With conference realignment rumors in full swing, Tomahawk Nation brought together a number of different realignment prognosticators from around the web to discuss Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC expansion (by picking apart the ACC, natch). Frank the Tank, The Dude of WV and Mr. SEC joined a couple of TN community members to discuss a wide range of expansion topics.
While lengthy, the entire roundtable discussion is well worth the read. In particular, I took away two key points from the roundtable discussion.
1. Everyone has an agenda. Here's the Dude of WV, who pulls for West Virginia, on the role the Mountaineers' role in conference realignment.
My guess is that most people don't realize the role West Virginia has played in conference realignment / expansion going back to 2010-2011 when Pitt and WVU tried to save the Big East and then tried to get the ACC to accept them as a pair. A block of ACC schools lead by UNC and Duke rejected WVU and forced the Mountaineers into the Big 12. Florida State and Clemson were upset that WVU was blackballed and felt that the basketball interests of the ACC were potentially damning ACC football. The new ACC TV contract, which in reality did not add money to the pot for Pitt and Syracuse, put the ACC's football powers in danger in terms of competition from the surrounding ACC schools and WVU used that fear to sow the seeds for the current volatile state of the ACC.
While anything can happen in conference realignment, it is worth pointing out that the only groups that consider the ACC most unstable are the groups that stand to benefit the most from its eventual collapse:
-- Big 12 fans, including a West Virginia fan base who wants to see the Big 12 expand further to valide their own move, mostly at the expense of the conference that initially rebuffed the mountaineers (see the quote above)
-- SEC fans, which stand to benefit from poaching the ACC by adding two more schools. Most often rumored expansion candidates include Virginia Tech and N.C. State, though adding North Carolina and Virginia would be the bigger power play by Mike Slive.
-- Maryland, which is hoping to see the ACC's $52 million lawsuit against the school either struck down or substantially lowered. In addition, the Terps are motivated to validate their own move to the Big Ten by bringing over a few former conference foes (because have you met a fan of a current Big Ten program who is happy with the additions of the Terps and the Scarlet Knights?).
Everyone has an agenda, just as this community doesn't stand to benefit from the ACC getting picked apart and the Eagles left in a conference that looks like the Big East circa 1998 (though people forget that the Big East circa 1998 was a pretty good conference ... there are far worse fates). This isn't to call out anyone in particular, but important to keep in mind the individual motivations of realignment prognosticators as that is something that is rarely, if ever, called out as these rumors are leaked. In short, consider the source.
2. The role of TV, specifically ESPN. Tomahawk Nation's Lou with what I believe to be the credited response on what comes next:
Honestly, I think the next big realignment move is ESPN stabilizing the ACC with more cash. I just really think they have too much to lose if the B1G eats the ACC and takes all that programming to Fox. Because if that happens, the B1G will squarely have Notre Dame and Texas in its sites. I don't think ESPN stomach the prospect of 20 years from now having no B1G programming, no ACC basketball, no FSU, no Texas and no Notre Dame.
I do think ESPN is going to find a way to make the ACC whole with respect to TV money. ESPN has zero incentive to watch 2-4 of North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Duke and Florida State head off the Big Ten. Nor do they want to see Virginia Tech and N.C. State go to the SEC, Florida State, Clemson, Miami and Georgia Tech to the Big 12, etc. Unlike the other Big 5 conferences, ESPN is the ACC's lone TV partner. They have more incentive to keep the ACC together more than any of the other four AQ conferences.
Money spent now is money saved down the road. If ESPN sits idle and watches as the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12 expand at the ACC's expense, the WWL would be losing share to FOX (Big Ten and Big 12) and CBS (SEC). I doubt ESPN has any interest in propping up two of their main competitors at the expense of their own television inventory.
Put another way, fewer power conferences is bad for ESPN's business. Further conference consolidation of college football's content providers gives those conferences significant more leverage and bargaining power in negotiations with ESPN, driving the price of these media rights contracts even higher.
Take the Big East's most recent "bidding war" between NBC Sports Network and ESPN. The Big East got a terribly low TV media rights deal. Part of that is NBC Sports Network lowballing the conference. Another part is a failure on the part of former commissioner Mike Tranghese, which not only locked the conference in with ESPN's exclusive 60-day negotiating window, but also allowed ESPN to match whatever offer someone else made to them, without allowing any opportunity for counteroffers or bids. A single network with a oversurplus of TV inventory with many content different providers benefits the network, not the sport. ESPN is interested in more, not less, college football content providers, which gives them leverage in negotiations with the power conferences when these TV media rights contracts come up for bid.
That's why if college football got its act together and started cooperating, not competing, with one another, schools would make even more money from TV. As it stands now, the five power conferences competing with one another for programs and TV dollars leaves money on the table.
I suppose the question you have to ask is whether the premium ESPN would pay for the TV media rights of the Big Four conferences in the future would be greater than the total ESPN payout for a stake in the Big Four, plus the ACC and the Big East today.
If you've made it this far, you're probably wondering what this means for the Boston College Eagles? I'd only echo Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician's Sean Keely in that no matter what happens, the ACC will live on and that BC will have a power conference to call home. There is a core group of ACC programs that will stay together, if for no other reason than to collect on the bounty of ACC exit fees.
Plus, Notre Dame. Both prognosticators and casual observers of conference realignment that believe Notre Dame will get scared into joining either the Big Ten or the Big 12 either don't truly know Notre Dame or don't appreciate the egos walking the halls of the Notre Dame athletics department. I believe it's far more likely that Notre Dame gets conference religion and goes all-in with the ACC than reneging on the ACC to join the Big Ten or Big 12, either as a partial or all-sports member. The irony, of course, is that Notre Dame could put all these conference realignment rumors to rest by going all-in with the ACC. At this time though, so long as the ACC holds together, the Irish have everything they could possibly want from the conference and have no incentive to give up football independence.