With the Pac 10 meetings wrapping up today, commissioner Larry Scott has reportedly been given the green light to pursue conference expansion. While Pac 10 expansion isn't necessarily a foregone conclusion, Scott now wouldn't have to go back to the board to invite programs to the conference. Some form of Pac 10 expansion is looking more and more likely.
Multiple sources have reported that Scott is eyeing a number of possible expansion possibilities, but they basically boil down to these four: status quo (unlikely), adding Colorado and Utah to get to 12 and a conference championship, adding six Big 12 schools or a full blown Pac-10 / Big 12 merger to create an almost unwieldy 22 team mega conference.
It also appears that Baylor has replaced Colorado as team number 16 in the aforementioned Pac 16 scenario, thanks to some lobbying from 15 Texas politicos.
Meanwhile, Big Ten officials met today in Park Ridge, Ill. While the conference didn't reach any conclusions on expansion, they did discuss that the Pac 10's latest move may fast track the original 12-to-18 month timeline. The Big 12 also reportedly gave an ultimatum to Nebraska and Missour i (but really, just Nebraska), asking the two programs to decide whether they will remain committed to the Big 12 or pursue joining the Big Ten. It's appears that Nebraska holds the key to whether the Big 12 will remain in tact or break off and join the Pac 10.
If the Pac 10 and Big Ten do go down the path of mutual destruction and expand to 16 teams, would the SEC and ACC do the same? As Gobbler Country points out, opinions on this vary from the SEC and ACC standing pat to feeding four extra mouths so that Slive and Swofford's Schwartz would be as big as Scott and Delany's. At this point, I'm more of the belief that the SEC will stand pat rather than attempt their own 4-team expansion. There are a few reasons I think this, but largely it comes down to the differences in business models between the SEC ESPN/CBS TV rights model and the Big Ten Network/Pac 16 Network model. In addition, while bigger might be better in terms of TV revenue, it might not be better in terms of landing teams in the BCS National Championship Game.
Let's say for a moment that the SEC does decide to expand to 16 teams. What does this mean for Boston College and the ACC?
Will BC be invited to join the SEC?
Seriously? Next question ...
Can the ACC survive the loss a program? Two programs?
I believe so. If the SEC poaches Florida State or Georgia Tech, the ACC can counter with adding Syracuse and Connecticut. As crazy as it sounds, Notre Dame might even be an expansion candidate at this point. If the Irish feel that their independence is threatened by a race to join one of 4-5 power conferences, the Irish could find safe haven in the ACC as the anti-Big Ten. This option probably becomes more appealing if the ACC loses Florida State and Clemson and retains Georgia Tech and Miami, as Notre Dame has much more football history with the latter programs.
Can the ACC survive the loss of four programs?
This gets interesting. If the SEC pulls a move like the Pac 10 did, and invites four ACC programs (say, Florida State, Miami, Clemson and Georgia Tech), the incentives become much greater for those teams to jump to the SEC gravy train. The ACC would then have to decide whether they should respond by adding 4 teams to get back to 12, or think bigger and expand to 16. The problem with a 16-team conference is the attractive programs thin considerably. Adding four, I think the conference takes a good look at Syracuse, Connecticut, Pittsburgh and West Virginia (warts and all). Adding eight, it gets really messy, with the ACC considering schools that come with significant academic baggage (South Florida, Cincinnati, Louisville or Memphis).
Would BC be left out in the cold in terms of the BCS?
Not likely. When BC moved from the Big East to the ACC along with Virginia Tech and Miami, the Big East's status as a BCS football conference was in serious jeopardy. Even if the ACC lost four programs, the football quality of the remaining ACC programs is infinitely better than it was when the Big East was left with 5 football schools. Reload on Big East leftovers and I think the ACC's status as a BCS conference persists going forward.
Should you be concerned about this? A little. But BC is in an infinitely better position than programs like Iowa State, Kansas State, Kansas and the entire Big East. Set the ACC Demise Threat Level at Elevated.
Should the ACC be proactive in terms of conference expansion?
It might seem like the right course of action, considering the ACC was out in front of all this conference expansion stuff in 2003. But as we saw above, there is a short list of really attractive expansion candidates for the conference. There's no way that the ACC is coaxing a current SEC or Big Ten program to move over to the ACC given the substantial difference in TV revenues. That short list of non-SEC, non-Big Ten ACC expansion targets is limited to the most attractive of the Big East's two-sport programs. Among those, Syracuse, Connecticut and Pittsburgh seem like the most attractive programs.
Plus there's not a whole lot to be gained by the ACC in terms of TV revenue. The ACC is now locked into their ESPN TV deal and don't stand to gain the same amount of added revenue as the Big Ten Network and possible Pac 16 Network stand to gain in terms of increased subscriber base.
What is the simplest scenario in all this conference realignment chaos?
Nebraska and Missouri pledge allegiance to the Big 12 and the Big 12 remains largely in tact. The Pac 10 forgoes four team expansion, opting instead to add Utah and Colorado to get to 12 teams and a conference championship. Big 12 backfills with TCU. Notre Dame wakes up to find that the future revenue streams of the BTN are too great to pass up, and join the Big Ten as the twelfth team. Delany is content with just 12 teams. Boise State joins the Mountain West but with the loss of TCU, just misses out from becoming an automatic qualifying BCS conference. SEC, ACC and the Big East remain in tact. Note, however, that even in the simplest scenario, BCS conference expansion happens. The wheels have been set in motion and I think both the Big Ten and the Pac 10 reached the point of no return when Chip Brown broke the Pac 16 story.
What is the most far-fetched scenario?
Pac-10 and Big 12 merge to create a 22-team, college football-only mega conference. Not to be outdone, the SEC and ACC merge to create a 24-team conference. Big Ten picks up Notre Dame and their choice of the Big East. The Big East leftovers handpicks the most attractive Conference USA and MAC teams to get to whatever number of football programs they think is appropriate. We're left with three BCS conferences (Pac 22, Big 16, SEACC) and two orbiting on the periphery (MWAC and Bigger East).
How do I see this playing out?
As I noted above, some sort of BCS conference expansion is inevitable. The extent of expansion depends largely on what the Presidents of Texas, Nebraska and Notre Dame decide. If the Big 12 doesn't implode, I think you'll see both the Pac 10 and Big Ten go to 12 teams with no other tectonic shifts in the college football landscape. If the Pac 16 happens, I think the Big Ten also moves to 16 teams, taking Nebraska, Missouri and three Big East programs / Notre Dame. I think that will be the extent of it, however, with the SEC and ACC standing pat at 12.
I remain intrigued and concerned.