The seismic tremors out of Tallahassee this week make it official: For those who thought the conference realignment wars were over, think again.
We are a long way from finalizing the landscape, and no competent analyst will even venture a guess as to the future makeup of the college mega-conferences.
To show how tenuous the current borders are, just look at what happened at Florida State. An outgoing board member spouts off that FSU officials maybe, sort of, could be thinking about jumping from the ACC to the Big 12 and the earth rumbles on its axis.
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The reason is simple: If FSU, which is a relatively new entrant into the ACC, having come into the conference in 1991 (and having never achieved the football success it had as an independent since that time), jumps ship, it likely won’t go alone. Miami (also a late ACC arrival) and Clemson could look to leave the confines of a conference that has become geographically and culturally unwieldy, with schools from Boston to Miami to the hills of Blacksburg, Virginia claiming synergies that clearly do not exist.
If any of that happens, all bets are off.
And just so there is no confusion, since lots of people will claim that tradition and commitment and other lofty character traits will keep such shakeups from happening, don’t kid yourselves. Conference expansion is about money, pure and simple.
The SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri, not because of synergy or geography — nobody even pretends that Columbia, Missouri is in the Southeast — and not because of any benefits to the student athletes. How does flying the women’s volleyball team from College Station, Texas to Columbia, South Carolina on a Tuesday help anyone? But by opening the Houston, Dallas, Austin, St. Louis, and Kansas City markets, Mike Slive and the his cadre of well-dressed staffers in Birmingham are welcoming a financial windfall.
So, where does the SEC go from its current 14-team roster? Probably nowhere, at least in the short run. It took 20 years for the conference to go from 12 to 14 teams, so Slive and company are in no rush. But everyone recognizes at the optimum number under the new “jumbo” conference model is 16, so, if the Big 12 and ACC get into a shooting war, the SEC could be in a perfect position to pick up the pieces.
Virginia Tech is the most logical choice. The people of Blacksburg have a lot more in common with their brethren in Knoxville and Lexington than they do with the South Beach set or the fishermen of Gloucester. Plus, the Hokies play good football. So, home-and-homes with Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vandy and Florida would make all the sense in the world.
Nobody at Virginia Tech is talking about moving, but nobody at Florida State was talking about the Big 12 until a few weeks ago, either. So, anything’s possible.
The same is true with some of the original ACC schools like N.C. State or North Carolina. Nobody has uttered a peep about these schools moving — and the wailing and gnashing of teeth if they did would cause YouTube to melt down — but if one domino falls, who knows there the others might land?
Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham and Greensboro are perfect markets for the SEC. They are geographically and demographically desirable, and the revenue potential is enormous. Plus, Texas A&M t-shirts were already printed with North Carolina listed as an SEC state (which it currently is not), so somebody is Aggie Land might get to keep his job if a team or two gets added.
There will certainly be other talk — Memphis if they made capital improvements to their facilities and got a little more serious about their football; West Virginia if they could get out of that darned Big 12 deal — but it’s all speculation.
The short answer on how the conferences will eventually look is, nobody knows. The idea of North Carolina, home of Dean Smith and Michael Jordan, being an SEC school will likely send Tar Heel fans running for their toilets. But, stranger things have happened.