Update on the Major Conference Expansion/Realignment Front

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The Pac-12 may be done with expansion, but it doesn’t mean the college sports landscape is settled. While the mega-conference free-for-all has not quite developed as feared, there are still some major teams shuffling around and lots of poker-games being played. Let’s just take a quick glance at how the landscape may still change and what impact it might have on the Pac-12.

The now 14-team ACC has reopened negotiations on its current TV deal. With Syracuse and Pittsburgh joining the ACC, they have added 22nd largest media market (western Penn) and although Syracuse is a relatively small city (#80), its large alumni base in and around New York City gives it a foothold in the largest media market in the country and an overall footprint in the 3rd largest state by population in the country.

Will the ACC stay put at 14? UConn is chomping at the bit to move to the ACC. They only moved their football team up to FBS in 2002. But, they have found strong success early . The Huskies have already played in 5 bowl games, including in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl. UConn is worried about the Big East’s stability in football with the loss of TCU and wants to find a more stable situation.

They are clearly an attractive product for the ACC as well because of their legendary basketball program, their proximity to New York City, they occupy the 45th (Hartford) and 60th (New Haven) media markets, and have a national following for basketball.

If the ACC added UConn, there are a large number of options for the 16th team. While it seems pretty unlikely right now, the ACC is very interested in Notre Dame for obvious reasons. Given the instability of the Big East, those remaining teams have to be thinking about what their options are. Rutgers, West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida all have to be thinking about their situation. West Virginia has already been looking around Although, at least as of now, the ACC has already rejected West Virginia.

Speaking of TCU, with their move to the Big 12 effectively replacing Texas A&M, the Big 12 will seemingly remain at 10 teams. TCU brings with it a nationally ranked football program and solidifies the conferences hold on the huge Dallas-Ft. Worth media market (#4). While most conferences have been looking to expand their footprint, I think it makes sense for the stability of the Big 12 to consolidate its hold on the southern plains. Texas is such a producer of football talent and has such as huge population base that is makes sense to hold onto what it has. The Big 12 has also been mentioned as looking at Tulane (adding the New Orleans market #4), Houston (#4) and Memphis (#41) to get back to 12 members.

Whether they will remain at 10 teams or expand to 12 remains to be seen. Missouri still wants out. Missouri’s first choice, the Big Ten has said no and reiterated its position that they are happy at 12 teams, so the Tigers are looking at the SEC. With 13 teams now, it seems inevitable that the SEC would look to add at least one more, if not 3. With the ACC expanding, it looks unlikely that the SEC will be able to snag those teams from the ACC. It appears the SEC’s only feasible options would to be add a team from the Big East and/or Missouri to get to 14. One report has Louisville as their #1 target. Kentucky is leery of the move, but it certainly could solidify their hold on the state of Kentucky, as well as, populous southern Ohio. If the SEC wanted to get to 16 teams, they could aim for both and then might add a West Virginia (who they have already rejected).

If Missouri does go to the SEC, will the Big 12 hold at nine teams? They certainly could. Conferences survived just fine at 8-9-10 teams for decades before expansion fever hit. But, if they want to add another team to get to an even 10, then BYU seems like it would fit the bill. BYU is already going independent, so they wouldn’t raid any conferences, they bring a large national following, and have respectable football and basketball programs.

As for the leftovers of the Big East, they could all disperse to conferences like Conference USA, or they could look to add members. Navy has already been talked to. Army and Air Force have also been mentioned. I have trouble imagining Air Force being a good fit with the Big East other than being united with the other military academies. Temple, who used to be a Big East member, might also be invited back. East Carolina and Central Florida are also looking at that as a possible move up. Either way, it is hard to imagine the Big East holding onto its automatic BCS slot if they replace Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and Louisville with those schools mentioned above.

I do wonder if the Mountain West (who have been conspiciously quiet lately) will sit idle and let Air Force leave. If they can dangle the hope of an automatic BCS bid, that might be enough to keep them. If the Big East really falls apart, would the MWC with Boise State get the slot?

So, how does it all affect the Pac-12? Directly it probably doesn’t. I think the ship has sailed on the mega-expansion with Texas and Oklahoma. The Big 12 definitely looks to be in consolidation mode. I think that 12-team (or less) conferences will survive this wave of expansion, especially if three of them hold firm (Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12). What could be impacted might be TV deals, national media respect, and maybe even invitation slots in the BCS games and the NCAA tournament. But, if three of the major conferences do not grow further, the BCS automatic bids will still remain.

The Pac-12 was way ahead of the game on this and secured its long term deal already. Whether 12 years from now they suddenly find themselves behind the curve remains to be seen. But, the Pac-12 picked off the best universities that remained in the west and will continue to be the dominant force west of the Rockies for the foreseeable future.