We have heard a lot about the Big Ten’s possible expansion, more in fact that I ever wanted to hear- and I live in Big Ten country! However, I can say that it would be an expansion that makes sense- 11 teams just doesn’t work in the long run for a competitive national conference, especially when your football season ends before Thanksgiving. I unfortunately can’t say the same thing for other conferences scrambling to make a move to add more teams, from 12 to 14 or even to 16 team superconferences. In the wave of realignment and conference defections that will inevitably occur over the next 18 months due to a money or prestige grab, the ACC will certainly not allow itself to sit on the sidelines- after all, look what happened to the Big East. Oh wait, the ACC did that, right? The Atlantic Coast Conference may have to move fast to avoid the same fate.
I won’t sit here and break down what I think will happen, since I have heard too many “Texas to Big Ten” and “Rutgers is a done deal” over the last 4 months to believe any of it at this stage. However, I can think of what could happen and how the ACC has to respond. The first move likely to affect the ACC could happen as far out as the PAC 10, where the conference could make the move to 12 teams by trying to poach some of the powerful Mountain West teams like Utah, BYU, or even TCU (geography goes out the window in expansion talk) or even Big 12 teams like Colorado. Any poaching of the Big 12 will declare open season on the conference, and if the Big Ten snatches up Missouri, Nebraska, or both, the conference is done for and could split off in a hundred different directions. The SEC, which likes to think of itself as the premier conference despite the fact that they aren’t any good in anything except football and make less media money than the Big Ten, will have to make a move for Texas and Texas A&M, or some other combination of Big 12 teams.
That would push the SEC to 14 teams, the PAC 10 to at least 12, and the Big Ten to at least 12 (probably 14). The ACC would be pressed to respond, but rather than play to their football strength as the SEC would, the ACC would make a play at becoming the premier basketball conference, going after the likes of Pitt, Syracuse, Louisville (again, geography unimportant even when you are the ATLANTIC COAST Conference), or some other combination of Big East teams. An even more threatening scenario would be if the SEC made a push for Florida State and Miami and pulled them in to create an all-SEC Florida (no offense, South Florida). This would force the ACC to make an even bigger splash by snatching up more Big East teams. However, after the 2005 ACC raid of the Big East, the Big East conference forced its members to agree to a 27-month waiting period between changing conferences, meaning that the ACC may have to play with 10 teams for several years before it can get up to its form.
The end result it not going to be good for college sports. The Big 12 and Big East will be shattered or nonexistent, and the superconferences that result will have divisions that rarely play each other- a 16 team conference put in the conventional setup would have a team from one division only play another division once or twice a decade- how is that a conference? Conferences ought to be a point of pride for a geographic region- the Big Ten is the Midwest, the SEC is the Southeast, the ACC is the East Coast, the Big East is the Northeast (mostly), and so on. These new conferences would be out of touch with their history, but that is unimportant. They would make marginally more money, and that is the heart of college athletics. Conference commissioners, athletic directors, and the NCAA would toss the entire history of the game if it meant they could rake in some sponsorship deals- perhaps we could have the Google Conference instead of the PAC 10, the Turner Conference can replace the SEC, and the Ilitch Conference will take over the Big Ten.
Don’t laugh. With money on the line, anything is on the table to the NCAA.