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While most of the football media and college fans follow rumors of expansion and realignment of the Big 12 and Pac 12, the truth of the matter is this: the future battles in college football expansion will not be fought in the Big 12 or Pac 12. , they will be battling it out in the ACC. Because almost every ACC school wants to leave the ACC for either the SEC or the Big Ten and unlike the Big 12 and Pac 12, many ACC schools are from both the SEC and the Big Ten. are important expansion values.
And there are two schools in particular, the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina, that will help drive the next generation of college football expansion. I’ll discuss that below in a moment, but first let’s start here: the top ACC schools recognize that the future of college football is the SEC and the Big Ten and they want to leave the ACC.
Ever since the Big Ten split USC and UCLA from the Pac-12, the phones have been ringing off the hook in the SEC and Big Ten offices. Yes, many of the schools calling to join the SEC and Big Ten are in the Pac-12 and Big 12, but it’s not surprising that those schools will be working for new homes. What may come as a surprise to many is how aggressively ACC schools are trying to join the SEC and Big Ten.
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So the big story running beneath the surface of college football is this: How long will the ACC survive as a major conference? And when will the assault on the ACC officially begin? Since the collapse of the ACC remains inevitable at this point, it’s just a question of when it happens, not if it happens.
In the short term the school with the most power to change the conference balance sheet is Notre Dame. If the Irish decide to join the Big Ten, then the Big Ten could expand further. If the Irish decide to remain independent then there could be another stalemate for a few years. How long can that stop last? How many years or maybe even ten years, no one knows for sure. The tectonic plates that shift beneath college football conferences can be difficult to predict. But just as we know earthquakes are inevitable, so is the collapse of the ACC. We just don’t know when it will happen.
And when the ACC officially enters the adjustment phase, something unique will finally happen, the SEC and the Big Ten, which until now have respected each other’s geographies, will finally go head-to-head. Yes, the SEC got Missouri, a long-discussed Big Ten target. Yes, the ACC got Maryland, but so far it’s been pushing the geographic edges of every conference. The territorial integrity of the SEC and Big Ten has remained intact to this point.
But the ACC will change everything as the Big Ten wants to come down to the south coast and blow up schools in North Carolina and Virginia and the SEC wants to prevent that encroachment and maintain its geographic ownership of the South. So what comes next? Welp, there is a leak in the water and the SEC and Big Ten teams will finally start partying and when that happens the ACC will cease to be a major conference.
And here is a delicious dish to savor. Yes, the ACC is protected by a licensing agreement that extends into the 2030s — a rights-based agreement that theoretically restricts a school from selling television rights to sporting events to others and thus makes basic financial sense for changing conferences, reducing TV costs. – but if a majority of ACC schools vote to end the franchise then in theory the ACC franchise is lost. So all those tens of millions of dollars that kept the ACC from splitting? It stands on a dangerous footing, when seven or eight schools have better options than the ACC as we know it.
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So what does that mean for the SEC and the Big Ten? Well, let’s start with the major decisions that will be made by the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia. Where do UNC and UVA see themselves in the coming years? If the answer is the SEC, I think there is a strong case for the SEC to expand and include UNC and UVa. NC State and Virginia Tech might also add to the mix. This way a twenty SEC school maintains its territorial integrity and the SEC Network will cover the valuable states of Virginia and North Carolina. This is something I’ve been writing about on Outkick since 2012. Mathematics hasn’t changed that much since then.
But if UNC and UVA pick the Big Ten, then I think the SEC will move quickly to add NC State and Virginia Tech and maybe then go down the coast and add Clemson and Florida State. The SEC might even be willing to shut down UNC, NC State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech to keep the Big Ten out of its key markets and states. Yes, that’s half of the ACC in one bit. But at the moment the only top college football school left in an “SEC state” is Miami, and there is a belief that Miami, which does not have a large fan base, is a private school, and is behind in the state competition rankings. The state of Florida is Florida. , is not necessary in the conference. Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State and schools in North Carolina and Virginia will provide the integrity of the SEC territory moving forward, effectively anchoring the South for generations to come. (Yes, Louisville is still there, but the state of Kentucky is about basketball and a state with a small population and the Cardinals are not worthy of a doubleheader in the Bluegrass for the SEC.)
So what will happen to ACC schools like Louisville, Miami, Wake Forest, Duke, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Boston College? They will all be desperate to get into the Big Ten. But the problem with the Big Ten is that the conference has not previously included lower-tier academic schools. (AAU membership, now limited to 63 universities in the country, has become very important to the Big Ten. Now UVA, UNC, Georgia Tech, Pitt and Duke of the ACC are all members). But most of the remaining seven schools are private schools without significant football fan bases. So how does this all play out? How many of these schools are academically elite enough for the Big Ten to accept them?
My guess in this scenario is that the Big Ten will take Syracuse, Duke, Pittsburgh and, or, Boston College or Miami, to get to twenty schools (fewer if Notre Dame joins). And the rest of the ACC schools will be left in the realignment cosmos, ultimately tied to the Big 12. (So I’d keep my powder dry if I were the Big 12.)
Keep in mind that the huge detail here is that the SEC, unlike the Big Ten at least for now, has a clause in its new TV deal with ESPN that guarantees all new “top” expansion candidates will be in the event receive the same payment in payment. expansion that existing schools receive. So the finances for the SEC are less complicated than the Big Ten when it comes to expansion, at least for now. Thus Oklahoma and Texas, once they join the SEC, will end up paying the same amount as the current 14 schools in the SEC. And that’s why, at least until now, the Big Ten hasn’t expanded and added Washington and Oregon along with USC and UCLA, because the TV dollars don’t work for those schools (The number one lesson of college football expansion is that that no one takes less money to expand, you have to break at least).
So the big question going on there, ultimately, is: Where do UNC and UVA see their long-term future? Do they want to match up with Southern schools or do they want to join the Big Ten? It is a cultural, academic and business decision for both institutions. Do they want road trips to Texas, Alabama and Tennessee or do they want to play annual games in Michigan, Wisconsin and, potentially, Los Angeles? Remember, the Big Ten took Maryland a few years ago with the idea that taking Maryland would lead to Virginia and North Carolina as well. This did not happen.
So when everyone looks at the Pac-12 and the Big 12, the two biggest state battlegrounds to come aren’t the states in these conferences: they’re Virginia and North Carolina. At some point, those schools and states will officially be in play for the SEC and Big Ten, if they aren’t already. And when that happens, watch out – the ACC will cease to exist.
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So if I were the commissioners of the Big 12 or Pac-12, I’d be inclined to keep my powder dry. The conference under the greatest long-term threat in college sports isn’t the Big 12 or the Pac-12, it’s the ACC, which is set to be the first true battle for college football supremacy between the SEC and the Big Ten, both . 800 pound college football gorillas.