgh, we asked, ‘Why let them come into our area?’ ’’
That makes sense. ACC commissioner John Swofford noted just a couple of days ago that the ACC would be revisiting its new TV rights deal with ESPN now that the conference will have 14 members.
Was elevating the strength of ACC basketball beyond the Big East part of the equation? DeFilippo says no, but it’s hard not to recognize that the ACC is significantly better off with Pitt and Syracuse in addition to Duke and North Carolina.
But perhaps the most intriguing part of the ACC’s most recent expansion was who the conference left out: UConn. As if we needed further proof of the role politics play in collegiate sports, DeFilippo adds that BC lobbied to keep the Huskies out of the ACC.
“We didn’t want them in,’’ he said. “It was a matter of turf. We wanted to be the New England team.’’
UConn has been adamant — probably too much so — that they wanted out of the Big East now that the conference appears to be crumbling before our eyes. In a game of poker built around strategy and secrecy, the Huskies were not only showing their poker face, they were showing their cards.
The problem? UConn had three of a kind when Pitt and Syracuse had a full house and the ACC was the dealer.
Now that the ACC is at 14 teams, it’s unclear whether or not they’ll expand again. Swofford has left open the possibility that it could happen, and in such a case, UConn could finally be off the bubble and into another conference.
The ACC showed at least part of the story this time around. What the criteria will be for the next round of expansion, if there’s a next round, remains to be seen.