The Big East as we know it will never be the same. The ACC's expansion play will
forever alter the landscape of Eastern football, although probably not the way they originally planned. The lawsuit filed by Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia may save the Big East as a BCS league, but the BCS will be changed also. At the very least, there will be more teams involved in the BCS. However, when the dust settles, one thing can be said with absolute certainty; the NCAA will finally be exposed as the hypocrites they are, decrying the ‘Big Business mentality' of major college football conferences, while plotting to seize control of the football post-season and its revenues.
The ACC expansion bid and the Big East Five lawsuit has resulted in a temporary impasse. The next move does belong to the ACC, but their moves are somewhat limited. The ACC has to decide between one of four choices:
1) Offer league membership to BC, Miami, and Syracuse.
2) Table expansion for the near future.
3) Offer league membership for football only for all Big East FB schools.
4) Offer league membership to Miami only.
Offer league membership to BC, Miami, and Syracuse
If the ACC decides to go ahead with its original plan, it will be costly to them. The reputation of the ACC will take a serious hit. Also, defending the lawsuit will be expensive. Plus, the ACC runs the risk of losing the case. Finally, the projected television contract money may not be there. The above reasons are why I don't believe that the original ACC expansion plan will pass, but assuming that it does and it clears all hurdles, here is what I believe what the Big East will do:
1) The Big East will expand to 16 teams with a football division and a Catholic basketball division. These divisions will eventually form their own conferences.
2) Louisville, Cincinnati, and Temple will be offered Big East membership for the football division. De Paul and Xavier will be offered membership for the Catholic basketball division. These moves are predicated on strengthening the basketball side of the equation first and establishing a television presence in some major markets second.
3) Notre Dame will stay a Big East member in the Catholic division at least until the divisional split. The Irish will have to make a decision on the future of its athletic affiliations by this time. To wit:
a) Maintain its football status quo, join one of the Big East divisions and keep its bowl tie-ins with the football division.
b) Join the Big East football division as a full-time member.
c) Join the Big Ten as a full time member.
4) The football conference will expand to 12 teams. Four (or three depending on ND's decision) teams amongst the following will be offered membership: Massachusetts (if they decide to go I-A), Memphis, East Carolina, Central Florida, and South Florida.
5) The basketball conference will offer membership to one or two of the following schools: Marquette, Dayton, and St. Joe's.
However, the only way this scenario plays out is if the ACC can get the seven votes it needs to approve all three schools. It looks like for various reasons Virginia, Duke, and UNC are ‘no' votes. Virginia has to vote ‘no' for political reasons, UNC doesn't buy the projected TV revenue, and Duke has concerns about divisional alignment and student-athlete impact.
Table expansion for the near future
If the ACC presidents decide to table expansion, the tables will be turned. They will be the conference that will have to worry about being raided. FSU would look to join the SEC if Arkansas leaves for the Big 12 following a Big 10 invitation to Missouri.
If that invitation isn't forthcoming, partner with Georgia Tech to be the 13th and 14th teams in the SEC. Or, believe it or not, join the Big East with two other ACC schools.
FSU and Georgia Tech are the driving forces behind ACC expansion. They, along with Clemson, are ‘football-first' schools rather than ‘basketball' schools. They are worried that the ACC would lose its BCS status without the addition of another elite program. FSU is the only ACC school to play for the BCS national championship. The Big East has two in Miami and Virginia Tech. Every BCS conference needs at least one team to be at least 11-1 going into the bowl season. If FSU continues its recent slide, the ACC may not have another national championship contender. And when Bobby Bowden retires, FSU will discover that it isn't easy to replace a living legend. How long did it take for Alabama to recover after Bear Bryant retired? Or Texas when Royal left? Or Nebraska (Devaney)? Or Ohio State (Hayes)?
The ACC can't afford to throw in its hand now. If they fold, Florida State and Georgia Tech will be sending their resumes out. The Big East would be looking to expand to 12 teams, but could they take four ACC teams, effectively destroying that conference, without being labeled as the ultimate hypocrite?
I don't think that the ACC will back down in the 11th hour, but if they do, that conference will implode. The Big East will go to 12 teams with four of the following five teams: FSU, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Maryland, and Virginia.
. Offer league membership for football only for all Big East FB schools
The ACC could offer football-only memberships to the football playing schools of the Big East conference. This would enable the ACC (and John Swofford in particular) to face while rendering moot the lawsuit filed by the Big East Five. However, a two-division, 17 team conference would be a scheduling nightmare. Even if Pittsburgh or Rutgers were offered Big 10 membership, sixteen team conferences haven't been successful in the past (re: the old WAC). Eventually, the football ‘haves' will want the pie divided by 12 instead of 16. This would postpone the day of reckoning, but it will come.
Offer league membership to Miami only
Another potential compromise solution would be for the ACC to only offer Miami league membership. This would keep the football schools happy, render moot most of the lawsuit, and address the concerns that Duke and UNC have. The Big East should be able to keep its BCS status, especially if Virginia Tech can run the table this year. Syracuse should come out of this with little damage. Boston College, however, will be distrusted by the rest of the conference for a long time. However, the two will have little choice but to stay together.
The seven remaining schools will look to expand to 12 with Notre Dame and Penn State (its unlikely that either would accept) at the top of the list. However, ND might agree to play a partial schedule to keep its bowl tie-ins. Penn State might be unhappy in the Big 10, but at least it pays the bills. The Big East will look to Louisville, Cincinnati, Temple, Marshall, Memphis, UCF, and USF to round out its membership. The ACC would look at East Carolina and UCF to go up to 12.
Postscript: Virginia Tech to the ACC also?
While this article was written, the ACC threw Virginia Tech back into the expansion mix. At first, this seemed like a very clever play. First, a formal invitation would put VaTech in a very bad positon; either stand by their word or protect their self-interest. If they choose the former, the political pressure is off Virginia and they can vote for the original expansion plan. Second, it could force Duke or UNC to change their stance on the original plan. One of those schools would see that a 12 team ACC is the lesser of two evils as compared against a 13 team ACC.
However, with the benefit of a few days hindsight, this looks like the last card the ACC has to play. In order to relieve the pressure on Virginia, Virginia Tech needs an written invitation. Although the pro-expansion forces within the ACC may have correctly assessed Virginia Tech's interest in the ACC, they mistakenly assumed that the swing bloc of schools (Maryland, NCSU, and Wake Forest) would go along with the idea of a 13 team ACC without protest. A 13 team ACC would dilute any financial benefit from expansion and would be a scheduling headache. Also, it would lend credence to the public perception that the ACC is out to destroy the Big East.
The ACC's expansion plan has created an unholy mess which has far greater ramifications than the ACC/Big East struggle. If this ends up in the courts, major college athletics will never be able to be considered ‘amateur' sports again. It might threaten the tax-exempt status it has. And if Congress gets involved, the BCS will be the subject of an anti-trust hearing. This NCAA is powerless to force any changes in I-A football. As soon as they attempt to do so, the major colleges will withdraw from the NCAA and form their own association. Without the I-A schools, the NCAA men's basketball tournament will have the same status and relevance of the NIT, not much.
When all is said and done, the remaining Big East fooball schools will break off and form their own conference. As long as the ACC doesn't implode, Miami will be in the ACC. If the ACC expansion plan turns out to be an overly complicated suicide plan, the Big East will be there to pick up the pieces.