What have I kept saying for over a year now? The ACC is much stronger than what people give it credit for. Pete Thamel of the New York Times is reporting that the ACC is in discussions with Pitt and Syracuse. This rumor had been floating around in some circles for a couple of days and then confirmed by this story on Friday night. The latest news is on top of word that the respective Boards of Regents for both Oklahoma and Texas are meeting on Monday to authorize their presidents to negotiate and make decisions about conference membership. This was a step that Texas A&M took right before it received its SEC invite last month, so a board action is more of a signal of the end of a process as opposed to a beginning.
Now, if we want to look at Thamel’s report as a straightforward story, we can just surmise that the ACC simply wants to go up to 14 schools with two institutions that are fantastic fits athletically, academically and culturally. However, I’m going to put my tinfoil hat on for a moment (to the extent that all of you don’t already believe that I wear one 24/7/365). We already know that one monster from Austin is looking at the ACC. What are the repercussions for that other monster that lives in South Bend? Let’s go through two scenarios that deal with two separate rumors that are circulating heavily in the blogosphere/Twitterverse/message board world (I’m not claiming either are valid, but rather performing a mental exercise in seeing how various dominoes can fall):
SCENARIO 1: TEXAS GOES INDEPENDENT FOR FOOTBALL AND TO THE ACC FOR NON-FOOTBALL SPORTS (AKA BAD FOR THE BIG TEN)
The hot new rumor via Orangebloods (from a connected insider but not Chip Brown) is that Texas is looking to go independent for football and will then place all of its non-football sports in the ACC. As part of this deal, Texas would play 4 ACC schools per year while ESPN would effectively be footing the bill on all fronts by increasing the currently below-market ACC contract along with paying a gargantuan amount of cheddar to the UT to televise all of its home games on one of its networks (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 or LHN).
My initial knee-jerk reaction to this: there’s absolutely NFW that UNC or Duke would sign up for this. The ACC is as much of an “all for one and one for all” conference as the Big Ten and it would be massively out of character. Plus, it would seem to make little sense for the ACC to take in UT without football (which is where the ACC needs the most help, especially to ensure schools like Florida State don’t leave).
After thinking about this rumor a little bit, though, I posted this comment on my previous blog post connecting Notre Dame, Texas, Pitt and Syracuse (which happened to be several hours before the New York Times broke the Pitt/Syracuse to the ACC story). Here’s an updated version of it encompassing the latest developments (follow the chain):
CONFIRMED: Pitt and Syracuse are speaking with the ACC.
RUMOR 1: Texas and Notre Dame have been keeping each other apprised of each other’s plans and each school is the biggest potential lure to the other school if there’s Conference Armageddon.
RUMOR 2: ACC is looking to offer UT membership in non-football sports and allow the Longhorns to be independent in football.
GENERAL PERCEPTION: Out of all of the Big East schools, Notre Dame is closest to Pitt and Syracuse. Not shockingly, those are the 2 Big East schools that Notre Dame has regularly scheduled on equal terms with (unlike their 1-and-done blood money games with the likes of USF and UConn). I have been told that these 3 schools were intertwined last year in conference discussions, including with the Big Ten.
FACT: Notre Dame sought non-football ACC membership in 2003 when the Big East was about to implode, which the ACC reject.
THEORY: IF the ACC is going to go down the hybrid route, then it’s no longer going to have an objection to Notre Dame joining on a non-football basis. Notre Dame would easily and happily fulfill a 4-game requirement to play ACC teams with Boston College, Maryland and Miami already on the schedule in coming years, Big East mates Pitt and Syracuse already regular opponents and historical series with Georgia Tech and Florida State. So, the Irish would have a much easier time providing the ACC 4 games per year than giving the Big East 3 games per year (which it promised back in 2003 but never fulfilled) as there are a number of ACC schools that ND would play as an independent, anyway. It could have a new annual series with Texas and essentially keep the rest of its traditional schedule with Navy, Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue, USC and Stanford intact. A full ACC football schedule would never make sense for ND (as I argued separately here), but a partial one certainly could.
Ultimately, the ACC would have a 14-school football conference that connects more fluidly up the East Coast and a 16-school league for all other sports with the 2 most powerful brand names in college athletics (Notre Dame and Texas) as members.
RATIONALE: Why would the ACC do this? Because the conference that the ACC is truly scared of poaching them isn’t the SEC. Instead, it’s the Big Ten expanding that mortifies them as Jim Delany can offer academic prestige (which is key for the ACC) on top of a war chest of football dollars. I’ve long stated that the Big Ten isn’t going to be expanding with Notre Dame and/or Texas (and in turn, could try to go up to 16 with schools like Maryland, Virginia and/or Virginia Tech). Therefore, if the ACC provides homes to those superpowers where they basically have no football incentive to join the Big Ten, it means that Big Ten expansion might be precluded virtually forever.
This is just me thinking off the top of my head. I don’t know if the ACC would actually go for this since they are very much an “all members are equal” league, but we can’t discount anything these days when schools like Notre Dame and Texas might be on the move and ESPN possibly offering Pac-12/Big Ten/SEC dollars to the ACC to give them incentives to make concessions.
SCENARIO 2: PURPLE BOOK CAT MOVIE COMES TO LIFE IN THE “FUCK YOU, PAY ME” CONFERENCE (AKA GREAT FOR THE BIG TEN)
Let’s flip Scenario 1 on its head. Once again, we’ll assume that the ACC takes Syracuse and Pitt. However, the ACC refuses to deal with a hybrid model (which would probably be wise). Regardless, the ACC’s move will obviously create a great amount of instability in the Big East, which is what many of us believed the Big Ten would try to do last year by targeting other members of that conference in order to lure Notre Dame. Ultimately, there are really only two scenarios where Notre Dame joins a conference: (A) there are 4 16-school superconferences with a playoff system and the Irish need to join one of them in order to structurally compete for the national championship or (B) the Big East collapses and Notre Dame has no option better than the Atlantic 10 or a league made up of the Big East leftovers to put its non-football sports in (which some alums might say would be fine in order to preserve independence, but I know others with connections there that have said otherwise).
This gets us to the famous (at least in conference realignment circles) Purple Book Cat scenario of the Big Ten having invites out to Notre Dame and Texas. As stated in Scenario 1, the theory all along is that the presence of Notre Dame would be the single biggest attraction to Texas in terms of joining a conference and vice versa. However, Notre Dame ain’t joining the Big 12 and any hypothetical new conference formed by them (which is a popular option among many Texas fans) likely would contain largely a “meh” combo of Big 12 and Big East leftovers, anyway.
With the Big 12 and Big East collapsing (and none of it done at the initiation of the Big Ten), it plays right into Jim Delany’s hands to put the Purple Book Cat scenario into motion. From a financial and national exposure standpoint, there’s no conference combination that would be more powerful than what I had affectionately called The “Fuck You Pay Me” Conference featuring the Big Ten plus Notre Dame and Texas. Maybe the Big Ten could add two more schools to get up to 16, but there might not be any point in doing so (especially if 14 becomes the new revenue maximizing conference membership number the way that 12 is today). Notre Dame and Texas would see that even equal shares of “Fuck You, Pay Me” Conference revenue would make their respective NBC and LHN contracts look like pocket change and thereby be convinced to join.
Once again – is this happening? No one knows. It’s still hard to see the Big Ten making any concessions on the LHN, but this conference realignment process has already seen a lot of leagues and schools do the unexpected.
OTHER SCENARIOS THAT ARE WAY MORE STRAIGHTFORWARD AND BEING REPORTED BY THE NATIONAL MEDIA
Enjoy the games this weekend. (Go Illini! Go Bears!) Come Monday, we might be looking at a completely different college sports world.
(Image from LastFM)