By David Teel
11:43 AM EDT, September 21, 2011
Pacific 12 presidents brought wisdom and calm to realignment panic Tuesday night, sparing college athletics, for now, “super conferences,” and increasing the likelihood of a long-term, 14-member ACC.
The Pac-12 member CEOs could have expanded the league to 16 by pillaging Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech from the dysfunctional Big 12. But they refused to adjust their equal distribution of television revenue to accommodate Texas’ Longhorn Network. Moreover, in a rebuff of Oklahoma president David Boren, they declined becoming the Pac-14 by accepting OU and Oklahoma State.
All of which makes perfect sense. This is the conference’s first year with 12 members after the additions of Colorado and Utah netted the league an unrivaled, $3-billion television contract with Fox and ESPN. Better to find your way as 12, cash in and stage a football championship game or five rather than leap blindly into the allegedly inevitable age of 16-team super conferences.
Problem is, little about the realignment of the past 16 months makes sense. Schools and leagues desperate for long-term stability and solvency have sacrificed decades of tradition for the unknown – Big East charter member Syracuse bolting to the ACC; Texas A&M abandoning Texas and the Big 12 for the SEC.
Had the Pac-12 expanded to 16, it could have easily doomed the Big 12, and, had the Big Ten then reacted, even the Big East, two of the six major conferences.
Instead, the Big 12 appears poised to replace A&M (BYU is a logical candidate) and survive. Ditto the Big East, which lost Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC but now is considering East Carolina, Navy, Air Force and Central Florida to fortify its football.
Those dominoes profoundly affect Virginia, Virginia Tech and their ACC home.
After expanding to 14 with Pitt and Syracuse, commissioner John Swofford and other conference officials did little to dissuade chatter that 16 was inevitable. But stability elsewhere translates to fewer schools looking to move.
ESPN reports that the Big East’s Connecticut remains intensely interested in the ACC, and given the network’s base in the state, bank on that account being accurate. But 15 is an untenable membership, and there’s no apparent 16th to accompany UConn.
Media have mentioned the Big East’s Rutgers, but the Scarlet Knights offer little in football and men’s basketball and should be more content in a viable Big East. Notre Dame’s national brand would be a coup, but absent seismic shifts, the Irish see little reason to relinquish their treasured football independence.
For example, a Pac-16 or a 16-team Big Ten, both with 10-game league schedules, might have spelled the end of Notre Dame’s annual games with Southern California, Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue. Absent those changes, or the Bowl Championship Series revoking their automatic access, the Irish will remain independent.
This according to colleague Brian Hamilton, who covers Notre Dame for our sister paper the Chicago Tribune.
“They don’t want full membership in any conference,” Hamilton said via email. “It’s my personal opinion – and I said this at the (Notre Dame-Michigan State) game Saturday, when Pitt and ‘Cuse news was popping – that the ACC is a better idea than the Big Ten in case of emergency. But that’s a pretty big emergency, and I don’t think ND believes we’re on the cusp of that emergency.
“Maybe they’re wrong, but they’re going to wait it out as long as possible.”
Having 14 instead of 16 schools also impacts the ACC’s divisions.
Adding UConn and Rutgers would create a potential North-South arrangement that would have isolated Virginia, Virginia Tech and Maryland with five former Big East members, a notion that troubles fans of the Cavaliers and Hokies.
Plus, North-South would be more imbalanced than a three-legged table, with Florida State, Miami, Clemson and Georgia Tech in the South, leaving Virginia Tech as the North’s bell cow.
There is no convenient Mason-Dixon Line for the ACC at 14, increasing the chances of the conference retaining the current and balanced Atlantic-Coastal split and adding Syracuse to one and Pitt to the other.
Another positive consequence, most likely unintended: greater access to the BCS. If programs such as BYU, Navy, Air Force, Central Florida and ECU land in automatic qualifying conferences, very cool.
So thanks, Pac-12 presidents. Nice to see at least one group of ivory tower PhDs with common sense.
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