Expansion Aftermath, Expansion Future Shock

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Expansion Aftermath, Expansion Future Shock

No need to rehash it. We know what happened this past June.

What we want to know is what will happen this coming December.

You know, the month when the Big Ten originally stated they would announce their decision on expansion. That is, until Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe forced the Big Ten's hand on Nebraska, which was in response to the Pac-10 forcing the Big 12’s hand in response to Colorado, Nebraska and Missouri’s flirtations with other conferences.

Anyway, you know all that, and we already said we were not going to rehash it.

Back to December.

Although there is a school of thought floating around that suggests the super-conference idea is not going to happen after all, don’t believe it. The main force in expansion is the Big Ten Network, and everybody and their brother associated with the Big Ten has reaffirmed that the conference is still studying the expansion issue.

So without any crystal ball clichés, I will get right to the heart of the matter and attempt to peer into the minds of the powers that be and try to guess what the college football universe might look like by the year 2012, otherwise known as the year of the apocalypse.

THE BIG 12 AND PAC-10

First off, let’s deal with the Big 12, briefly. I say briefly because that is how long the existing Big 12 will be around… briefly.

The Pac-10 is going to make another run at Texas. That would seem to be a given, and the next time around, Texas probably doesn’t have a change of heart at the last minute. For everyone that thinks Notre Dame is the biggest player in college football, think again. Texas will determine more fates of more schools than Notre Dame ever will, and it will happen when Texas makes its decision to move out west.

Texas heading west will signal the end of the Big 12, at least in terms of what we think of the Big 12 today. The conference may continue on in some form, but it won’t be mistaken for what it has been in the past.

With Texas leaving for the Pac-10, look for Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to follow suit. There is a possibility that Kansas will get the call from the Pac-10 instead of Texas Tech, but not a very likely possibility.

 A Pac-10 network should be either up and running, or in the early stages of preparation to take to the airwaves. If by chance the Longhorn Network has become a reality, look for the Pac-10 to make concessions, allowing Texas to continue in that venture. It will still be financially worthwhile for the Pac-10 to bring in Texas, even with their own network. Texas would be hosting a lot of Pac-10 conference games in various sports, and that would equal more exposure on another network for the Pac-10. There should be no issue there whatsoever.

THE BIG TEN

The next big player in the super-conference game of survival of the fittest will be the Big Ten. Now honestly, they may make the first move in December, before the Pac-10, but there is a chance that the Big Ten may decide it is comfortable seeing how 12 members work for a few years, and that is understandable.

However, if the Pac-10 does act first and manages to grab Texas, the Big Ten will respond to ensure it gets to pick the members it wants to be associated with instead of choosing from the leftovers after the ACC and SEC potentially get involved.

Notre Dame is the prize the Big Ten wants, that's no secret to anyone not living in an under-developed, third-world country. Although Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney said just this past week that he felt Notre Dame was a non-factor in future Big Ten expansion, do not count the Irish out.

Delaney is a smart man, as is Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. Delaney knows Notre Dame is conscious of what is going on around them, and he also knows he has to give them room to breathe… room to make their own decision about conference affiliation. Notre Dame does not want to give the appearance of not being in control of their own destiny. Having their hand forced by the BCS and the Big Ten would only make a move to the Big Ten bitter.

Notre Dame needs to be able to look as if the decision to join the Big Ten was their own, and not a result of having no other choice. Delaney and the Big Ten backing off of speaking publicly about Notre Dame removes some of the external pressure from Swarbrick, which will lessen the heat from Notre Dame alumni.

Notre Dame will join the Big Ten. It will have to. It may be the final team to join a full 16-member Big Ten Conference, but it is essentially inevitable. With four super-conferences making the rules in terms of access to the BCS, Notre Dame’s influence on BCS policy is severely lessened, and the threat of being excluded altogether - if they are not in a conference - is too much to risk for the Irish.

With Notre Dame in the fold, the next target (maybe the first) will be Rutgers. The Big Ten needs Rutgers to be able to demand New York/New Jersey cable companies carry their product for a premium. The Conference does not need Rutgers to deliver that market, only to give them access to that market. That much Rutgers can handle.

The next addition to the Big Ten will be Missouri. The Tigers paid their dues this past June through the humiliation of being the most vocal proponent of joining the Big Ten, only to be left behind. For their patience and desire (and television market), Missouri will be rewarded with an invitation to join the ranks of Ohio State and Michigan.

The final piece to the Big Ten puzzle will be Maryland. The Terrapins bring two lucrative television markets in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. They also help give a solidifying Big Ten presence on the East Coast. Many will balk at the idea of Maryland leaving the ACC, but the truth is Maryland needs a serious shot in the arm.

A new athletic director and school resident will make the transition from Atlantic Coast Conference Member to Big Ten Conference member that much easier. The substantial increase in revenue their new found home can provide over their old one will ease the much discussed funding issues Maryland has been facing in their athletic department.

Maryland has grown stale the last few years and a move to a bigger and more fruitful home will invigorate the Terrapin fan base like nothing before. Establishing rivalries with Penn State and Rutgers will give Terrapin fans something else to get excited about, if the thought of having Michigan and Ohio State visit Byrd Stadium weren’t exciting enough. Stadium expansion might soon become a necessity.

THE SOUTHEASTERN CONFERENCE

The SEC would be content to maintain status quo and not see any expansion beyond 12-teams per conference. However, they showed in June with their flirtations with Texas A&M that they will make moves if they have to.

You will notice in my aforementioned discussion of the Pac-10 that Texas A&M was not mentioned among those following Texas to the West Coast. That is because the Aggies want to get out from under the shadow of the Longhorns. Moving to the SEC, while competitively more difficult, will give A&M their own identity, and it gives the SEC a toe in the lucrative Texas market. Adding the state of Texas to their conference footprint would be a strategic move for the SEC, and one that should pay huge dividends.

The next new member for the SEC will be Florida State. FSU will be the only addition to the SEC from a state that the SEC already has market control. Although the Gators will be opposed to bringing in the Seminoles, the move just makes sense for the SEC, and for the Seminoles.

Now the most often mentioned other additions to the SEC have been teams such as Georgia Tech, Clemson and Miami. Forget it. All this conference expansion stuff has been about increasing market presence, and adding those three schools won’t help the SEC do that.

For the Southeastern Conference, their only remaining option is to move north. And north they shall move. UNC would be a prize for the SEC, but they will not leave the ACC where they pretty much rule the roost. Plus, for UNC, Duke and Wake Forest, the academic appeal of the ACC over the SEC will keep their home fires burning.

Still, the North Carolina market could be very financially rewarding for the SEC. So with that in mind, the SEC goes after North Carolina State. Much like Texas A&M, NC State gets tired of playing the little brother role to UNC and Duke. And honestly, NC State is probably more football friendly than any of the other three ACC schools residing in the state of North Carolina.

Academically, although a fine school, NC State would fit in well with the SEC. The move to the SEC would boost recruiting within the state of North Carolina for the Wolfpack, and soon they would be the school with all the attention from August until December in the Tarheel state.

The last addition, but a huge one, to the SEC will be Virginia Tech. From its nearly 70,000 seat stadium, to its football made fan base, the Hokies fit in with the SEC better than any school in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Bringing in the house that Frank Beamer built is a no-brainer, and joining the Southeastern Conference would bring even more excitement to Blacksburg than the move to the ACC brought.

Will Lane Stadium become the SEC’s next 100,000 seat stadium? Put money on it.

ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE / BIG EAST

Finally we have the ACC and Big East. For the survival of their remaining members, a merging of the two conferences seems to be a must. With the losses of Maryland, Florida State, NC State and Virginia Tech, the ACC will be down to eight members. With the loss of Rutgers, the Big East will be down to seven members.

The only questions remaining for the ACC and Big East will be which conference name survives and who will be the 16th member brought on board to give the fourth and final super-conference it full membership quota.

The first answer is simple. The ACC name will survive. The reason being that, the Big East members will be happy to get out from under the control of the “Providence Bunch,” finally separating from the non-football playing Catholic schools.

The second answer is not as simple, since there are few viable options remaining, but the most likely choice will be Central Florida (UCF). The problem facing UCF is that the new ACC lineup will already feature Miami and South Florida.  Will those two schools want to share the wealth with yet another state school; especially when you consider they will already be competing with the Gators and Seminoles for recruits and publicity?

East Carolina (ECU) and Memphis are also possibilities, but ECU doesn’t help bring in any new markets, and the new ACC will already have three North Carolina schools on their roster. Not to mention ECU has never been known for showing prowess in basketball, which will still be of importance to the newly merged ACC conference members.

As far as Memphis, they have some appeal in that they are in a new market not already occupied by the newly formed ACC. They have also shown that they can be very competitive in basketball, and have some heavy hitters from a financial-backing perspective. Then of course is a possible tie-in to the Liberty bowl. The chance to jump into an SEC-state in Tennessee might also be appealing.

Unfortunately for Memphis, they falter where the criteria may be most important: the football field. If Memphis can show progress this season under their new head coach, and their fans begin to show any signs of taking interest in their football program, Memphis’ appeal might skyrocket.

The wildcard for the ACC might just be a team up north: the Temple Owls. Coach Al Golden has shown one can win at Temple, and if he can put together a couple of back to back nine-win seasons, the appeal of Temple might become too much for the new ACC to pass up.

Think about it. Jumping into the number five television market – Philadelphia. Bringing in a historically good and recognizable basketball program. The potential of sticking an ACC presence right in the middle of the Big Ten’s Penn State-Rutgers-Maryland triangle. Strengthening the conference’s presence in the northeast, which was part of the goal back in 2003 when the conference brought Boston College aboard and tried to bring in Syracuse as well.

If Temple can continue to improve on the football field, they might find themselves once again belonging to a BCS conference. They would obviously have to be willing to move their basketball team out of the Atlantic 10, which has historically been a sticking point for them, but the opportunity to once again have a seat at the table will prove too much to pass up.

One final feather in Temple’s cap would be the travel issue. It is a whole lot cheaper for Syracuse, Connecticut, Boston College, Virginia, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to send their volleyball teams to Philadelphia than it is for them to have to travel to Memphis or Orlando.

EVERYONE ELSE

As I said, there will be four super-conferences: the ACC, the Big Ten, the Pac-10 and the SEC. There will be other 16-team conferences though, just not super-ones.

The Big 12 will continue to exist, and Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Baylor will begin sending out invitations to Mountain West Conference, Conference USA, WAC, Mid-American and Sun Belt Conference members. Look for schools such as Houston, Texas Christian, Memphis (if available), Boise State, Brigham Young, etc… to make a move to the new Big 12 Conference. However, don’t mistake this conference for just a bunch of also-rans. There will be some pretty solid teams in this lineup, and they will most likely be able to maintain the Big 12’s BCS automatic bid.

The remaining schools and conferences will merge in various forms to try and survive. The unfortunate reality will probably serve to be that the gap between the “have’s” and the “have-not’s” will grow even wider. Conference USA will most likely cease to exist. The Sun Belt will continue to survive and pick up the leftover Conference teams, such as Alabama-Birmingham, Tulane and Central Florida. While it might feel like a step back for those programs, it will be a step forward for the Sun Belt.

The Mid-American Conference will benefit as well, despite losing Temple. The MAC will pick up Army & Navy and probably bring old conference mate Marshall University back into the fold. Do not be surprised to see Western Kentucky make a move from the Sun Belt into the MAC.

The Western Athletic Conference will take a hit, but with potential FBS new-comers like Cal-Poly, Montana, Texas State, UT-San Antonio and others, the WAC will not slink off into oblivion. They too will find a way to survive.

With all the potential conference shifting still to come, the current ranks of FBS-level teams might actually grow from the current 120 members to over 150 members by the year 2025. Non-automatic Qualifying conferences will be looking for new replacement members, and schools that have flirted with moving up to the highest level of competition might feel like this is their opportunity. Several schools are already in the process of moving up.

IN SUMMARY

Pac-10: Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma & Oklahoma State

Big Ten: Notre Dame, Rutgers, Missouri & Maryland

SEC: Texas A&M, Florida State, North Carolina State & Virginia Tech

ACC: Pittsburgh, West Virginia, UConn, Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, Temple

 

Stick around folks. This December promises to bring more than snow and mid-week bowl games. For a lucky few, their early Christmas present might come in the form of an invitation to one of college football’s new super-conferences. It won’t be a dull winter. That is for certain

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