The blog Frank The Tank's Slant has one of the most unbiased and interesting takes on conference expansion and realignment. On Wednesday, the Tank (?) tackled the constant rumors of Florida State and Clemson looking to leave the ACC for the Big 12, laying out a five-step plan to strengthen the ACC this summer.
The first step involves realigning the conference into divisions with a north / south lean:
Geography is still a powerful factor for both conferences and schools as isolated members tend to end up being unhappy members over the long-term. That factor ought to weigh heavily on Florida State and Clemson in terms of staying in the ACC as they would largely be isolated members of the Big 12 outside of being in the same time zone as West Virginia. However, the ACC's football non-geographic divisional alignment largely takes that geographical argument off the table. Currently, Florida State and Clemson only have Wake Forest and North Carolina State as fellow southeastern members in the Atlantic Division.
Under this proposal, the ACC would be realigned into north-south divisions that closely resemble the old Big East and the original ACC:
Florida State-Miami and Virginia-North Carolina would continue to be an annual affair as protected cross-divisional rivals, while other schools could either also establish cross-divisional rivals or play a strict rotating cross-divisional schedule in a hybrid model. Such a hybrid model could also open up the possibility of moving towards the Les Miles plan of having only divisional games count towards the division title.
Some may look at Miami in the North and think that the Tank is geographically challenged, but I've long said that the U is really a Northeast school in culture and character, relying on the Northeastern US populous to make up a significant portion of the student body. This northern lean was also a factor in Miami joining the Big East back in the early 1990s.
Under this divisional alignment, the Eagles would be trading in annual games against Clemson, Florida State, N.C. State and Wake Forest for Miami, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Virginia. That doesn't look too shabby at face. BC would gain from having annual games against Miami and Pittsburgh as well as an opportunity to strike a rivalry with a program closer geographically and culturally than either Clemson or Florida State. I, for one, would be all for this.
The benefit for programs like Florida State and Clemson is a schedule that decreases travel costs and surrounds the schools with more regional appropriate programs. For FSU, the Seminoles would be reunited with Georgia Tech, arguably their third most important conference rival after Miami and Clemson. Clemson would similarly be reunited with original ACC members Duke and North Carolina.
There are some losers to this divisional realignment, namely Maryland who trades in annual games with Clemson, N.C. State and Wake Forest -- all original ACC members -- for newfound rivalries with Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Miami, but we already seem to be headed down that path anyway.
Others might argue that the South is a bit stronger in football and definitely in basketball and baseball, but after Georgia Tech vacated the 2009 title, ACC Football Championships are split at 3-3. And it would be foolish to count Miami out forever in football with the school's natural advantages.
Will a change in divisional alignment cause FSU and Clemson fans to stop beating the ACC defection drum? Probably not. But realigning the divisions that make more sense geographically, culturally and historically, when factors with other possible changes, could be enough to persuade those schools -- and more importantly, those school's incensed fan bases -- to want to say.