About a month ago, I floated an idea about what the ACC could look past this apocalyptic expansion era that seems all but inevitable. At the time, it was meant to be somewhat humorous. Now, it looks like almost possible.
First, let's get caught up on the happenings around the NCAA when it comes to expansion. The Big Ten expanding is a secret about on the same level as the NCAA expanding the tournament field to 96 - the question is just when it will be announced and finalized. Pete Thamel of the NY Times makes this seem like the next step in the march to Armageddon, using quotes such as "utter turmoil" to describe the landscape.
Piggybacking further off that NYT article, it becomes increasingly apparent that the Big East is doomed. Syracuse's AD said it in the article; awesome Syracuse blog Troy Nunes thinks it, too; an ESPN blogger says their "only card" is that Notre Dame joins the Big Ten and Delaney is contented, but that seems unlikely.
Syracuse's AD seems to think that the Big 12 will fold away as well, leaving just four super-mega-power-conferences, all with 16 teams: the Big Ten, the Pac-10, the ACC, and the SEC, presumably with Texas and the like joining the SEC. That eerie possibility seems more and more likely by the day.
The next step of action, after the process reportedly accelerated, comes today, at the BCS meeting in Scottsdale, AZ, where Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney is the center of attention. Even if every other conference is ready to expand or die, they must wait on Delaney and pick over what he leaves out.
But as expansion turns from possibility to inevitability, the ACC must evaluate their own options and pray that the SEC decides to turn southwest to Texas instead of east to Clemson. Surprisingly, the Super-ACC might be more possible than we originally thought, but not nearly as good looking.
The original plan assumed that the Big Ten would go to 14 and get Notre Dame; both of those look unlikely right now. Let's play out the dystopian scenario set forth in the Times:
- The Big Ten goes to 16, adding Missouri, Rutgers, Nebraska, Connecticut, and Pitt.
- The SEC retaliates with a few of its own, like Texas A&M, Oklahoma, or the almighty Texas. If they instead poach Clemson, FSU, or Miami, which seems a possibility, the ACC might be playing the role of the Big 12 in this scenario.
- The Pac-10 picks up some Big 12 left-overs, like Colorado, and goes after the mid-major powerhouses of Boise St., Utah, BYU, or TCU.
What does that leave the ACC? Syracuse, which might want to be in the ACC anyway, is the obvious fit and probably the best choice. Past that, the ACC is left with a myriad of difficult decisions and potential options. Looking at a few:
- West Virginia: Great athletics and geographic fit, but academic concerns.
- Louisville: Just as good athletically, but poor geographic fit and similar concerns regarding academics.
- Cincinnati: See above.
- South Florida: Would strengthen the Florida contingent, but isn't a powerhouse athletically nor academically.
- East Carolina: Tobacco Road would be happy and they bring a decent football team to the table, but does the ACC really need another Carolina team?
The academic concerns will almost certainly be have to be thrown by the wayside. While I'm not exactly in favor of bringing in a community college, this sort of catastrophic event would basically make it eat or be eaten. To survive, the ACC might have to swallow some less than great academic schools.
Honestly, with better fits like UCONN, Pittsburgh, and Rutgers possibly joining the Big Ten, the ACC will have to bite the bullet. West Virginia and South Florida would be the front-runners, and it would probably be between Louisville and ECU for the final spot, with the other going to the SEC (the ACC's hand may be forced on this one).
What would that conference look like? Well, it wouldn't be pretty, and it certainly wouldn't be the utopian (or as close as you could get) version that I had proposed earlier. That won't happen unless the Big Ten stops at 14, which would probably surprise a lot of people at this point.
The scheduling method would the stay the same, though the divisions would have an uglier break. Probably something like this:
North: Maryland, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Boston College, East Carolina/Louisville, Wake Forest
South: Miami, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Duke, N.C. State, North Carolina, South Florida
While having Wake in the North isn't ideal, there's no other option; at least they were never really truly as "Tobacco Road"-y as UNC, Duke, and N.C. State, and don't have the same legacy.
If the ACC wants to get out of this looking good, they'll need some help. If they want to get out of it at all, though, something like this might be necessary, especially if the Big Ten makes an unexpected phone call to College Park.