On Wednesday, you were minding your own business, potentially tuning into the Coastal Division side of ACC Football Kickoff (media days), when the Houston Chronicle’s Brent Zwerneman dropped this explosive report.
— Brent Zwerneman (@BrentZwerneman) July 21, 2021
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve somehow been sent back to the summer of 2010 here. Though Texas and Oklahoma alone mulling a move to the SEC alone wasn’t one of the primary rumors the last time the conference realignment gears really got moving, it was certainly a possibility at the time — along with the more popular “Pac-16” plan that would’ve sent them to the then-Pac-10 along with Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Colorado.
Texas was part of what nixed the plan back then, though there were still repercussions for the Big 12’s membership. Now, they appear to be one of the driving forces behind effectively ending the Big 12 as a P5 conference — if not dissolving it entirely.
Now, this could also just be a power play from OU and Texas (the clear moneymakers in the Big 12) to get a higher percentage of revenues from the conference. And yesterday evening’s report that both schools would renew media contracts when they expire in 2025 at least points to some of that. Regardless of whether the two schools actually leave for the SEC or not, though, it’s clear that something big is going to happen soon around conference membership.
Naturally, the ACC should be proactive about protecting itself here.
In the past, no league’s been more proactive about expanding and safeguarding its interests during conference realignment. From the time it added Miami, Boston College and
Syracuse Virginia Tech, to when it added the Orange and Pitt, then Notre Dame and finally Louisville, it’s always been ahead of the curve. Granted, that was with John Swofford at the helm. But the spirit of “Ninja Swoff” hopefully lives on in Greensboro as Jim Phillips takes the reins.
So first and foremost, the league should just go ahead and add West Virginia.
The SEC hasn’t flatly denied the OU/Texas rumor, and any league would be foolish to say no to such overtures. So it’s clear the league wouldn’t mind adding two more to get to 16 teams and get the superconference train rolling. Certainly the Big Ten has its own ideas there too, and wouldn’t mind trying to poach an ACC school or two because the alternatives are… Kansas and Kansas State/Iowa State.
Though the ACC has media rights locked up into the next decade, that’s already proving to be an issue for the league as media rights get increasingly expensive and it’s locked into rates that were the norm a half-decade ago. Meanwhile, the Big Ten and SEC dwarf the rest of the Power Five in terms of revenues before this likely next round of realignment. If you’re an ACC school and you get a call, you absolutely take it.
Adding West Virginia wouldn’t stop a school like Georgia Tech, North Carolina or Duke from leaving for greener pastures (though the latter two aren’t going anywhere). But it would signal to the league’s members that the ACC is once again being proactive as it figures out how to function in this evolving reality. West Virginia’s not in a big market, but has a passionate fan base, a history with many ACC schools and would add valuable inventory on both the football and men’s basketball front. It’s a no-brainer add that the school would probably pursue proactively at this point knowing the Horns and Sooners are eyeing the exits. The ACC should just go ahead and lean into that.
Now what happens from there? Well, a move to superconferences could possibly push Notre Dame into the ACC full-time. Getting a greater commitment from Notre Dame should be the priority, obviously, since that’s what triggers larger payouts from ESPN and what makes the league’s membership more secure going forward.
But if it doesn’t happen (and I wouldn’t bet on it until more pieces start moving), the league should at least look at who else is out there. There’s UConn, obviously. Or they could poach Kansas out of a crumbling Big 12 before the Big Ten does. Or Cincinnati could be an option if the AAC starts getting raided by the Big 12…
We’ll see what happens there. In the meantime, though, Syracuse’s options are… to just wait. They’re not getting a Big Ten invite. There’s no upward move, and no exit from the ACC that’s financially beneficial for the Orange. That’s fine. We knew that — or at least should’ve before today.
With luck, the damage here is minimal, but we’re at yet another potential turning point for college athletics. SU made it to a lifeboat last time around. Hopefully the same is true this time, too.