Over the weekend, the seven non-football-playing members of the Big East voted to leave the conference, putting the conference's status in doubt.
That presents some interesting questions for the members of the Big East who participate at the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) level. Most notably, will they stick around?
The Big East already lost its spot as an access conference in the new bowl format starting following the 2014 season, which is—more or less—what Automatic Qualifying (AQ) conferences are under the current structure. It's losing Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC, Rutgers to the Big Ten, and it is picking up nine members from across the country over the coming three years.
But if we've learned anything from the realignment bonanza, we know that it's never over.
So how does all of this impact the SEC?
On the surface, not too much.
The SEC sat back and let the Big 12 sort things out prior to the 2010 and 2011 seasons, and once the potential Pac-16 crumbled in September 2011, it jumped on Texas A&M and Missouri.
If the SEC does expand to 16 teams at some point, expect a similar strategy. Just don't expect it to happen unless the ACC crumbles.
Nabbing a couple of ACC schools and shifting Missouri to the SEC West would make the most sense for the SEC. But the only way that happens is if some members of the ACC become frustrated with the conference, which could stem from the conference potentially adding some football-playing members of the current Big East.
With the SEC cable network coming online starting in 2014, the conference isn't going to add teams from markets in which it currently has a presence. That eliminates Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech as possible options. Plus, the SEC schools from within the states of those three teams won't let that fly.
North Carolina and Duke are probably married due to basketball, which leaves Virginia Tech and N.C. State as two likely candidates for the SEC. Those two programs would add three of the top 25 markets in the country (Washington D.C., Raleigh-Durham and Charlotte), according to the 2011-12 Nielsen market estimates.
Getting the network on carriers within those states would be huge for the SEC cable network and the current member institutions.
Sure, local politics could be at play. But in the current state of realignment, we are getting close to reaching the point where "every man is for himself."
Pittsburgh and Syracuse are joining the ACC in 2013, and Louisville will replace departing Maryland in 2014. So while there's turmoil in the ACC, it's limited to a few institutions and won't cause a major shakeup in the overall day-to-day operations of the conference.
How many institutions should the SEC have?
But what if that changes?
The ACC filed a lawsuit against Maryland last month in Guilford County (N.C.) Superior Court demanding full payment of the conference's $52,266,342 exit fee, according to the Associated Press (via SI.com). Maryland was one of two schools to vote against the increased exit fee in September. The other was Florida State.
If Maryland can get that exit fee knocked down, it may open the door for other members to look for new homes. The addition of certain Big East members that are "beneath the ACC" could be the catalyst for bigger programs to leave.
If it does, then the SEC may pounce.
Realignment would have been so much cleaner had the Pac-10 just expanded to 16 when it was supposed to.