Sunday, May 23, 2010

My Contribution To The Endless Nonsense That Is Major-College Expansion Talk

Are there any fellow Pitt fans out there who think 1) Pitt to the Big Ten won't happen, and 2) they are less-than-psyched about the idea of playing alot of games against Indiana and Minnesota and Iowa, and 3) they simply long for the day when the Big East of the 1990's, that Ed Reed and Michael Vick and Amos Zereoue shit-talking, underrated, if slightly disjointed and undersized football conference, would get the old gang back together? I'm here to say there is a (realistic) scenario where this just might happen. The only catch is, it would be known as "The ACC North". Here is my four-part scenario (considerately organized by me to make this seem like something slightly less than the rantings of a lunatic):

Part 1- The Big Ten takes Nebraska, Mizzou, and Rutgers. This is the most likely scenario, IMO. I can't see the Big 10 going all the way to 16 (it's just too radically different, it would dilute the product, and they could still get the television "footprint" they want with these three). Also, it leaves the door open in the future with two spots for ND or Texas (unlike the above-mentioned three, neither needs to rush anything, they will always have plentiful options), or even Oklahoma, or whoever else catches the Big Fourteen's collective fancy in the future.

Part 2- The SEC will not sit still once the Big Ten expands. And it will devolve into a pissing contest pretty quick (as everyone knows, that's how they do business in the South). I imagine the SEC will want Texas also, but I don't see the Longhorns budging (hell, they could go independent easier than ND with their massive following). My guess is Oklahoma, OK St, Florida St., Clemson, and Georgia Tech being legit targets for the SEC, and I could honestly see the ACC, in the ultimate irony of ironies, getting raided less than a decade after being the raiders. Florida St. and Clemson are the two names I have heard the most, so let's go with those two from the ACC to the SEC(realistic, IMO).

Part 3- The ACC now only has 10 teams, and obviously needs to reload. So where do they look? Once again, the Big East. At this point, the clear trend is that leagues will be on their way to 16 teams. Having no legitimate chance to sway a super-program in the mold of Texas, ND, or Florida, the 10-team ACC decides to reload and "fill its dance card" so to speak, as there will be no motivation to hold open any spots (as the Big 1(14)0 does in Part 1, or even the SEC would). ND to the ACC is not realistic. Why hold open a spot for a program that will never bite? Instead, make the best grab you can right now.

Part 4- The ACC makes its move to be the all-encompassing East Coast conference. I'm not sure if it would qualify as an expansion or a merger, but basically at this point they graft six Big East teams onto the ACC.

-Pitt
-Syracuse
-West Virginia
-UConn
-South Florida
-Louisville

I have read any Big East team leaving would need to pay $5 million in cash and give 27 months notice. However, with this type of disbanding/merger/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, it's likely an arrangement could be made to pay a lump sum to the only team left off the merry-go-round (in this case, Cincy), and the basketball-only teams (perhaps $15 million and one years notice from the above six?). With this type of mass exodus, a settlement benefits both sides (what type of leverage would Providence or DePaul have at this point of the leaguewide apocolypse? Wouldn't Cincy be better off finding a new home and while getting a nice golden parachute, as opposed to delaying the inevitable for nearly three years and doing nothing?).

Adding these teams would serve some important purposes for an ACC losing FSU and Clemson.
*It adds some football "thump". No, there are no Nebraska's or Penn State's in the group, but WVU, Pitt, and Louisville have had some recent success (especially the 'Eers), Syracuse is a once-historic power, and UConn and USF have made great stides in a short time. They have both become legit Top-35ish programs in less than a decade, quite an accomplishment when you think about it.
*It solidifies and adds "markets". Syracuse and UConn would give the ACC as much a foothold in NYC as the Big 1(14)0 would have with RU (more, IMO), USF adds Tampa and keeps the league status quo with two Florida programs, Pitt adds a whole new good-sized market, and WVU adds a rabid fanbase, and a whole state.
*It restores the ACC as THE hoops league in the country. UConn-Louisville-Cuse-Pitt-WVU are premiere, top-flight programs. Combining these five with the existing ACC (minus FSU/Clemson), and the league becomes unreal. If "The ACC Network" is the ultimate progression in all of this, that is alot of good programing.
*Renewed enthusiam in the existing Big East programs, with a pretty natural North/South split of the league (as oppossed to alot of geographic and political difficulty in splitting up the future Big Fourteen). And there are some built in rivalies (Pitt/VT and WVU/Maryland coming directly to mind) to boot.

The split:
NORTH: Pitt, WVU, UConn, Syracuse, BC, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Virginia
SOUTH: Miami, GT, USF, UNC, NC St., Duke, Wake Forest, Louisville

The North would essentially be the long-mythical Eastern Conference minus PSU, Rutgers, and Temple, with VT and UVA instead (PSU is essential to have a definitive Eastern Conference, but VT and to a lesser extent UVA are very nice consolation prizes. No Rutgers? I'll get over it). The South would make geographic sense. Competively, the North looks a little tougher football-wise, but it is pretty balanced, all things considered.

Are there problems and unlikely-hoods in this scenario? Sure. The ACC was once pretty conservative, and the disappointments of the last round of expansion probably renewed some of that lost restraint. I have just given a most extreme would-be scenario, but "some of this" is alot more likely than "none of this" to occur in the next five years, IMO.

The irony if this did occur? The ACC raid of the beginning of the 2000's would have inadvertantly set into motion the then-existing 1990's Big East ultimately raiding the then-existing 1990's ACC in slightly more than a decade. The above-described "newer ACC" would have nine programs which could be associated as the "Big East", and only seven programs which could be associated solely as the "ACC". Whatever you would call this above-creation of my imagination (though I would say it is based on alot of reality), it would be just as appropriate to call it the New Big East as the New ACC. I'm sure this is not what John Swafford had in mind.

Would the North Carolina blue-bloods go for this? Would they have a choice? Doing nothing could quickly lead to new "partners" Miami (SEC) and BC (Big Ten) bolting for greener pastures. Loyalty is a funny thing. Could they afford to wait? Dr. Frankenstein (John Swafford) could very well be bent over a barrel by the monster he created.

While it couldn't negotiate any contracts as rich as the New Big Ten or the New SEC, this ACC would still have alot of qualities. Basically, it would have a strong footprint from BC/New England to NYC, over to Pittsburgh/West Virginia, down the Appalachians controlling all of Virginia, back over to DC, down to a monopoly of NC, and further south through Atlanta, Tampa, and Miami. That's alot of population, fans, and television sets. It would be a hoops juggernaut (think of just the new rivalries... Duke/UConn, Louisville/North Carolina, Pitt/Maryland, WVU/UVA, Syracuse/NC St). It would rekindle old Big East rivalries for VT/BC/Miami. It makes geographic sense (I don't have a map handy, but the longest inter-division trip would be something like BC-VT and Miami-Louisville, and most inter-division games would easily be in driving distance).

It would be a league where just about EVERY team could dream of winning. Competition is nothing to over-estimate as a fan. I don't look at any team (outside of Duke) in the above scenario and think "Oh, they could never win the conference". I don't know if I can say the same for the Super-Duber Big 10 or SEC. Could Vandy or Rutgers or Northwestern or Minnesota or Kentucky or Indiana, or even Clemson or Purdue, ever win those leagues, or even compete consistently at the highest level? I could see Pitt winning the Big Sixteen about every 25 to 30 years on average. I could see them winning this ACC every 10 to 15 years. It's a home that all Pitt programs could live in and prosper. The Big Ten and all it's millions just wouldn't be as fun (playing PSU aside).

This is all speculation. But, some of it might come true anyways.

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