A week ago, Big Ten fans were settling into the end of another football season and starting to get comfortable with the new 12-team league and divisional play.
A lot can change in a week.
In a week, the B1G added Maryland and Rutgers, who are scheduled (at least for now) to begin conference play in June of 2014. It’s pretty well understood that the two schools were added in large part for the television markets they can deliver, as well as being academic fits with the B1G and having the potential for growth.
Make no mistake, this is the first in what will likely be a series of moves by the power conferences in college football to position themselves in as strong a position as possible. The wheels haven’t stopped spinning by any means. Nebraska fans are going to be on quite a ride in the next few years.
Let’s take a look at where that right might take them.
Make no mistake, the Fighting Irish are the white whale being pursued by Jim Delany and every other conference commissioner. The amount of interest generated by Notre Dame—which translates into the amount of money a conference containing Notre Dame can demand from television networks—is enough to direct the plans of any organization.
Notre Dame’s agreement with the ACC was the starting point for the B1G’s move.
Once it was clear that the Irish weren’t coming to the Big Ten under the current scenario, Delany moved on his own. By taking a team from Notre Dame’s new home, the ACC, he added an element of uncertainty about the conference as a player amongst the big-time football conferences.
If nothing else happens and the ACC swaps Connecticut for Maryland, then the status quo remains. But with the B1G joining the SEC at 14 teams, and with most observers expecting both conferences to make the jump to 16 in the near future, other pressures get exerted.
Remember those Florida State to the Big 12 rumors? Look for those to heat up again. After all, there were only two schools who voted against raising the exit fee from the ACC to $50 million dollars. One was Maryland. The other was Florida State.
The Big 12 may very well be looking at the new college football landscape and think that a 10-team league doesn’t give it enough product or enough eyeballs to compete. A move for Florida State, coupled with Louisville or Clemson, strikes another blow to the ACC. Then the question becomes whether Notre Dame’s independence and alliance with the ACC is worth it when Florida State has been replaced with, say, South Florida.
That may be the Hail Mary Delany has in mind to take one last shot at the Irish.
Assuming the Irish are a no-go, Georgia Tech is the next logical target for the B1G. Maryland was attractive in large part because the Washington D.C. television market is ninth largest in the country.
Atlanta, where Georgia Tech is located, is eighth.
In addition to being a prime media market to sell the Big Ten Network, Georgia Tech is also a sterling academic school with a long history of college football.
Sure, Delany is a UNC alum and there would be a sentimental value for him in bringing the Tar Heels into the B1G. But North Carolina is also nestled in a strong media market (Charlotte is No. 22 nationally, Raleigh-Durham is 27) and they would be a perfect academic fit.
Although this isn’t an overriding factor (see Tech, Georgia), North Carolina would also make a little more sense geographically with the B1G’s new members.
So, who would be the best expansion target for the B1G?
The university founded by Thomas Jefferson may be the premier public university in the nation, and the B1G bringing UVA into the fold would be quite a coup. The state is also contiguous to current Big Ten members and brings a solid media market into play (Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News is 41 nationally).
Nebraska fans, you’ve seen the opening salvo of conference realignment, but don’t think Delany and the rest of the college football power brokers are done.
Watch the stability of the ACC to see if Notre Dame will be put into play, and if not, look for the other East Coast schools to be the next B1G targets. Regardless, start making plans for road trips to the east.
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