The ACC and Big East Deathmatch Nears
Proving how quickly things can shift in conference realignment, a year after a narrowly avoided death sentence the Lazarus-like Big 12 is now alive, walking, and about to feed on the ACC.
Yep, now the ACC is a dead conference walking.
Because several ACC teams have options.
And in the world of conference realignment, options are a bad thing.
Options provoke instability which leads to greater instability.
And Florida State is the most unstable prize in the world of college athletics right now. It's 2012's Texas A&M, the school that sets conference dominoes in motion.
On Friday I laid out why the Big 12 could be worth up to $15 million more per year for Florida State. It wasn't a coincidence that the SEC and Big 12 announced their big bowl game right in the middle of the Florida State drama. That was a sign from the Big 12 that the SEC had picked it as a partner over the ACC. A clear signal to the Seminoles that the football future of the ACC was growing weaker each year.
So what happens if, as I believe it will, Florida State bolts for the Big 12?
The Big 12 may take the first bite with Florida State, but if that happens then the Big Ten and the SEC will smell blood in the water.
How bad could it get?
If that happens the ACC's decent football schools -- and others -- will realize that a feeding frenzy is on.
All options will be on the table.
And enough schools will have options that things can get bad very quickly for the ACC.
When a feeding frenzy starts having too many desirable teams becomes an undesirable trait.
The Big Ten, long covetous of Georgia Tech's reach into the Southern markets and of the Virginia and Maryland combination of academics and athletics, could sweep in and snag those three schools. (The fourth spot to get to 16 could either be Notre Dame, at long last, or Rutgers or UConn.)
The SEC, meanwhile, could snag an entrance into two rapidly growing states by grabbing Virginia Tech and N.C. State as I've been predicting for a couple of years now. The additions of Texas A&M, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia would double the SEC's 12 team footprint from 50 million to 100 million in population.
Moves like this are why the SEC Network could be worth $1 billion a year to the conference.
Very rapidly the once 14 team ACC could be cut in half in a realignment feeding frenzy: Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Clemson, Boston College, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse would be all that's left of the ACC. (This is assuming, by the way, that Duke and North Carolina remain loyal to the ACC, would they?)
What happens next?
Another death match with the Big East.
The biggest question becomes, do Pitt and Syracuse even pay the Big East's exit fee to join the ACC? That's the first battle, to make sure those schools are even willing to still pay to join the conference. With a five-team ACC desperate for teams, would you pay over $10 million to join a wobbling conference? Especially when the ACC will be offering bids to any Big East school who will accept its offer.
In fact, all five of these schools would have to join the ACC -- with Pitt and Syracuse also remaining loyal -- in order to even get the conference back to 12 teams and allow a conference title game to continue. (Not allowing these schools to leave immediately may have been the best decision outgoing commissioner John Marinnato ever made. He probably knew how messy realignment could get over the next couple of years. It could be that Pitt and Syracuse end up staying in the Big East).
If Pitt and Syracuse opted not to leap then Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Clemson, and Boston College are just five schools floating in the conference realignment abyss.
The mighty ACC could dwindle to five members in the Carolinas and Massachusetts.
Hell, is it even possible that the Big East could end up adding these five schools and wiping out the ACC? It's not probable, but it's certainly possible.
The ACC could have this football conference for 2013: Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Clemson, and Boston College.
If the ACC takes UConn, Rutgers, South Florida, Louisville, and Cincinnati while Pitt and Syracuse still leave -- which I think would be the most likely outcome -- then you're looking at the ACC becoming the Big East and the Big East becoming Conference USA.
Both of these conferences are done as major players in college football.
Suddenly Big East football is Temple, Houston, SMU, Central Florida, Memphis, Boise State, San Diego State, and Navy joining in 2015.
So do you know what you've got if Florida State bolts for the Big 12?
Mutually assured conference destruction for the ACC and the Big East.
The Seminoles haven't had this much power since Andrew Jackson was fighting them in the early 19th century.