ACC may hold key to renewed rivalries
I'm not ashamed to admit that I teared up at the end of the recent Kansas-Missouri basketball game. Then again, I get misty at "War Horse" trailers or Jim Cornelison's rendition of the national anthem.
I'm a softy, a traditionalist. I like Wrigley Field with lavatory troughs and no big screen. I need a world where they always dot the i in Script Ohio. And the day the Green Bay Packers tinker with that perfect G helmet logo is the day I renounce my one share of company stock.
So back to KU-Mizzou, a 105-year border war that is older than Gene Keady's comb-over. When the Jayhawks came back from a 19-point second-half deficit to beat the Tigers in OT last Saturday, it marked the official end of the historic regular-season rivalry.
Missouri is ditching the Big 12 for the SEC. That means no more three-hour drives between Columbia and Lawrence. No more visits by the Tigers to one of the Sistine Chapels of college hoops, Allen Fieldhouse. No more Mizzou Arena sightings of KU coach Bill Self nervously smoothing down the hair on the back of his head.
It's done. Finished. History.
Or is it?
I've come up with a scenario -- much more likely than the emergence of Jeremy Lin -- that reunites KU and Mizzou in the near future.
And it all depends on the ACC?
Yes, the ACC, which seemingly has no skin in the expansion game that brought Missouri to the SEC. But stay with me on this.
Of all the major conferences, the ACC has been the most aggressive when it comes to adding membership. It has treated the Big East as its personal minor league system, calling up Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College in the early-to-mid-2000s. In its most recent raid of the Big East, the ACC adopted Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
So what's to stop ACC commissioner John Swofford from making another run at the Big East in the next 2-4 years, this time inviting Rutgers and Connecticut? After all, 16 is the magic membership number, right?
Answer: absolutely nothing.
If it happened -- and I guarantee you conference commissioners have played out the possibilities like military officers at war colleges -- the chain reaction would be immediate and profound.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who is a member of the pro-expansionist party, would make a new pitch to his conference presidents. They gave him the thumbs down the last time he wanted to move past 12, but the ACC could force a reversal of policy.
And do you think SEC commissioner Mike Slive would simply sit in his Birmingham office munching on Golden Flake chips as a rival conference strengthened its national and regional standing? Uh, no.
As a starting point, both the SEC and the Pac-12 would look long and hard -- again -- at Texas and Oklahoma. From a strategic standpoint, they'd have to.
Meanwhile, if you're Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, an ACC romancing of UConn and Rutgers creates an instant turf war. Look at a map. Big Ten member Penn State would become encircled and isolated by the ACC: Syracuse to the north, Pitt to the west, UConn, Rutgers and Boston College to the east and Maryland to the immediate south. Prime TV and recruiting markets would be in jeopardy.
Delany is no dummy. He wouldn't cede those markets. I could see him sending in a Big Ten Special Forces unit to extract Rutgers from the ACC's possible grasp and Maryland from the ACC altogether. Rutgers hasn't made much of a secret of its fondness for the Big Ten. And who knows -- maybe Maryland is ready for a change too. And if not Maryland, maybe Georgia Tech?
That would give the Big Ten 14 members and a strong presence in Pennsylvania, the mid-Atlantic states and the New York/New Jersey areas. But if 16 is the number that counts, why stop there?
Which brings us back to that Kansas-Missouri rivalry.
If the Pac-12 and/or SEC go after Texas and OU, then it only makes sense that Kansas would be agreeable to a Big Ten marriage. And I don't care what Mizzou officials say for public consumption, if they had the choice of staying in the SEC or joining the Big Ten, they'd prefer Leaders/Legends Land. Exit fees won't be a problem. (And KU, Missouri, Maryland, Rutgers and Georgia Tech are all members of the prestigious Association of American Universities -- usually a prerequisite of Big Ten inclusion.)
I'm not saying it will happen tomorrow -- it won't. But it could happen in the next few years, which means the KU-Mizzou rivalry could live again.
The X factor? As always, Notre Dame.
Would it renounce its precious independent status for football? Would it consider a jump to the ACC? Would it reconsider the Big Ten? Would it kick the tires on the Pac-12? Would it amend its revenue sharing policy?
This is the What-If? game played these days. There are so many moving parts and so much backroom intrigue.
We've lost or will lose Texas-Texas A&M, Penn State-Pitt, Georgetown-Syracuse and KU-Mizzou to conference realignment. How weird if we somehow got one of them back.
Your move, ACC.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter @GenoEspn.
THE LAST GREAT GAME
March 28, 1992. The final of the NCAA East Regional, Duke vs. Kentucky. The 17,848 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia and the millions watching on TV had no idea what was about to take place. Gene Wojciechowski's The Last Great Game is the definitive book on the greatest game in the history of college basketball, and the dramatic road both teams took to get there.