Commentary

ACC move sparks expansion questions

Originally Published: September 19, 2011
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

For much of the past month, college sports fans anxiously waited for the next domino in conference realignment to fall at Oklahoma or Texas, which have threatened to leave the Big 12 for the Pac-12.

Stunningly, the first big blow came from the ACC, which added Big East schools Pittsburgh and Syracuse as its 13th and 14th members Sunday.

Is the ACC done expanding? Will the Longhorns and Sooners leave the Big 12 for the Pac-12, taking Oklahoma State and Texas Tech with them? What will the Big Ten and SEC do? Can the depleted Big East and Big 12 survive?

[+] EnlargeLyle McCombs
Brian Pohorylo/Icon SMIWill a lack of a tie-in hurt UConn and its fellow Big East members from getting into future major bowl games?

Here's a closer look at the burning issues surrounding the latest round of conference realignment:

1. Will the ACC add any more Big East teams?
ACC commissioner John Swofford said Sunday that his league was "very comfortable" with its 14 teams after it raided the Big East for Pittsburgh and Syracuse. But Swofford also said that the ACC is not "philosophically opposed" to having 16 teams.

The ACC seems to be waiting to learn Texas' fate. If the Longhorns bolt the Big 12 for the Pac-12 or independence, the ACC might be inclined to grab two more Big East schools: Connecticut and Rutgers. The Huskies are the defending NCAA men's basketball champions, and their women's basketball team has won two of the past three NCAA titles. The UConn football team won the 2010 Big East title and played in a BCS bowl game. Rutgers has struggled recently in football, and its basketball program has never been very competitive, but its position in the New York/New Jersey TV market makes it very attractive.

2. Which conference is most likely to become a 16-team superconference first?
It would seem to be the Pac-12, which is currently having discussions with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech about leaving the Big 12 for its conference. Texas and Oklahoma are the Pac-12's top targets; the Cowboys and Red Raiders would come along as part of the package. It's not yet a done deal, and sources told ESPN.com on Sunday night that the process still has a long way to go, if it happens at all.

The board of regents at OU and Texas are scheduled to meet separately Monday to discuss conference affiliation. Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott must convince the presidents of his league's current 12 schools that adding the Big 12 quartet is in the best interest of the Pac-12's long-term future (and that splitting TV rights fees and other revenue with four more schools makes financial sense). Scott and Texas officials also must determine how the Longhorn Network would fit into the Pac-12's regional TV network.

3. What will happen to the Big East and Big 12? If Connecticut and Rutgers leave for the ACC, it's hard to imagine the Big East surviving. Then again, if the aforementioned Big 12 teams leave for the Pac-12 and Texas A&M joins the SEC, it's even more difficult to believe that the Big 12 would survive. In the end, the Big 12 or Big East might survive by feeding off the carnage of the other.

The Big East's remaining football-playing schools -- Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, TCU (which is set to join the Big East in 2012) and West Virginia -- might be absorbed by what's left of the Big 12. The Big 12 then could add Texas-based schools such as Houston and SMU as well as BYU or Boise State to reach 12 teams.

Or the Big East could absorb the remaining Big 12 schools -- Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri -- to have nine football-playing schools. Those schools would form a 17-team basketball league with the Big East's other basketball-only schools, like Georgetown and St. John's.

4. Will the SEC add more than Texas A&M?
It's hard to imagine the SEC staying at 13 teams once it adds the Aggies. An SEC athletic director told ESPN.com last week that the SEC still hadn't identified a possible 14th member. The SEC AD also said he wasn't sure the conference could "stomach" growing to 16 teams.

With the ACC increasing its exit fees to $20 million for schools that want to leave, possible SEC targets like Maryland and Virginia Tech might now be off the table. The SEC distributed $220 million to its 12 members ($18.3 million per school) this past spring in revenue sharing. An ACC school with interest in joining the SEC might be willing to absorb a $20 million exit fee to ensure itself of increased revenue in the future.

[+] EnlargeMike Slive
AP Photo/Dave MartinThe SEC looks like it will be adding Texas A&M as its 13th member soon, but SEC commissioner Mike Slive is being very cautious.

Missouri would seem to be a possible target as the SEC's 14th member because the league would add big TV markets in Kansas City and St. Louis. Missouri is also a member of the Association of American Universities, which is a distinguished list of academic schools. The SEC currently has only two AAU schools -- Florida and Vanderbilt (Texas A&M is also an AAU school). West Virginia would also seem to be another option because it's a better geographical fit and has been competitive nationally in men's basketball and football.

Don't be surprised if the SEC stops at 14 schools. SEC commissioner Michael Slive won't add two more schools just to have 16 teams. The additional schools would have to add something to the SEC's already-deep pockets.

5. Will the Big Ten really sit still?
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has said repeatedly that his league isn't interested in further expansion after adding Nebraska as its 12th member school last year. But if the ACC, Pac-12 and/or SEC expand, will the Big Ten really stay put?

About the only way the Big Ten would expand is if it could persuade Notre Dame to give up its football independence, which the Fighting Irish have been reluctant to do because of their TV contract with NBC. Swofford might have thrown up a big roadblock in Big Ten expansion by grabbing Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which were thought be potential Big Ten expansion targets.

If the Big Ten had to expand, Notre Dame would be a target along with Missouri, Rutgers and Kansas, which are AAU members.

6. What will happen to the Bowl Championship Series?
If the Big 12 or Big East -- or both -- doesn't survive the latest round of conference realignment, the BCS formula obviously will have to be adjusted. There are far more questions than answers. Would a 16-team superconference be eligible to send only two of its teams to BCS bowl games? If the Big East and/or Big 12 is salvaged, would it still qualify for an automatic BCS bowl bid? Or would the remaining Big East and/or Big 12 schools have to fight for BCS at-large bids, along with the rest of the teams from non-automatic-qualifying conferences?

7. What will happen to the traditional bowl alliances?
If there's no longer a Big 12 Conference, which team would play an SEC opponent in the Cotton Bowl? What becomes of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, which pits a Big 12 team against a Big East foe? Obviously, dozens of bowl contracts would have to be renegotiated by the existing leagues.

On The Mark

[+] EnlargeSeth Doege
Jerod Foster/Icon SMISeth Doege turned heads and broke records in just his second start.

• Texas Tech had to sit through two weather delays at New Mexico on Saturday night, but it didn't hurt Red Raiders quarterback Seth Doege's timing. Doege, a junior from Wolfforth, Texas, completed 40 of 44 passes for 401 yards with five touchdowns in a 59-13 rout of the Lobos. In only his second college start, Doege set an NCAA record with a 90.9 percent completion rate for quarterbacks with at least 40 completions in a game. He also completed 15 straight passes at one point, tying a Texas Tech record.

• Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson's triple-option offense is typically a well-oiled machine, but the Yellow Jackets' efficiency this season has been ridiculous. Tech gained a school-record 768 yards of offense, including 604 rushing yards, in its 66-24 rout of Kansas on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets have been especially effective because new quarterback Tevin Washington is a threat to throw the football, even if he rarely does it. Washington completed 4 of 7 passes for 164 yards with two touchdowns against the Jayhawks.

• South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore is emerging as the best nonquarterback candidate to win the Heisman Trophy. Lattimore, a sophomore, ran 37 times for 246 yards with three touchdowns in the Gamecocks' 24-21 win over Navy. Lattimore's rushing total was higher than any that 1980 Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers had in a game at South Carolina. A week after pounding Georgia's defense in the fourth quarter of a 45-42 victory, Lattimore carried the ball on 13 of USC's 18 plays in the final quarter against Navy.

• With Ohio State and Penn State limping out of the gates, it might be time to pay attention to Illinois in the Big Ten's Leaders Division. The Illini upset No. 22 Arizona State 17-14 on Saturday, moving to 3-0 for the first time since 2001, when it won the Big Ten and played in the Rose Bowl. The Illini sacked ASU quarterback Brock Osweiler six times and forced him to throw two interceptions.

Off The Mark

[+] EnlargeHouston Nutt
Don McPeak/US PresswireHouston Nutt could be in trouble after Saturday's loss.

• Houston Nutt's days might be numbered at Ole Miss. Since leading the Rebels to consecutive appearances in the Cotton Bowl in his first two seasons, the Rebels have lost 10 of their past 15 games, including an ugly 30-7 loss at Vanderbilt on Saturday. It was Vandy's largest margin of victory over an SEC foe since routing Mississippi State 49-19 in 1971. The Rebels have lost five of their past seven games against the Commodores, who narrowly missed tossing their first SEC shutout since 1968. The losing coach of Saturday's game between Georgia and Ole Miss in Oxford, Miss., figures to be in pretty serious trouble.

• Western Kentucky's football program seemed to be gaining some momentum last year, when it improved from 0-12 to 2-10 under first-year coach Willie Taggart. Maybe the Hilltoppers just need to play all their games on the road. WKU lost its 17th consecutive home game on Saturday, falling to FCS foe Indiana State 44-16. It was the Sycamores' first win over an FBS opponent since 2001. The Hilltoppers' past home win came against FCS foe Murray State in September 2008.

• For the first time in 113 years, Brigham Young and Utah met in the "Holy War" as nonconference opponents. Stunningly, the Utes made the Cougars look like an FCS team in a 54-10 rout at LaVell Edwards Stadium. BYU ran for only 11 yards and was undone by seven turnovers and eight penalties. It was BYU's worst loss in the heated rivalry since a 49-0 defeat in 1922.

• Boston College fell to 0-3 after kicker Nate Freese's 23-yard field goal attempt bounced off the left upright with 43 seconds to play in a 20-19 loss to Duke. Freese, who made two long field goals in the game, also missed a point-after kick when it bounced off the right upright. Bowling Green lost to Wyoming 28-27 after the Falcons' point-after kick was blocked by the Cowboys with three seconds to play.

Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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