Wow! I didn’t see that coming so quickly: Colorado jumps from the Big 12, now make it 11, to the Pac 10, now make it 11 as well. By the end of the day, Nebraska, as expected, may also leave the Big 11, formerly the Big 12, to go to the Big 10 which actually has 11 but the Cornhuskers would make it 12. Here we are, not supposed to make sense of conference re-alignment, and I may have just made it even harder to consider and comprehend. Let’s face it; it’s just a number game, a television ratings, dollars and cents numbers game.
And, then with the same numbers game theme, as I suggested yesterday, watch for Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to follow Colorado which bolted before Texas Governor Rick Perry could pull the arm-twisting routine and make sure Baylor was part of the movement, just as the governor of Virginia did to get Virginia Tech into the ACC which may have turned out to be a better addition than Syracuse would have been, even with its better appeal and television market in New York and as a twin accumulation with Boston College. (Okay the sentence is over; take a breath.)
Also, I said something yesterday about neither the Southeastern Conference nor the Atlantic Coast Conference needing to worry about adding four more universities to each conference because television contracts are in place and there’s no more money to be had. Think again. Shortly thereafter, I received one text message and two telephone calls from different people with their reviews of the SEC and ACC situations. It’s interesting and could be startling. Might be believable, especially if, as you read on, you keep an open mind.
Imagine North Carolina and Duke leaving the ACC for the SEC. What!?!? No way! Those two schools would never leave the ACC. NC State would have to go with UNC. Blah, blah, blah…
Okay, now after the shock, let’s break it down. It’s all about money and operating two very expensive athletics programs: UNC and Duke. I said yesterday this expansion gig is based around football and money but, with North Carolina and Duke, it would be about basketball, giving the SEC two more anchors, along with Kentucky, to dominate television revenue from round ball on the hardwood and all the other clichés that go along with it.
Without megabucks, neither would leave the ACC without assurances that basketball would be on equal footing with football in the SEC. This isn’t about how fans would perceive the league which today they recognize as football and football only. Florida and Kentucky can win all the basketball titles they wish, but an SEC team losing the BCS Championship game is bigger and more important news to SEC fans than winning NCAA back-to-back basketball titles would be, except if it were South Carolina that played in and lost the BCS title game because no one in the SEC, except for Garnet and Black fans, really gives a hoot about the Gamecocks. And, besides, that will never happen anyway.
The SEC would have to do something extraordinary to convince North Carolina and Duke, not only to turn their backs on the legendary league they helped to establish in 1953, but to make it so positive, other than the money, that it would be an easy decision. Well, with those two—Duke and UNC—that would make 14 and by adding—are you seated—Kansas and pick one—Kansas State or Missouri—that takes care of two other important items. It takes the SEC to 16, today’s magical intercollegiate conference number, and it brings one more internationally known and respected basketball program into the SEC fold. Again, with all due respect to any of the other SEC teams and to all of the ACC institutions of higher learning, having Duke and North Carolina on the SEC East roster and Kansas and Kentucky in the SEC West division makes for a mighty strong basketball presence.
The TV networks, especially ESPN which holds those SEC TV rights and does so for a time frame to be determined, or so it seems, would have a gold mine. Of course, so would the SEC. However, is there space on television and more television money around to cover this?
In simple terms, YES! Who, what, when, where, how and why, you may ask? Well, that’s simple: From the potential revenue and television space inventory hanging out there for the currently proposed but, I believe, not-signed-sealed-and-delivered contract the ACC is supposed to have with ESPN and it’s other broadcast partners. If the contract is not a done deal, the idea of Duke and UNC going to the SEC is very much a possibility with ESPN lowering the dollars for the ACC to increase the pot for the SEC which could then dangle an additional $4 million or more a year in front of UNC and Duke. With big coaching contracts in place at both schools, another $4 million here and another $4 million there adds up nicely and helps with the legal separation papers to be served on the ACC. (Even if the contract is complete, there must be a stipulation somewhere that releases ESPN if Duke and UNC are not in the ACC.)
You may think this is far-fetched but don’t for one minute thinks it’s stuff of fairy-tales. It could happen, and if it does, NC State will try to cry foul as a sister institution and a primary rival leave the Wolfpack in the trail dust. Pressure will come from many parts to join UNC and NC State at the hip and to require UNC to drag the Wolfpack along with them, but, when all is said and done, even Marc Basnight and his pressure tactics that forced UNC and NC State to play East Carolina in football would not be able to stop it.
From where I sit, NC State is not now in the mix for any league at or above the ACC level to come a calling. The building of spectacular venues for its program has been like adding a new trophy case, but the Wolfpack has forgotten about adding trophies for those cases. Oh, there have been a few here and there, and there have been some good seasons off and on, but overall, NC State’s athletics program is mediocre at best, which is disappointing and which makes the Wolfpack a non-factor in conference expansion and re-alignment. Just wait, though, after a national search, there’s no doubt that the new Athletics Director will make it all better in short order. Right?
A few weeks back I said the ACC could be picked apart with Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech going to the SEC and Maryland and Boston College parting for the Big East, both obvious geographical movements, leaving UNC, Duke, NC State, Wake Forest, Virginia and Virginia Tech to fend for themselves and try to rebuild the league. That would be six gone and six remaining. But, now, and please do not take this lightly, imagine Duke and UNC going to the SEC resulting in the other 10 ACC teams to try to rebuild unless Maryland, heads north to the Big East, etc., etc., etc.
If Duke and UNC go, there would be major devastation to the ACC. The gains in television revenue would shrink and the exposure of the league would diminish. The idea of the ACC breaking apart is not very pleasant. All this movement in conference membership, all this talk about teams re-aligning their loyalties, even a thought about a possible Duke-North Carolina-SEC marriage is about the money, and that’s okay with me, the money part that is. But it would still be disappointing to see the mighty ACC take a giant fall.