Today was the Big Ten and Maryland’s day. It was filled with the pomp and circumstance that only…well…the Big Ten and the Maryland brass could enjoy. They did not mince words and told the media, on their network nonetheless, that it was all about money. Then they tried to tug at everyone’s heartstrings by saying it was painful to cut seven programs and that not only would they use the money to reinstate them, but give some of it back in academic scholarship assistance. Yes, because everyone was concerned when competitive cheerleading was coming back. (Seriously…look it up…one of the seven programs was competitive cheerleading). But through all the propaganda, there was a good point that was raised. This is not the same college landscape it was 30 years ago. It is about TV revenue, and if a conference is not able to grab those dollars, teams will go where the money is.
So the ACC is now at a major crossroad. They had the right idea when they added Miami (and subsequently Virginia Tech and Boston College) to improve the football landscape while adding new media markets. The latest addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh was a purely numbers and basketball move. But all these moves were mostly made with academics involved and contingent on full membership. Now, the ACC broke the mold with the Notre Dame move, allowing them to join everything but ‘full’ football membership. Could they break the mold again to ensure the conference is around for the next 20 years?
There are only two real choices left for the ACC in the expansion merry-go-round. Behind Door #1 is staying true to conference tradition and looking for schools, not athletic programs, that fit the conference’s philosophy in regards to academics. This would be the UCONN option. We talked about it a little yesterday, but adding the Huskies would increase the basketball landscape while adding the state where the four-lettered network lives. While on the surface that would even out football, it does not add a quality team in the largest revenue sport, and that would make the southern teams upset. Clemson and Florida State have been extremely vocal on the additions of Syracuse and Pitt, to the point where FSU was one of the two schools that voted against the increased by-out clause (Maryland being the other). The addition of another round ball school might be the lynchpin that would cause them to look elsewhere. If that begins, Virginia might have to prepare for a coming ACCpocalypse.
Behind Door #2 is survival. It means looking at adding an athletic program oriented school that might not be the strongest academic school. This would be the Louisville option. Not only would you get a strong basketball program, but a better than ‘Maryland-plus-Rutgers‘ football option that would only help the conference RPI. No other school out there fits this mold. Sure, if you want to get crazy, you would look at a Big Ten school like Penn State, but the likely hood of that happening is next to zero.
There is a Door #3, but that door is currently locked. It would mean every president and AD of every ACC school to travel to South Bend and beg Notre Dame to join in football. But the problem there is two-fold. First, they said ‘nuh-uh‘ a few months ago and are content to get all of the perks of the ACC without much of a commitment. The second would be presenting the case that ND needs full conference membership and the title game to get into the National Championship, and subsequently, the playoff system in 2014. Well, who knew that the Golden Domers would be the #1 team in the nation, undefeated, and have the opportunity to walk into the NC with a win over Barkley-less USC. They know the formula and the system, knowing full well that the path is only easier when the picture expands to 4 teams soon. It might happen, but now is not that time.
So what will the ACC do? If you had to handicap the race, UCONN would have a very, very slight lead over Louisville and an even larger lead over options like Cincy or South Florida. Louisville might be holding out, watching the dominos fall, and hoping for that Big XII invite. If the Cardinals are at all interested, I think the ACC should jump at the opportunity. But with the way things are going these days, how can you really tell what is going on.