The Longhorn Network started all of this. Texas's partnership with ESPN on a twenty year, $300 million dollar deal sent Texas A&M to the SEC, which sent Oklahoma exploring its options, which now has led to the first conference realignment domino falling in 2011: Pittsburgh and Syracuse, two founding members of the Big East Conference, will join the ACC. That takes the ACC to 14 members, but it raises as many intriguing questions as it answers. OKTC will do its best to lay out the next steps for you here and keep you abreast of what you need to know.
But the first thing to keep in mind is that the Longhorn Network started it all; this is college football's version of World War I. Recall that in World War I the assassination of the Austria's Archduke Francis Ferdinand was the proximate cause of all the chaos that followed. The Longhorn Network's formation is college football's Francis Ferdinand assassination, the act that sent forth ripples that turned into cyclones. Were there issues percolating beneath the surface that made realignment likely at some point? Definitely. But it was the Longhorn Network that made conference realignment happen right now.
For those of us who are huge college sports fans, this week and next week has the potential to be the most important 14 days in our lifetimes.
This isn't hyperbole.
Everything, and I mean everything, is on the table. The end result, I believe, will be conference contracts that lock teams in for at least a generation.
With that in mind here are eight things that every college football fan needs to know about realignment.
Well, the ACC went nuclear on the Big East before the SEC or the Big Ten could take any teams from the ACC. The Big East is in smoldering ruins now. This was a death blow that left major corporations in America stunned. When it comes to competition with large corporations, "non-profit" major college athletics is nastier than any for-profit business.
Apple can't just put Dell out of business tomorrow by taking away the two strongest components of its business. But that's exactly what the ACC just did to the Big East.
The addition of Pitt and Syracuse is a smart strategic move by the ACC because if the ACC hadn't acted first then any poaching of its teams would have emboldened the Big East to try and snag teams from the ACC. Charles Darwin meet college football. Either the ACC or the Big East was going to survive and the ACC just won the war.
I told you the ACC-Big East war would be brutal, cut throat, and lead to the extinction of one of these conferences.
I just didn't think the ACC would strike this quickly.
Goodbye Big East.
2. Will the ACC take any more Big East teams right now?
That all depends on whether Texas is truly in play for the ACC. If Texas is in play, the answer is no. The ACC will wait on Texas -- and probably Texas Tech too -- because that would leave the ACC at 16.
But if Texas isn't in play then the ACC will likely add Connecticut and Rutgers to get to 16. As the first BCS conference with 16 members then the ACC will face an interesting decision: does it follow the NFL model and set up four divisions of four teams each, or does it set up two 8 team divisions?
With 14 or 16 teams the ACC is protected in the event the SEC or Big Ten raid the conference. How is the ACC protected? Having at least 12 teams in your conference is the magic number. Because that allows you to retain your conference title game without having to scramble and add inferior teams in a rapid fashion.
3. Does the new $20 million ACC buyout initially reported by CBS's Brett McMurphy protect the ACC from SEC or Big Ten raids?
Texas A&M would owe as much as $26.1 million if the Big 12 had its way. That money is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
If the SEC wants to add, say, Virginia Tech and N.C. State, the SEC could still add Virginia Tech and N.C. State even with the increased buyouts. The increased buyouts change nothing.
4. What happens to the six remaining Big East teams (and TCU)?
UConn and Rutgers are hoping to be invited to the ACC. If those schools are invited, they're gone.
That would leave Cincinnati, Louisville, West Virginia, TCU and South Florida twirling in the wind.
None of these schools are academic powerhouses so the Big Ten wouldn't want them. I don't believe any of these schools would increase the SEC's power or prestige. (I know there's lots of West Virginia rumors for the SEC, but that seems like a desperate move to me. Does West Virginia make the SEC more valuable at all? I don't think so.) It's too far for the Pac-12. There's only one logical destination -- the Big 12.
As a result the Big 12 can offer substantially more money to the Big East schools than the Big East can. So the most desirable Big East football schools will end up in the Big 12.
The question is, how many spots will the Big 12 have?
Assume that A&M to the SEC is a done deal and that it's likely Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are going to the Pac 12.
That leaves seven schools in the Big 12. The Big 12 could pick three of the most desirable schools from the Big East and be settled back at ten. Of course that's assuming Texas is staying. If Texas leaves for the ACC or the Pac 12, the Big 12 would be down to five schools and would take five Big East schools.
Basically, the Big 12 and the Big East will merge and the Big 12 name will continue.
6. What will Texas do?
Texas controls the Big 12 dominoes and here are the three scenarios in play:
a. If Texas stays in the Big 12 then the Big 12 survives with seven schools.
The conference takes three Big East schools -- probably TCU, Louisville, and West Virginia (potentially South Florida if the conference wants in the state of Florida) -- retains its television contracts and stays at ten teams. If an eight team Big East was able to retain an automatic BCS bid so would this conference. Especially with the Big East losing its bid due to extinction.
I still think this is the most likely outcome.
b. If Texas joins the ACC, it's likely that Texas Tech is also added to get to 16.
That knocks the Big 12 down to five teams, Missouri bolts to the SEC, and the four remaining Big 12 teams bring in six of the seven remaining Big East schools to get to ten schools.
However, here's one caveat to this plan: does the Pac 12, adding Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, go ahead and add Kansas and Kansas State to get to 16 teams? I don't think so, but it could happen. The Pac 12 has to have a fallback to get to 16 in the event Texas isn't coming.
I still believe the two teams left in the Big 12, Baylor and Iowa State, would merge with the larger Big East. But this might be the only possible way the Big East survives instead of the Big 12. If this happens then the Big East still has six teams and can argue it's the more viable long-range conference even without an existing television deal.
c. If Texas joins the Pac 12 then Texas Tech comes along with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to get to sixteen teams for the Pac 12.
There are now only five schools left in the Big 12. Missouri would jump to the SEC, leaving four schools behind: Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Baylor. Thanks to the Big 12 television contract those four Big 12 schools would welcome the remaining members of the Big East in to a ten-team Big 12.
So your new Big 12 would look like this: Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, TCU, plus one more additional school.
If Texas doesn't leave the Big 12 then Missouri will have a decision to make. Leave or go?
8. Will the Big Ten ever make any moves?
Supposedly the answer is no, but sooner or later the league has to act, right?
Especially if, as seems likely, the Big East is set to die. What would Notre Dame do with all of its other teams that compete in that league now? The Big East dying might force Notre Dame into the Big Ten which would presumably necessitate the Big Ten adding a 14th member, at least, to balance its divisions.
Of course it's also likely that the death of the Big East football teams would spawn a Catholic basketball league on the East Coast featuring the remaining basketball only schools and additional Catholic schools from the A-10: Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, DePaul, Notre Dame, Xavier, Dayton, and St. Joe's among them.
If the Big Ten gets involved in expansion all bets are off. There's no telling what might happen, but if I was a Maryland or Virginia fan I might be checking my cable package to see if the Big Ten Network is included.
The next two weeks promise to be the most ground-breaking an important structural events in college athletics of most of our lifetimes.
Keep checking OKTC for the latest expansion news. And if you're not caught up, we've had the best analysis on the Internet of how this process is going to shake out.
If you're interested in FSU, Clemson, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Texas, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, et al. basically we've talked about how conference realignment impacts all these schools in the below articles. Just scroll through and you'll be entertained and informed. I promise.
Read all of OKTC's conference realignment stories here.