Realignment is starting to resemble Game of Thrones. With unanimous approval from the Council of Presidents, Syracuse and Pittsburgh will leave the Big East to become members of the ACC. By rule, the earliest possible move would the summer of 2014. Though, with the Big East teetering, it could happen much sooner. The ACC struck preemptively. Facing the prospect of being eaten, it chose to kill.
The SEC, the Big Ten and the Pac 12 are stable. Tension would force at least one (or potentially two) of the ACC, the Big East and the Big 12 to implode. John Swofford acted swiftly and decapitated the Big East before it could fight. His league now has a stable 14-team conference, a viable 12-team conference should teams leave and, most importantly, the ACC can now renegotiate its television contracts to get them on par with other schools. It’s now a debate whether Virginia Tech or Florida State would want to leave. Swofford may not be the most well-liked guy at the table, but he will still have a seat.
Why Syracuse and Pittsburgh? These schools bring New York and Pennsylvania into the conference’s footprint. They bring (and substract from the Big East) two very good basketball programs, which could shift the basketball balance and see the ACC replace the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden. They are also two potentially decent football programs. Cite the win percentages if you wish, but Syracuse and Pitt aren’t damned, just woefully underperforming. Both have competed on a national stage in the past. Both could do so again.
Can the Big East Survive? Probably Not. Fashioning a viable Big East feels like mapping out a rump Polish State in 1939, difficult and, with secret machinations from the more powerful, pointless. The conference is left with West Virginia, Connecticut, Louisville, South Florida, Rutgers, UConn and TCU. Each team is a flight risk. While fusing with the Big 12 remnants to create a viable 12-team league might work, it might not work with an AQ bid to the BCS. The death sentence is as simple as the ACC deciding it needs to go to 16 and plucking two of Rutgers, West Virginia, UConn or South Florida.
Could This Help Stabilize the Big 12? Potentially. The Big 12 can survive if Oklahoma and Texas stay. The conference must be more stable for that to happen. Would a speedy raid for TCU, West Virginia and Louisville keep Oklahoma and Oklahoma State from jumping to the Pac-14? It would have worked last summer. It probably would have been more productive than futile attempts to save the Longhorn-Aggie marriage.
Will the Big Ten Make a Move? Syracuse and Pittsburgh were viable targets for Big Ten expansion. Both meet academic requirements. Both have some football tradition. Those two jumping to the ACC likely means they weren’t in play for the Big Ten. Does this mean Jim Delany is serious about staying at 12, or is the BIG lying quietly in the weeds, hunting for bigger game. Texas and Notre Dame seem fanciful even this past summer, but it’s increasingly making more sense.
On the surface, the finances seem disparate, but what happens if the entities merge? The Big Ten would be renegotiating its television contract after adding Texas and Notre Dame, arguably college football’s two most valuable programs. The Big Ten Network, with a national audience, becomes more valuable. The numbers could be far closer than any party previously realized. The inevitable outcome of the Super-Conference Era will be nine-game conference schedules. Increased competition in conference would lead to even less ambitious non-conference scheduling. That makes it even harder for Notre Dame and (potentially Texas) as independents to schedule quality games. Unthinkable a couple of years ago? Certainly. So was Oklahoma playing in the Pac 10.
It’s a question of Big Ten tradition but which part of the tradition, the Great Lakes footprint or the status as one of the country’s preeminent conferences? Does the Big Ten decide to stay pat with its staid prestige, or does it want to take on the SEC?
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