Conferences, expand with caution
Posted September 4, 2011
The NCAA dodged a bullet in 2010, but history’s not likely to repeat itself this time.
Rumors abound concerning conference realignment scenarios. Just click on a sports-related website, and you’re likely to see a headline speculating on the next big move.
Texas A&M to the SEC... Oklahoma to the Pac-12... Texas to their own planet...
It does appear a major change in the collegiate athletics landscape is on the way, with the charge being led by the SEC and the Pac-12.
The conventional wisdom outside of this area is that any ACC school offered to join the SEC will jump. One story after another is hitting the web speculating one school after another breathlessly awaiting an SEC call.
In the past two weeks, I’ve seen Miami, FSU, Georgia Tech, Clemson, NC State, Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Maryland bantered about as potential SEC targets.
That’s everyone but Wake and BC... If that really the case, just merge the conferences to form a “Conference of the South,” and secede from the NCAA. The South really would rise again... in football.
But before anyone rushes to judgement and screams bloody murder because the ACC is not leading the expansion charge, consider the past.
The ACC’s move from nine to twelve teams has yielded mixed results, but at the time many of the same pundits currently drooling over 16-team superconferences were heralding the ACC as the new top conference in football.
In the words of one presidential hopeful, “How’s that working out for you?”
The ACC focused more on adding large markets, and less on large fan bases. The conference was enamored with Miami and Boston College because of their positions in major population centers.
But in adding the ‘Canes and Eagles, the ACC added two schools with microscopically-small alumni bases.
When Miami is rolling, fans will watch in droves. The ACC thought they were adding a powerhouse in Miami. But when “The U” is merely above average -- they don’t have the built-in fan base to sustain the interest.
The schools currently being kicked around in realignment talks – Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Missouri, for example – are all large schools with large fan bases. They’re relevant in good times, and in bad.
Only Virginia Tech fit that bill during the ACC’s expansion. The Hokies have been the best addition by far, even if it took Virginia’s legislature to get them into the ACC.
If the ACC does feel the need to expand – an option I’d only consider if the conference title game or BCS bid is in jeopardy – I’d look at Pitt and Syracuse first. Both bring large media markets and large fan bases, and they make sense in terms of geography. If you need a longer list, throw Rutgers in there. Notre Dame isn’t happening, and the ACC missed the boat on Penn State twenty years ago.
West Virginia makes sense in terms of its regional rivalries and large, passionate fan base. I’d love to see the Mountaineers in the ACC, but that’s not likely either. WVU’s academic profile just doesn’t hold up to ACC standards, and the school presidents/chancellors will turn up their noses.
In truth, I don’t think 16-team superconferences will be good for the game. All I see is a further dilution of the regional rivalries that are the very foundation of college football. Is anyone excited about an Oklahoma-Washington State game? How about Texas A&M-Kentucky? (I could also use Boston College-Clemson as an example)
As frustrating as it may be to watch the ACC wait out the current wave of expansion rumors, it may well be the best course of action – as long as the current 12 members stay put.