Part 2: SEC, ACC, and Conference Realignment

As a conference, the ACC has long been at the pinnacle of college basketball, but football is the economic engine that provides eight figure annual media payouts to the teams in the top conferences, and the ACC will be challenged to thrive, perhaps even survive, if conference realignment affects their membership. Doug Jolley takes a look at the potential impact on the ACC in Part 2 of the series.

Series overview: 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" which would dominate college sports as we now know them, and would bring with them a high stakes game of "which-teams-land-where."

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

Click the following link to read Part One:

The SEC, ACC, and Conference Realignment Part 1

Part Three will focus on the potential new members of the SEC should it expand, including some possible surprise candidates there as well.

Part Two

The ACC has expanded three times, each time adding a program or programs that brought football mojo to the conference best known for its basketball.

First came Georgia Tech in 1978, which brought with it three national championship rings, and earned another championship in 1990 while a conference member.

Florida State joined in 1991, when the Seminoles were just approaching the zenith of their success under Bobby Bowden. The Seminoles added two more football national championship trophies in the 90's to the ACC war chest.

In 2003, the ACC added Miami, a team that had won five national championships in football, and Virginia Tech and Boston College, two more teams with solid football pedigrees.

Fast forward to 2010, and the war chest of credibility for the ACC is waning fast. For all the football pedigrees gained in the previous expansions, the media deal that just expired found the twelve teams of the ACC earning less than a third of the SEC media deal dollars that their 12 southern cousins are taking home, and their football cred as a conference also takes a backseat to the SEC. The week before the two ACC team division champions met in the 2009 ACC title game, both teams were spanked by middle-of-the-pack SEC teams.

As talk of major realignment among the conferences heats up, the ACC finds itself at an uncomfortable crossroads as to what to do, and ACC fans and officials recognize it.

If the Big Ten and the SEC choose to go shopping to add four new teams to their respective conferences, it obviously places the ACC in an "eat-or-be eaten" mode. One Tar Heel fan went so far as to say, "If the Big 10 expands to 16 teams and I'm running the SEC, my immediate goal is to KILL the ACC. I would try to weaken the ACC to the point of collapse by taking their best."

Tony Barnhart of the Atlanta Journal Constitution talked about the SEC poaching four of the ACC's strongest football programs in Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Clemson.

I don't see Barnhart's projected ACC defections as the most probable move the SEC would make in adding new teams. Florida would likely oppose adding Miami and/or Florida State; Georgia would likely oppose adding Georgia Tech; and South Carolina would oppose adding Clemson. Why? The SEC doesn't gain any new TV markets in those three states by adding any of the named teams, and those three current SEC schools would be loath to give up the recruiting advantages they have over their in-state but currently out-of-conference rivals by giving them SEC membership.

If the ACC wants to survive, it will have to move proactively, with the SEC and the Big Ten potentially looking to poach their most attractive football programs. The same holds true for the Big East, where the ACC would most likely need to look to get to 16 teams themselves. But making a first move would be almost impossible for the ACC.

They could make a preemptive strike on the Big East, but UConn, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, and Rutgers, the four teams that make the most sense, are already rumored to be headed to the Big Ten. Raiding the Big East for football teams not named Notre Dame (The Irish are currently members in everything but football) will not get the ACC a super-conference TV deal. They are not going to successfully raid any teams from the SEC or the Big Ten. If the ACC had to survive an SEC raid and not only replace the departed teams but also try to add teams to reach 16 in order to remain among the dominant conferences, they would need anywhere from two to eight new teams. Finding credible football teams in that environment would be very tough.

Depending on which teams left the ACC and whether the Big Ten had indeed locked in the best of the Big East's northern teams, their choices might include the bitter pill for UNC of asking East Carolina to join. The leftovers in the Big East after the Big Ten took the four projected teams mentioned would be Syracuse, and a Louisville team that is competitive athletically, but would crush the ever present talk of the ACC's academic superiority. The up-and-coming Florida tandem of Big East member South Florida and Conference USA member Central Florida might make sense if Miami and Florida State remained, but they don't add new TV markets or replace the football creds of any current ACC teams that might leave the fold.

Should the ACC get raided, the conference schools getting the short end of the stick most likely would be those with the weakest football programs: Wake Forest and Duke. Though Wake has fielded some good teams in recent years that have competed well in the ACC, their program's finances and facilities will not earn them any invitations to the super-conference ranks. Duke football is, well, Duke football. If the conference survives, the football strength of the conference will all but certainly be diminished, regardless of which new teams are added. If the conference doesn't survive, with its stronger football programs being assimilated into the new super-conferences, the Demon Deacons and the Blue Devils would find themselves in a conference-less Hades.

If realignment happens and the ACC gets raided by the SEC, UNC may have the toughest decisions to make of all. UNC strongly opposed the last ACC expansion when Virginia Tech and Boston College were added to the conference. Do they stay put as ACC kingpin and fight to keep the ACC relevant in the brave new world? Do they join the flight to the SEC? Or do they keep preaching academic superiority and go with Duke to the Big Ten, as one report speculated, along with Virginia and Maryland? If they don't join the SEC, the "North" in their name becomes more relevant, because instead of playing traditional southern rivals dating back to the days of the original Southern Conference, they would either be trekking north or northwest: north to play in an ACC, including former Big East teams, or northwest as a member of the Big Ten.

Tomorrow's third and last part of this series reveals a surprising choice among Tar Heel and Wolf Pack fans about their preferences if realignment occurs. The third segment should generate the most interest among both ACC and SEC fans.

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