Throughout the whole college football expansion saga of the last 15 months, there have been a lot of easy targets and a lot of misplaced rage. For all the fussing over Baylor threatening to sue Texas A&M for leaving for the $EC, its actions served to find some vestige of loyalty among the remaining members of the Big 12, rallying them to something, even if that something was just a vague approximation of a sustainable conference. I don’t think in my heart that Oklahoma was necessarily a villain either, as they only did what they saw as appropriate given the recalcitrant stance that Texas was taking regarding its unbalanced share of conference revenue. The media has had a lot of fun making new and different bad guys at each stage, and while there is surely greed at the heart of all of the conference expansion hype, it is driven primarily by personality clashes, no money.
Nebraska, Texas A&M, and Colorado haven’t left the Big 12 just because of the conference revenue-sharing policy, but because of the arrogance that Texas seemed to have with regards to the rest of the conference members. Colorado didn’t want Texas in the PAC-X regardless of whether the Longhorn Network could be folded into the regional network or not- they simply didn’t want to have to deal with them. Likewise, Nebraska had greener pastures in the Big Ten bit likely wouldn’t have gone last year if there wasn’t a lingering sense of resentment over the way Texas seemed to get its way in every conference policy. A&M didn’t like being treated like a second tier team in Texas, so they chose to be the new shiny toy in the SEC.
Out on the coast, the Big East has been a dysfunctional mess ever since its inception, exacerbated by the multi-tiered football/all other sports structure of the conference. The idea that Syracuse and Pitt would want to escape that for the stability of the ACC shouldn’t be a surprise- and that tiered system will be a huge challenge for the Big East in future expansion efforts. Going from 8-10 or 12 teams isn’t too hard for the Big East if they are willing to be “flexible” geographically, but when you are adding to a 16 team basketball conference, you have much bigger problems to deal with. The Big Ten, for its part, has solidified itself with some of the strongest brands in college football and has no need to go out and grab a small fry just for the sake of having it. When splitting the revenue of Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, Nebraska, etc among 12 teams, that is a net win for the teams. Add in a Rutgers or Syracuse-level team and split it 13 or 14 ways, that is a net loss for the conference. However, the Big Ten had so many rumors flying around last year about who might or might not join, the entire circus put the conference in an awful light.
In fact, there is only one conference who appears to have handled things correctly. The Atlantic Coast Conference. At no point did ACC Commissioner John Swofford get his name in the news or the conference connected with a dozen different schools. The conference quietly bided its time all through last year’s flurry of activity, not acting until it felt it absolutely had to. There were no leaks in the administration of the conference, and no one saw the additions of Syracuse and Pitt coming until the moment before it was agreed to. For all the sound and fury of the Big 12, Big Ten, PAC-10/12/X, Big East, and SEC, the ACC was content to stay out of the headlines and take teams that made sense financially and geographically. Rather than reach out of their geographic area a la the Big East they moved to consolidate their hold over markets already in their expanded northern region, picking up teams in Pennsylvania and New York. Not only will the map of conference territory not have to change, the logo won’t have any changes save for a couple more white dots.
Following that, the conference raised the buy-out price to $20 million for any school hoping to leave. Virginia Tech was never any real threat to leave the ACC for the SEC not because of any perceived increase in money, but because at the end of the day it is about personalities. The ACC has stable, productive leadership that has had a clear vision for conference expansion since the early 2000s. I have heard that a President’s best Athletic Director is the one who never has to bring messy issues to his or her desk. In that case, the ACC is a President’s dream. And since this is in the end up to the Presidents, why go anywhere else?