I wrote last November about the absurdity of the most recent series of conference re-alignments and expansion. Conference realignment and expansion is in no way a recent, or revolutionary, concept. College football over the decades has remained about as steady as the Hatteras shoreline. The trend of several small, regional conferences towards a few elite super conferences traces back two decades (read more in-depth about that here), and it’s never had any purpose beyond filling the coffers of these super conferences with multi-millions in BCS and TV revenues.
Last summer, the whole college football world wanted to be aligned with Texas and its Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston TV markets, not to mention the state’s rich recruiting hotbeds (except, of course, Nebraska, who wanted nothing more than to wholly disassociate itself from the Texas-centric Big XII). Mike Slive, Larry Scott and Jim Delaney had become Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin at Yalta, but instead of re-organizing Post World War II Europe, the SEC, Pac-10 and Big 10 would re-organize the college football universe in the way that profited each of them most.
For a while, it seemed as if at least one of those would increase to 16 teams. The Pac-10 tried to add Colorado, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State; the Big Ten considered the usual, Notre Dame, as well as Texas, Nebraska, Missouri, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and perhaps even Maryland; while the SEC eyed Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, and Missouri.
Of course, the final shift was far less dramatic, with the Pac-10 adding only Colorado and Utah and the Big Ten only Nebraska, while the SEC remaining unchanged. The Big East later added TCU and has extended an offer to Villanova. Boise State joined the Mountain West right after TCU defected and BYU declared football independence, opting instead for its own TV network, similar to Notre Dame, and (eventually) Texas.
None of us who follow the politics and power struggle of college football expected that was the end, if for no other reason than it was all too neat. Whereas a handful of programs fight a massive arms race for the biggest stadium (capacity, in descending order: Michigan, Penn State, Tennessee, Ohio State, Alabama, Texas), the super conferences they comprise are fighting not for fans in those seats, but viewers on their couches at home. Understanding that, you can be certain that realignment and expansion is far from over. The SEC will expand to at least 14, and likely to 16, and the Big Ten will undoubtedly follow suit in the same manner.
The uncertainty, for a State fan, is what kind of plans the ACC has to protect its positioning and how the next round of changes will affect us.
I expect the SEC to initially add Texas A&M and Oklahoma, decimating an already-weakened Big XII that has banked its future on Texas’ commitment to the conference. Texas will pursue its own TV network, and once it proves lucrative, you can expect them to become independent. Eventually, I expect the SEC will try to lure Virginia Tech (a perfect fit), Florida State and/or Clemson away from the ACC. I know, this is where you tell me that doesn’t make sense because the SEC already has TV markets in Florida and South Carolina, and they should add State because we have the best fans in the world. Of course, I agree with latter, but then I counter that the move adds households in those markets, because the way conference TV agreements work, there would be no competition between Florida and Florida State, for example, during the 3:30 time slot. And TV viewers is the only thing that matters, remember?
Meanwhile, I expect the Big Ten will look at the same folks as last time, and end up adding Missouri, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Rutgers, or maybe even Maryland. The Pac-12 won’t affect us, but will add Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, and perhaps even give Boise State a look.
What we’re then left with is two conferences – ACC and Big East – already struggling to maintain relevance among the football big boys suddenly trying to figure out how to simply survive. Depending on how it plays out, both conferences could be down as many as three teams each. And considering the Big East would still have 14 or 15 teams for basketball, I wouldn’t expect any kind of merger for a super conference similar to the Big Eight and Southwestern Conference forming the Big XII in 1996. In that case, the two conferences would either have to try to raid each other, and/or look elsewhere to strengthen their position. Perhaps Memphis, with its deep pockets of FedEx support in tow; Navy, for its far-reaching appeal; or even Central Florida.
Hopefully the ACC leadership has a plan for keeping the conference intact or a contingency for keeping it strong if programs secede, because the next round of expansion could very well leave the ACC looking entirely different than what most of us grew up watching (heck, it already is). With that said, and having no lasting devotion to the current ACC, if I was in charge at State, here’s what I’d do: First, I’d extend tailgating and paint the end zones red-and-white checkerboard like a picture I saw circa-1960s, and then I’d get in touch immediately with Texas A&M about forming some kind of alliance; finally, I’d form a task force – Task Force Trinity Lot – dedicated solely to promoting the benefits of N.C. State in the SEC.
Actually, I think there’s nothing beyond a slim chance that State would ever be considered by the SEC, and it could even prove disastrous for us trying to compete at that level when we’ve barely competed in the ACC over the past decade. There’s simply no merit to the argument that suddenly as part of the SEC our recruiting would improve and we’d be competitive — if that’s the case, why hasn’t it worked for Kentucky, Vanderbilt or South Carolina?
My point is this: I’m impressed that Texas A&M is being proactive about its own future rather than strapping its fortune to its rival who has made it abundantly clear it will leave the Big XII as soon as it gets its own TV network — no way an independent Texas gets negotiated out of any future BCS deal. Now, where it may get interesting is if Texas A&M is just playing its hand to gain leverage on any potential partnership with Texas on a TV network, and they leave together. This could create further chaos, as the SEC’s potential raid of the ACC may go deeper — and in fact, may even include a team in the North Carolina market such as, say, State?
Of course then I’d spend most of my time complaining about how we’re 4-8 every season, but I’d finally get to go to an SEC game every week during the fall, just like I’ve always wanted.