It was weird seeing ACC games on a Monday Night — as far back as I can remember Big Monday showcased the Big East. But this is the world we now occupy.
It’s odd that so many of us are struggling so mightily to reconcile Swofford’s new and improved ACC with the once great conference we grew up following, because our DNA as Americans is inherently expansionist. We’ve never allowed ourselves to be bound by the Appalachians, Mississippi, Rockies, Pacific or space. Yet when Swofford, Slive and Delany began negotiating mega-millions in TV deals that divided up the college sports world like the Allies at Yalta did Europe, we’ve offered, at best, pragmatic acceptance of a new world we can’t control and to which we can no longer fully relate.
25 years ago, conferences were defined by a shared geography and, by nature, a common culture. The Southeastern in the Deep South, Big Ten in the Midwest, Big East in the Northeast, Big Eight on the Plains, Southwest in Texas (and Arkansas), Pac-10 on the West Coast, and the Atlantic Coast that cut a cozy, southeastern (and Maryland) swath that stretched not beyond 350 miles in any direction from its epicenter in Greensboro.
That common culture and geography fueled organic rivalries and a provincial prejudice that exhibited itself as conference pride. Now, conference names are nothing more than monikers for marketing a coalition of mutual financial interests. The acronyms are meaningless: the SEC stretches into Texas and the Midwest; the Big XII has 10 teams, the B1G will soon have 14. The original Big East was a basketball-only conference while the new Big East is, once again, a basketball-only conference that now stretches west past Chicago and Milwaukee into Omaha. Meanwhile, the ACC has expanded northwest through Kentucky to the shores of Lake Michigan (but only partially).
The paradox of it all is that for everywhere expansion and realignment has failed us — longtime rivalries forsaken, arbitrary divisions, imbalanced scheduling, watered-down matchups and marquee-less conference championships — it seems so far to have proven a colossal success financially. Our teams are more accessible than ever with the proliferation of the TV and internet options the mega-million dollar contracts provide us, and we’re watching games in record numbers.
And it certainly doesn’t seem to have diminished the popularity of college basketball in the heart of the old ACC.
Highest-rated markets for ESPN men's college basketball season-to-date: Louisville, Greensboro, Memphis, Raleigh-Durham, Kansas City
— ESPN Research (@ESPNResearch) January 14, 2014
So, we pose this question to the SFN Community: will the pros of expansion/realignment eventually prove to outweigh the cons?
Note: This was originally posted on SFN on January 14, at 2:48pm. Due to heavy news flow in the next 24 hours we have moved this back to the top on Friday morning, January 17th.