The SEC, ACC & Conference Realignment Part I

The Big Ten's talk of expansion has made conference realignment the hot topic of the 2010 off-season. It raises the possible creation of 16-team "super-conferences," and would bring with them a high stakes game of "which-teams-land-where." Doug Jolley of takes a look at the potential impact on the SEC and ACC in this three part series.

Part One of this three part series looks at the big picture from a national perspective, as well as things you can count on when it comes to the SEC and ACC.

Part Two will focus on the ACC and how realignment will affect the conference as a whole, including the possible additions after subtraction.

Part Three wraps it all up with a focus on the potential new members of the SEC, should it expand, and how those choices would affect the makeup of the ACC, including some surprising sentiments by fans of some prominent ACC schools.

Part One:

If there are major realignments among the conferences causing the creation of 16-team "super-conferences," the Big Ten and the SEC will be solidly in position to further strengthen their already dominant position in college football. The most likely place for the Big 12, sadly, is the morgue. The ACC and the Big East would likely be found in intensive care, as both conferences would be vulnerable to having some of their better teams poached by the SEC and Big Ten in a major realignment. The PAC 10 better get off the side of the milk carton if they want to remain players. The dominant west coast conference is already in 5th place nationally when it comes to TV contracts, and would drop even further without action.

The rich will get richer:

Right now, the Big Ten has its own network and $242 million reasons each year in their media contract to remain on top. The SEC isn't far behind, pulling in $205 million each year. The Big 12 contract earns $78 million each year, and the ACC's expiring contract earns it $67 million. The PAC 10 only pulls in $58 million a year, a paltry sum when placed next to the figures above. The Big East rakes in $33 million. Take eight quality teams and the TV markets they bring, give them to the Big Ten and the SEC to bring them up to 16 teams each, and those figures will be redistributed with even more money flowing in their respective directions. The other conferences will need to reconfigure in order to even remain in the game, and will also probably need to make the jump to 16 teams, which in turn would change the current BCS conferences from six down to four, in all probability.

If the top 64 teams choose to create a juggernaut made up of four 16-team super-conferences, it could challenge the NCAA. Every team and conference not included would become permanently second tier.

Texas and Notre Dame will be the two schools whose decisions make the most dominoes fall. The Longhorns are coveted by the SEC, the PAC 10, and the Big Ten, not to mention every other conference.

The Irish have a harder decision to make this time around if they don't want to be left standing without a chair in this game. North Carolina will also be a school with very hard decisions to make, decisions that could affect a lot of other schools.

If there are going to be major changes to how the conferences are made up, a 16-team conference with two eight-team divisions make the most sense. In football, that would mean schools would most likely play their seven division rivals and have one team each year from their conference's other division. The new divisions, in effect, would be mini-conferences.

The biggest problem with creating four 16-team super-conferences nationally lies with the conference that started the whole realignment discussion: The Big Ten. Currently they have an awkward 11 teams in the conference, and finding the right five teams to add would not be easy. They could add one team, giving them the needed 12 teams to play a conference championship game, and be done. If Notre Dame agreed to join the Big Ten, that might do it.

Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated pointed out that "Indiana and Purdue pocket more money from the Big Ten's TV deal than Notre Dame does from NBC ($15 million annually)." Notre Dame's insistence on maintaining their football independent status is well known. The Big East is one of the conferences most likely fighting for survival, should there be major realignment, and they may pressure the Fighting Irish, who are Big East members in every sport but football, to bring their pigskin players into the fold or go home.

In looking at how major conference realignments would affect the SEC and the ACC, here are things you can bank on:

Arkansas is not going to move to the Big 12. South Carolina is not going to move back to the ACC. Neither fan base has any interest in that happening, and the current SEC media package makes life too sweet for either school's administration to consider it. The SEC is also not going to ask any current members to leave.

• Should the SEC expand, it will not dilute the current members' financial distribution from the media package. Expansion will only happen if dollars move in the right direction, and the addition of other teams will largely be dictated by the TV markets they bring with them. The current 15 year media package would be renegotiated - at a minimum - to increase the package so new member schools would receive the same compensation as current members receive. The addition of huge major TV markets to the SEC footprint would justify it.

• As for the ACC, the timing of their current media contract being up for renewal right now in a down economy and talk of major conference realignment at the same time is not good. The ad revenues that networks use to pay conferences for their big contracts are way down.

• Second, with the conference makeup of all the major conferences potentially shifting, if you were a network exec in charge of negotiating a deal with a conference, would you be willing to give that conference a deal that locks in millions of dollars for multiple years when no one knows for sure which schools will actually make up the conference?

Tomorrow we will look at how potential conference realignment could alter the ACC as we know it.
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