This segues into something I hinted during the Final Four, the future of college sports was about to radically change. I came across a Twitter feed @mhver3 who has slowly been tweeting about possible league expansion, primarily the Big XII and Big 14 at the expense of the ACC.
Whether he has legitimate sourcing or not, I won't or can't say and what I write here is all conjecture on my part but his overall points are spot on and sensible if we follow the money.
What follows is a best guess look at what the landscape may look like in a few years.
First, the ACC and Big XII fall well behind the SEC and now especially, the Big 14 in media revenue. The ACC has no cable outlet other than ESPN and the Big XII has television deals with Fox and ESPN but no network dedicated to the league. They do have an elephant in the room and that's Texas and the Longhorn Network.
If we dive further into the Big XII, they need and want to get to 12 schools. Though Oklahoma made the college football playoff this past year, most believe they need a conference title game going forward to give them a better chance at continually making the playoff. If they wait until playoff expansion, they'd probably be fine in this regard but it seems unlikely they'll wait.
Oklahoma President David Boren has been a vocal proponent of expansion and beat guess is, if it doesn't happen, Oklahoma bolts. If Oklahoma bolts, the Big XII will be ripe for picking. Oklahoma would be wildly attractive for all other leagues. I'd guess the Big XII expands this summer with Cincinnati a logical target. Though BYU probably a better choice, adding a UConn theoretically opens the NY market. We'll revisit BYU later.
If expansion happens, the next domino to fall would be getting a conference tv deal. This requires the LHN to transition into the Big XII network. Texas can fight but runs the risk of chasing for a league and accepting that leagues tv deals. They have leverage here but it seems prudent they agree to this and can still be financially rewarded. Having a tv network ready to transition is a big deal for the Big XII. ESPN can continue to support this. It should also be noted the league and yeh SEC are tied into the Sugar Bowl with ESPN. ESPN has a vested interest in the Big XII succeeding. Just for a bowl game? Yup, ESPN owns most of them and they're spending big money on the college playoffs.
Let's say this happens. The league most likely to disappear will be the ACC and the ramifications are many. You must ignore history when we think about this. Tobacco Road and basketball have that powerful history. What it doesn't have is a tv network. ESPN pays them well and though each member institution signed a grant of rights making it expensive to leave, it's believed that can be broken without the creation of a league network. It's believed ESPN does not currently want to do this.
The members of the ACC have to look at the money the Big 14 is generating and ask what about us? Without a tv network, can they generate that revenue. Even with a network, can they? This makes them vulnerable. Could another network pay for a league network? Perhaps but would the ACC wait for that knowing the changing dynamics of the viewing landscape? Seems unlikely to me.
If the ACC is ripe for the picking like I believe it is, the Big 14 will pounce first and get the best markets. The key word is market. Ignore the prestige except in two cases I'll make. This is my best guess at what the Big 14 would do.
Invite: Notre Dame, Boston College, Virginia, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Duke.
Notre Dame and Duke are academic and sport prestige additions. Notre Dame actually has a bigger NYC presence than Rutgers. The other 4 schools are all about market. Boston, Atlanta, North Carolina & Virginia.
That's a bloated football league but indulge me and imagine 2-Big 10 leagues
Classic: Nebraska, Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State
New: Indiana, Penn State, Maryland, Rutgers, Virginia, Duke, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, BC
9 conference games in football, round robin in hoops, champions meet for a conference winner.
That's a league with plenty of inventory to sell. Indiana moves but given the basketball fervor, I put them with other basketball heavies. Illinois would be another option.
Next up would be the Big XII or SEC. Would the SEC react swiftly and grab traditional football schools such as Clemson and FSU? Doubtful. We have to think markets here. The SEC doesn't need Tallahassee or Clemson. Plus, that's a hard sell for Florida and South Carolina. But Virginia Tech and NC State make sense. While neither is a true football power, they'd fit the narrative of new markets. Now, if the Big XII were to implode, them I'd see the SEC chase Oklahoma.
SEC Adds: Virginia Tech, NC State
For football purposes, you play 7 games and 2 crossovers, 1 "rivalry" and 1 other. Basketball follows old Big East scheduling. Spoiler: Kentucky wins anyway
Division 1: Kentucky, Vandy, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, VaTech, NC State, Tennessee
Division 2: Texas A&M, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn, Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri
If the Big XII adds UConn and Cincinnati, then I see them adding the remaining ACC schools except Wake Forest. The question for me would be how many schools they add. Do they go to 16 or 20?
If 16, the Big XII adds: Clemson, Florida State, BYU & Louisville
Ironically, in this scenario, Pitt & Syracuse are left looking for a dance partner after jumping ship and effectively killing the old Big East. Yes, I'd want this. Those two ending up in the AAC would be quite humorous. Syracuse doesn't technically add a market but I'd argue they add more than say, Rutgers.
If 20, the Big XII also adds: Syracuse, USF, UCF & Pitt
Division 1: TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas, OU, Oklahoma State, BYU
Division 2: UConn, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Pitt, UCF, USF, Syracuse, Louisville, Clemson, Florida State
That would leave Wake Forest out. Fair or unfair, they offer less than UCF & USF and the market is covered. Possible the Big XII could add them and only 1 of UCF/USF.
This is all speculation, of course. I assume Notre Dame gets enough money from the Big 14 tv deals to assuage any financial loss leaving NBC. I don't underestimate their ego, though. They aligned with the ACC because they wanted to showcase where the talent was. This potential new division within the Big 14 would still allow that and let them still play USC and Navy. I think taking hockey to the Big 14 matters. Big 14 hockey is not viewed well and the RPI numbers back that. This is a first step but if they chose to remain independent, I could see the Big 14 go after an Oklahoma or Florida State but ultimately settling on Syracuse.
And even if part of this happens, it'll suck. Chasing tv money makes sense because they'll be a lot less of it later. Will the cost of tradition and intimacy outweigh it in the long run? Time would tell but ask yourselves this, has changing leagues helped schools on the court or field or just the bank account?