Tuesday, November 20, 2012

stormy waters

Probably the most upsetting thing about Maryland's departure is that the ACC, for a brief time thought to have joined the unpoachables, is now potentially the largest target of opportunity in the insane arms race that conference realignment has become.  Both the prohibitive buyout and the notion that the dust was settling turned out to be false hope.  Jim Delany is officially an unhinged madman, having essentially admitted the reason the Big Ten expanded was "other people were doing it."  Not even joking about that.  And truth be told, people think once a conference reaches 16 teams, it's done expanding, and I don't know why they think that.  If Delany is madman enough to add Rutgers, he's madman enough to create a 24-team monstrosity just to be the biggest and baddest.  He's clearly not being discriminating.

With the Big East almost entirely picked over, the wolves are sniffing around the ACC's door.  If you think the Big 12 is content not having a championship game, you're beyond naive.  The SEC would probably take a couple more teams, given the right opportunity.  The Borg Ten are heading for Sector 001.  This would not be a problem if everyone were happy in the ACC.  Let's assume, for just a second here, that what we want the most is to keep the ACC together.  Whose ass should everyone be kissing?  Let's look at this in reverse order.

14. Wake Forest
Potential destinations: None

Nobody is going to poach Wake Forest, and they're pretty much going to vote how everyone else tells them.  In a Brave New ACC-Less World, Wake Forest is in Conference USA.

13. Pittsburgh
Potential destinations: B1G

If the B1G really wanted Pitt, they'd be there already.  Pitt might eventually find a home there, but only in the same apocalypse that makes Wake a mid-major.

12. Miami
Potential destinations: None

This entry and the next one will probably come as surprises to see them so low, but scandal-ridden Miami is more or less poison right now.  If the SEC wants another Florida team, Miami is obviously not the first choice.  The Miami star is fading, and even though they sit in a major metropolitan area, it's not attractive for the B1G.  It's a better school than you think, but even the criminally insane Delany followed the B1G's expansion rules: AAU members in contiguous states.  Miami brings neither.

11. Georgia Tech
Potential destinations: B1G, Big 12, SEC

Georgia Tech is sometimes mentioned in conjunction with the B1G, but it's not contiguous (yet.)  And if the Big 12 looked eastward again, there are other schools they have their eye on.  If GT goes that way, it'd be with a much larger contingent, not by themselves.  The SEC, right now, is in a mood where their presidents like to block instate expansion moves, meaning UGA would probably say forget it.

10. Boston College
Potential destinations: B1G

While we probably would not hugely miss BC from an athletic competition standpoint, the BTN would probably like to have a Boston/New England presence.  It's a very small school, though, which would temper the enthusiasm somewhat.

9. Syracuse
Potential destinations: B1G

If the BTN hits snags in trying to enter the NY/NJ market, on account of nobody giving two effs about Rutgers, this is their next target.  Culturally, Syracuse likes the ACC.  Financially, they may get stars in their eyes.

8. Duke
Potential destinations: B1G

Yup.  Duke is very near the bottom of schools whose butts need to be buttered up.  We haven't really gotten to the actual threats yet.  Football is king, you know.  Would the B1G like to have Duke as a package deal with UNC?  Possibly.  Would they just take UNC and leave Duke?  Even more possible.

7. NC State
Potential destinations: SEC

Academically speaking, NC State is a relative bottom-feeder in the ACC.  They would be so in the B1G, too (remember, even Delany has to answer to school presidents), and if the B1G decides North Carolina is a good place to be, they'd probably view NC State the same way they view Pitt and Iowa State: unnecessary.  The SEC is the threat here.  If they decide they want to expand into North Carolina, NC State would listen very hard while their Tobacco Road brethren would probably sniff and sneer.

6. Virginia Tech
Potential destination: SEC

Similar to NC State, but with somewhat better academics, and the SEC already recruits North Carolina heavily, while the only school with much traction in Virginia is Alabama.  I do not think the Hokies are especially attractive to the B1G.

5. Clemson
Potential destinations: Big 12, SEC

The SEC would have similar issues with Clemson as it does with GT, but more easily overcome as Clemson is a more attractive football program.  Their flirtations with the Big 12 make them worth paying attention to.

4. North Carolina
Potential destinations: B1G, SEC

Of all the schools mentioned in the B1G's-not-done rumor mill, one of the two that's most often mentioned is UNC.  Geographically, of course, this is silly as hell, but we don't care about that any more, do we?  UNC perfectly fits the profile of what the B1G wants: a flagship school that carries plenty of media clout and is in the AAU with impeccable academic credentials.  (Ignore the scandal they have going; it puts a spot on their reputation, but they're still North Carolina.)

3. Virginia
Potential destinations: B1G, SEC

I said UNC is one of the two.  Guess who the other one is.  And guess who's contiguous now?  If the B1G wants to own, and not just have a presence in, the DC market, there's another piece to the puzzle besides Maryland.  Our smaller alumni base is more than made up for by being one of the academic crown jewels of the conference.  We've been in the AAU since before there was a Big Ten.  I suspect UVA will work very hard at keeping the ACC together; we have some of the best financials in the conference and don't need the B1G's money to stay solvent, or even to compete, or for that matter to excel.  We already do.

Because of that, we have a great deal of independence, which in turn gives us leverage.  There are only two schools in the conference where, if they make clucking noises about leaving, we will have to worry.  The reason is that if the B1G gets all expandy again, their first call won't be to Syracuse, or Boston College, or Georgia Tech, or Pitt, or Kansas, or Texas.  It'll be to Charlottesville.  The B1G's school presidents would covet the addition of that kind of academic firepower, and that would overrule any concerns the evil-eyed Delany has about market size.  I would also expect us to listen to SEC overtures; Vanderbilt would probably lead the charge as they're likely tired of being the token academic superstar.  I would rather keep the ACC together, so it's not like we could just hear Clemson or NC State talk about greener pastures and respond by speed-dialing Delany, but the plain truth is, the ACC now needs us more than we need the ACC.

2. Florida State
Potential destinations: Big 12, SEC

Florida wouldn't especially like the idea of having FSU in their conference, but I suspect professional courtesy among presidents is the only thing that kept the SEC from calling FSU and not Missouri when it needed to figure out how to cleanly add Texas A&M to the conference.  I don't doubt that the Big 12 smoke earlier this year had a tiny bit of fire behind it; FSU is close to their wits' end with the Carolina-centrism of the conference, and they don't need to worry about the value-added-ness of any potential new conference because they're the ones adding the value.  It's not a stretch to suggest that half the value of the ACC's current TV deal resides in Tallahassee.

1. Notre Dame
Potential destinations: B1G, Big 12

It's the openest secret in the world that the B1G covets Notre Dame.  It's the second-most openest that Notre Dame doesn't seem to want to go.  But if they ever change their mind....

At any rate, I suspect the league could weather the loss of FSU only slightly better than it could weather the loss of Notre Dame before the Domers even got here, which is your best indication of how important their addition is.  If we lost FSU (and probably Clemson after that) the league could still have a chance to survive by transforming itself from a southern league with a northern presence to a northern league with a southern presence.  Essentially it would be as if a few ACC teams had joined the Big East of ten years ago, and not the other way around.  If we lost Notre Dame, we'd lose quite a bit of our attraction in the northern half of the country and still be vulnerable in the south.


Obviously, the ACC also has to find a replacement for Maryland.  13 football teams is not a logistically workable situation unless you're the MAC.  The usual suspects would be UConn and Louisville, with Cincy, UCF, Navy, and USF as potential dark horses.  I don't know whether the Florida schools prefer to add another one to their numbers, or prefer not to add another one, but I'd guess either way the preference is strong.  Between Louisville and UConn, I would guess it's not long until Louisville finds its way into the Big 12 if it doesn't get an ACC bid, whereas UConn is likely to be around a little longer, depending on how rapacious the B1G gets in the upcoming months.

Other wild ideas, which are probably too imaginative for the ACC to consider, might involve Georgetown, St. John's, or Villanova.  I would not go that route myself; you might as well go with Temple, which doesn't have to build a whole new football infrastructure. 

Better yet: put out feelers in the directions of Vanderbilt and/or Kentucky.  The attraction for Vandy would be a greatly improved academic environment.  The attraction for UK would be, believe it or not, that they could actually improve the stature of both their football and basketball programs.  Basketball for obvious reasons.  Football, because they're a complete afterthought in the SEC and will never have any real success there.

The downside for either would be the loss of millions of dollars per year in revenue, although in Kentucky's case it could be mitigated because the networks would be terribly interested in the right to show the game every time UK played Duke and UNC.  It'd be a huge gamble for the ACC though.  They'd be going all-in on hoops, which worked so well for the Big East.  And there's the risk that teams like FSU would not appreciate the further basketballifying of the conference, not to mention the fact that the SEC would be royally pissed and almost certainly try and replace UK from the ACC's ranks.  (Or take Louisville and improve their own football product.)  Pilfering Kentucky would be fun, but a colossal gamble, and would require all members to actually approve the idea and promise they won't be the SEC's return spoils, and not just vote yes because everyone else is.  (Also, Kentucky isn't much academically.  Then again, neither is Louisville.)

Partnering with the B1G is another potentially attractive option.  It was pointed out in the comments that one of the reasons the B1G expanded was because the Pac-12 partnership fell through.  There's truth in that.  And if not the Big Ten itself, maybe the Big Ten Network.  If the BTN could find its way into cable boxes up and down the entire Atlantic Coast, would it pay us more for ACC programming than Raycom would?  John Swofford should at least have a conversation with Jim Delany, the gist of which is, look, what would it take for you to stop stealing our shit off the front porch, and how can we, the ACC, improve your value and get something in return so you don't steal our shit off the front porch?

Or we could just invite Connecticut and pray.


The last item to deal with is logistical.  Also known as: are they really gonna make us play UConn every fucking year in football?  One thing that I haven't seen get a lot of discussion is the fact that we need a new cross-division rival.  Same for hoops: we had two very logical "permanent scheduling partners" that we were guaranteed to play twice a year in Maryland and VT.  Now we have one.  In both sports, the easiest thing is to replace Maryland with whoever is the new ACC member and leave it at that.  That's sort of OK for hoops, I guess, although either way it's going to stick us with someone very, very good.  (That said, Virginia-Louisville holds more interest for me than Virginia-UConn, but that is only the merest matter of opinion.)  Pitt is the other affected team.

Another, perhaps better, idea for hoops would be to give us Pitt and VT, and reshuffle some of the other matchups.  Better for us, I mean, since Pitt is much closer than either of the two prime addition suspects.  Or else find a way to give us another "real" ACC team.  They're not going to break up the North Carolina foursome, so we can forget that.

Football, though, is more worrisome; why do you think I think we're the team that's most hurt by Maryland leaving?  I don't have to completely go gentle into that good night when it comes to matchups, and rather than accept Connecticut as our special buddy, which would suck, we're much better off pushing for a complete reshuffling of the divisions.  We can do this because we can, and because we can probably get FSU on our side.  Even though they would probably try and wall it off south and north and make us be in the Big East, they might at least be convinced that there's a way to improve things from their perspective without a complete retreat into geographical divisions.  I might devote a later post to this, but as likely as not it'll be obsolete and pointless within 8 months, so I might not.

At any rate, the ACC should be made well aware that making us play a Big East schedule in football removes one major objection to Big Ten membership for UVA.  You can posit that to your friends who are fans of other ACC teams and they will laugh, because we are 4-7 and soon to be 4-8, but the presidents of the other schools have "football wins and losses record" a lot farther down their lists of desirable criteria for a member school.


Anonymous said...

No VPI to the Big 12?

Brandon said...

While I was in school, I worked in the FSU sports dept as an Athletic Tudor (depressing hours of my life) and can tell you that the administration has been love/hate with the ACC for quite some time. There are only 3 ways that I can picture FSU staying in the ACC:
1. Agree to aforementioned north/south divisional split. I am none too pleased with having to visit the Carrier Dome every other year. UVA and VT would hate this for understandable reasons so this should be discussed.
2. Somehow get ND as a full-time member or turn PSU onto us as a conference. This would enrage the B1G as well as increase our tv market exposure.
3. Somehow Swofford would have to insist that winning a conference championship be required for the Final 4 football playoff. That would allow FSU to actually take advantage of the softer schedule.

I loved the ACC as it was in 2003 and I am sure you loved it prior to 1993 so we both want this to end well. The madness must end somewhere.

CMUHoo said...

I just have to comment on the irony on Brandon's typo above, where the Athletic "Tudor" at FSU misspells his own job. Too good. Not trying to pick on you Brandon, just found it funny.

It is so funny to think that UVA could be in the driver's seat for the conference if the primary threat for poaching is the B1G instead of SEC or Big 12. Ultimately I think we will wind up in the B1G. It's just a matter of when all the dominoes start to fall.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, maybe Brandon needs a little "tudoring" himself. It is a good column but I just hate this. I do not want to be playing a Big East schedule. It is the Southern connection that makes UVa such a charming place as a "national university." Syracuse, Pitt, and BC as our primary division opponents seems all but unpalatable. Vanderbilt is a very interesting idea for an ACC addition but it does not bring much to the TV package. I hate the idea of UConn being one of us for my previously expressed aversion to their outlaw basketball program. I mean why would the ACC want a school whose team was banned from the NCAA tournament because their players can't or won't read and write? Until now, I have admired the Big 10 because it seems the epitome of what college athletics should be. Maybe it would be a good fit for us. I dunno, I really dunno.

Anonymous said...

I expect that absolutely no one at Virginia has the slightest interest in moving to the B1G. Maryland was in a desperate financial situation, and so (stupidly) ignored all other considerations; UVA isn't, so won't.

We're a southern school. We have long-standing relationships with our southern neighbors (academically as well as athletically). We're very resistant to change -- note the whole recent fiasco with online courses and President-firing. The ACC makes sense culturally and geographically; the B1G doesn't. The students would hate it. The alumni (and their $) would detest it. And again, unlike Maryland, we don't need the extra TV money.

So if we were to move, it would only be after others leave and it's become clear that the ACC is definitely finished; we won't be the ones to initiate that (or act pre-emptively out of fear).

I agree with Brendan though that we have more leverage now to resist something like a North/South split. If the ACC would relegate us to the "New Big East" anyway, all advantages of the ACC pretty much dissipate, and all bets are off.

Brandon said...

I will accept the ribbing around Tudor vs Tutor. I was responsible for math and science so you must forgive me. The irony is clearly appreciated by all. Let's all return now to the point of this post.

kezki said...

You seriously want FSU as a permanent cross-rival? Notwithstanding our win last year that basically adds 0.9 losses to our schedule annually - permanently. I'd rather have WF or NC State. Living in the North East I wouldn't mind UConn, but I can see how everyone else would hate it

Anonymous said...

I would just like to point out that the Big Ten is OLDER than the AAU. Hence no school has been in AAU longer than the Big Ten's existence, not even UVA.

I do agree that UVA is a (the) target for academic reasons.