Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford should target the West Virginia Mountaineers as an addition to his conference. WVU is the best available option for the ACC's continued, football-centric, aggressive, expansionist policy toward a 16-team super conference based on the long-term ramifications of such a move, rather than immediate fiscal payoff in television exposure.
To understand why the Mountaineers are the best available option, it must first be understood why they have to this point not been targeted, and that comes down to one simple reason: money.
Swofford would tell you, however, that the reason is "academics." Yes, the ACC has added two strong institutions to its profile in Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the clear best Big East programs to steal because of their fiscal value to the league—they just happened to also be strong academic schools. As much as the ACC wants to hold itself up as a model academic conference, let's be honest: Florida State, for example, is not an elite academic institution.
Even so, you could make a very convincing case that Florida State is currently the most valuable school in the ACC because of its strong football program, both now and in the past. The ACC's academic prestige as a whole really would not take a significant hit by adding WVU, another football powerhouse that is somewhat lacking in terms of academic prestige.
Of course, academics are not the real reason WVU isn't being considered. That is money. West Virginia does not command a major television market.
Get this: Rutgers is considered a more valuable school to the ACC because of one reason—its presence in the New York/New Jersey television markets. Rutgers would add exactly nothing to the ACC in terms of athletic prestige—aside from television revenue from football, which is, of course, what the entire realignment of college athletics is all about.
Which is the best option available to the ACC?
For that reason, Notre Dame is the obvious addition to the ACC if it is available. However, with the Pac-12's decision not to expand beyond 12 schools, Texas and Oklahoma remained in the Big 12, giving that conference a reason to remain in existence and making the Big Ten less likely to expand past its current 12-team alignment.
The ACC did a fantastic job being proactive in its hunt for schools. Syracuse and Pitt were considered targets for the Big Ten's continued expansion. It is understandable that the ACC waited for the dominoes to fall before further expansion; however, it must also be considered that the Pac-12 is clearly unwilling to accept Texas and its Longhorn Network without equal revenue sharing, something the Longhorns have been unwilling to consider.
If the Big 12 remains a major football conference—and it will continue to do so, so long as Texas and Oklahoma call it home—Notre Dame will be better able to maintain football independence because there will be more than four major conferences, and a conventional college football playoff will remain further out of reach compared to a scenario in which four super conferences were created.
For the ACC's purposes, add it all up and Notre Dame is out of reach. In order to remain proactive and increase its national stature in terms of football, it must acquire the top available football school that would add to its football prestige, which would create more games of significance for the conference.
And yes, that is West Virginia.
Of the remaining Big East schools, WVU has far and away the best football program in terms of both its current standing and its history. It has a long-standing rivalry with Maryland (if you call that a rivalry—WVU has dominated it), and more importantly, the Backyard Brawl with Pittsburgh, one of college football's more underrated annual rivalry games. It has traditionally been able to attract high-caliber recruits, despite an at-best middling location and weak TV market.
And say what you want about the Big East, but winning a BCS conference title means something, and the Mountaineers have done it a lot.
Most importantly, West Virginia is a respected football brand that would clearly upgrade the ACC's footprint in college football, giving the conference a school much more likely to appear in major BCS bowls or any future college football playoffs simply because of its many draws to incoming recruits.
The bottom line: Adding West Virginia to the ACC would not add a major television market, but it would increase the conference's exposure as a whole on national television in terms of big games, both within the conference and very probably in inter-conference games as well.
In other words, adding WVU would make a lot of money for the ACC down the road, even if it might not do so right away.
It isn't often that a major football power is available to be plucked by an inferior football conference.