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Would Tennessee Leave the SEC for an ACC/Big East Conglomerate?

ATLANTA - DECEMBER 31:  Quarterback Jonathan Crompton #8 of the Tennessee Volunteers looks to pass during the Chick-Fil-A Bowl against the Virginia Tech Hokies at the Georgia Dome on December 31, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Hokies beat the Volunteers 37-14.  (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images
Joel BarkerSenior Writer IJanuary 14, 2017

Go ahead and pick yourself up off the floor. The thought of Tennessee leaving the SEC also sent shivers through my body, at first. 

During all of this conference expansion/reduction talk, the thought of Tennessee leaving the SEC, of their own accord, has run through my mind many times. Each time, it has been immediately shot down because of the money that is shared, spent, and consumed in the almighty SEC.

However, with today’s news of a $120 million per year ESPN broadcasting deal for ACC football and basketball, the final barrier, money, has blown down the door for this being a reputable option. 

Now, the money alone is reason enough to explore this option. The rumored potential restructuring of multiple conferences just adds to the intrigue.

If, and that’s a big IF, the Big Ten gets what it wants—Notre Dame, Nebraska, Missouri, and Rutgers—expect the SEC to follow suit and raid the ACC. 

The rumor floating around now has the SEC taking West Virginia, Miami, Florida State, and Georgia Tech. I would call the rumor reputable because multiple sources have indicated those have been at least preliminarily contacted by the SEC.   

That rumor, if it comes true, would take the teeth right out of the ACC. 

Here is what we know for a fact:  The rumored Big Ten expansion would cause a domino effect which would ensue in national chaos for college football.

We also know, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A unified, uniform college football landscape would make the BCS and a non-playoff postseason format very hard to sustain. 

We know that the SEC will not be out done by anyone, especially the Big Ten. There’s no doubt that the ACC and Big East would, most likely, be hit the hardest in the fallout. 

With this new money from ESPN, the ACC now has clout. The ACC now has a sweet deal to entice some new teams of its own. 

Tennessee football has struggled mightily in the SEC since 2000. Sure, they’ve won the SEC East three times since that season, but they haven’t won the league since 1998. The Vols are always second fiddle to Florida in the East—always.

Since 1990, Tennessee has defeated Florida just six times. Of the Vols five outright SEC East Championship seasons, they have defeated Florida in just three of those years (’98, ’01, ’04). Tennessee has not beaten Florida since 2004. 

Tennessee owned Alabama in the mid-late 90’s/early 00’s, when the Crimson Tide program was continually hampered by its cheating past and the consequences of their actions. But since the school cleaned up its act and hired the best coach in college football, the rivalry has been firmly back in the Tide category, as it was for much of the series dating back to 1901. The last Tennessee win in this rivalry came in 2006. 

It appears that those two schools, Alabama and Florida, are going to own the SEC for the foreseeable future—regardless of expansion.

The SEC’s $2.25B ESPN deal, signed last year, does split the money equally to all the schools. But the ACC’s deal isn’t far behind at 1.86B, and the thought of being a top national team in the ACC versus being a fringe national/middling SEC team would be quite attractive.

The benefits of Tennessee being a big fish in a not-as-competitive-conference could mean more conference championships, less losses, and more of a shot at being relevant nationally.

An ACC/Big East merger, provided the four schools mentioned earlier—FSU, Miami, Georgia Tech, and West Virginia—actually end up in the SEC, would look something like this;

From the ACC:

Virginia Tech
North Carolina
North Carolina State
Wake Forest
Boston College

From the Big East:

South Florida

That is 15 teams.

The proposed college football expansion chaos includes a seemingly inevitable 16 team SuperConference national makeover. 

So my ACC/Big East conglomerate is, obviously, one team short. 

If this deal goes beyond football, I could definitely see Bruce Pearl jumping at a chance to be a part of ACC/Big East Basketball. Would that sweeten the deal to ensure Tennessee football jumping aboard? 

I realize there’s an SEC mentality of, “We’re the best and no one is even close” in football. I’ve been one of those crazies chanting “SEC, SEC, SEC” after defeating a non-conference opponent. But if you haven’t noticed, that’s becoming a key argument for only the top three or four teams in the SEC. Tennessee is not in that top three or four any more. 

My only hesitation to this move would be the SEC tradition that Tennessee would be leaving behind. But is SEC tradition more important than winning conference championships and being nationally elite again? 

Think about it. 

ACC/Big East 

Appalachian Division
Virginia Tech
North Carolina
North Carolina State
South Florida 

Northeast Division
Boston College
Wake Forest 



East Division
West Virginia
Georgia Tech
South Carolina

West Division
Ole Miss
Miss. State
Florida State

Which one would you choose?

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