Two weeks ago, I bid adieu to the Big 12 conference upon hearing strong voices out of Norman, Oklahoma, desiring to head west to the Pac-Infinity. Now, a much less drawn-out and intrigue-filled development popped up over the weekend: Pittsburgh and Syracuse applied for membership in the ACC. After everything the Big 12 has put us through these past months, who knew changing conferences could be so easy?
While nothing is actually set in stone, here’s what appears to be 99.99% locks—the Big 12 and Big East both have 7 teams, the ACC and Pac-12 will have 14 teams, and the SEC is starting off with 13. Meanwhile, the cryptic Big Ten remains quiet with a suddenly-unorthodox 12 teams. What’s next as we go forward with expansion? Who are the key chess pieces in this game? I’ll take you through the kings, the rooks, and the pawns.
With the ACC now seeming to be very stable (they are expanding, they upped the “exit fee” from the conference unanimously, and they once again trumped their geographical competition [the Big East]). Texas and Notre Dame are now officially the only two kings left in this reshuffling. Texas has been heavily rumored to be thinking about the Pac-12 and the ACC. Quieter murmurings still exist regarding Texas to the Big Ten. Texas must deal with the politics of potential orphans Texas Tech and Baylor and the not-so-simple ramifications of their fledgling TV network. They need a new conference, but they have a ton of baggage. Meanwhile, Notre Dame is watching the walls close in on it as the Big East’s overall viability has been compromised with the loss of Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Notre Dame will do anything to remain independent in football, but the landscape is shifting and the money is far greater for them in a super conference. Will the Big East somehow survive? Will they find non-football membership in the ACC? Will the super conferences stop at 14 and allow them to maintain independence? All are key questions Notre Dame fans wish they didn’t have to answer.
These schools are not lynchpins for the future of expansion, but in a quest to get the perfect combination of academics, geography, and football, they will play major roles from here on out.
Missouri and Kansas. I covered their plights two weeks ago, and little has changed for them, except the decreased desirability of going to the Big East, of course. Both of them could possibly find a home in the Pac-12, but the official word is that Kansas and Kansas State are joined at the hip. Kansas and Kansas State stand little chance of going to the SEC or Big Ten together but could be the final pieces for the ACC should they want to expand west. I can’t imagine a legendary program like Kansas being left out, but if no one wants Kansas State and the Jayhawks are tied to them, they just might be. Missouri, I think, stands a much better chance of finding a great home. I think they could be a western partner with Texas to the ACC, a western partner with Texas A&M to the SEC, a southern partner with Texas to the Big Ten, or even an eastern addition to the Pac-12 (with Texas Tech or Kansas maybe).
West Virginia and Rutgers. From a football angle, Rutgers might seem like an odd inclusion. But New Jersey is a populous state, and Rutgers is its state university. Rutgers alone doesn’t excite New York City folk, but in conjunction with another power football conference, Rutgers has a certain appeal. If the ACC is looking to lock up the East Coast, they might use a Syracuse/Rutgers combo (as much for football as for basketball). Or, the Big Ten might continue their slow creep east and west. East with Penn State, west with Nebraska, and then east again with Rutgers? West Virginia seems like a lock to the SEC to me. They are a border state with that conference, a traditional football power, and academically on par with most SEC schools. WVU isn’t likely to find a home anywhere else; it’s SEC-or-bust.
Only the six schools mentioned above are guaranteed seats at the super conference table. If you do the math (13 SEC+14 PAC+14 ACC+12 B1G=59 super conference teams), that means the rest of these schools will be battling it out for the final five spots out of 64.
UConn, Louisville, Cincinnati, and South Florida. I’ve listed them in order of their desirability. UConn is not only a basketball power, it’s an elite name in the well-populated northeast. Its football is way “meh” but not much more so than other Big East leftovers. Louisville also is a basketball-first school, and the second-most desirable for the ACC. I can’t envision a scenario where either Cincinnati or South Florida make the final 64.
Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech, and Iowa State. Stick a fork in Iowa State. They’re without a hope. But the other three have a flickering chance. Hitch Baylor’s and Texas Tech’s wagon to Texas. Place Kansas State firmly on Kansas’s coattails. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of those three make the final 64, but not all three of them.
BYU, TCU, and Boise State. These BCS-busters are probably busted. They’re too ghetto for the Pac-12 and too far from the SEC. A realistic scenario for post-Armageddon small-time football? The Big East remnants and the Mountain West/WAC scraps forge together independently. Their two champions meet up in some yearly mid-major championship game.
Trying to guess at this point is a fool’s venture. Every little move creates ripples elsewhere. As an admitted Big Ten homer, I’m going to stick with the prediction I made over a year ago. Texas and Notre Dame will end up in the Big Ten. With those two behemoths in, the Big Ten can marry for money (TV markets) instead of love (football power). I think they wrap up the process with Missouri and Rutgers.
I don’t think the ACC wants to go national; they’ll stick to their niche (great basketball and solid football) and do it well. I think they’ll pass on Kansas and Kansas State, taking instead Louisville and UConn.
All of which will suit the Pac-12 fine. I don’t think they want any part of the state of Texas without the Longhorns. I think they strengthen their hoops and snag the two Kansas schools. They’ll need to go “zipper” to keep everyone happy with their trips to California, but I think Larry Scott can sell that to his presidents.
The SEC will take West Virginia first to get to 14 and then will make deeper inroads into Texas. I think they take two of the three remaining Texas schools (Baylor, Texas Tech, or TCU). The only other school I could see enticing the SEC at that point would be Cincinnati, and that would be solely for Mike Slive to stick a tiny pea under Princess Delany’s golden mattress.