Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples recently doled out grades for each of the last few conference realignment moves. Staples handed out a trio of Bs for the ACC's additions of Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville, and a B+ for the halvsies deal with Notre Dame. The Big Ten received a B- for poaching Maryland and a D for its addition of Rutgers ... because, well, Rutgers.
Staples also added that, with the benefit of hindsight, the Big 12 should have taken Louisville instead of West Virginia.
But looking back, it seems everyone would have been better off had the Big 12 taken Louisville, leaving West Virginia to replace Maryland in the ACC. Of course, that's easy to say now. At the time, West Virginia officials had no choice because no one knew Maryland would leave the ACC. If the Big 12 chooses to expand -- which seems a long shot at the moment -- officials would be wise to select at least one more East Coast school to make life a little easier for their friends in West Virginia.
OK, now you've got my attention.
The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel agrees with Staples, noting that the Big 12 could have landed one of the nation's best athletics departments. Hard to argue with that, especially given the run that the 'Ville is on.
Staples musing raises an interesting hypothetical: what if West Virginia, not Louisville, was joining the ACC?
Setting aside for a moment which school currently has the better athletics department -- a contest which isn't particularly close at the moment -- have to wonder whether the ACC would have been better off with West Virginia instead of Louisville. Here's why:
Louisville enters the league with the fewest games played against conference opponents; in no small part due to the fact that the Cardinals haven't spent much of any time in the same athletics conference as any current league member. I maintain that partially because of Louisville's lack of natural conference rivals, the ACC can get away with plugging Louisville in for Maryland and maintaining the current division alignment and crossover rivalry games.
But what if West Virginia, which has played one opponent -- 104 games vs. Pittsburgh -- more than the total number of games Louisville has ever played against ACC opponents (81 games), instead joined the league. Would the Mountaineers long gridiron history with programs such as Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Boston College have forced the league's hand?
Before you answer that question, take a look at how this all would line up. West Virginia would likely have been placed in the same division with Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, BC, Virginia and [insert one North Carolina school here]. Let's go with #TheRivalry, #BCvsWakeBingo. That leaves Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami and the three remaining Carolina schools to make up the ACC South Division.
Given that we've now separated North Carolina-Virginia and Wake-everyone else in the state, the league could employ a hybrid crossover scheduling model that pairs UNC-UVa and Wake-Duke annually. Seeing as we've now moved every other rivalry of some significant within the divisions (UVa-Duke excepted), the rest of the matchups would rotate.
This schedule would ensure that players see a majority of intra-division opponents over their career, even with just an eight game conference schedule. This alone would be a big improvement on the current alignment.
For men's basketball, a West Virginia for Maryland swap probably wouldn't have made much of a different to the league's scheduling model. If anything, this only strengthens the permanent scheduling partner assignments with West Virginia paired with Pittsburgh and Virginia.
-- Boston College - Notre Dame and Syracuse
-- Clemson - Florida State and Georgia Tech
-- Duke - North Carolina and Wake Forest
-- Florida State - Clemson and Miami
-- Georgia Tech - Clemson and Notre Dame
-- Miami - Florida State and Virginia Tech
-- North Carolina - Duke and N.C. State
-- N.C. State - North Carolina and Wake Forest
-- Notre Dame - Boston College and Georgia Tech
-- Pittsburgh - Virginia and West Virginia
-- Syracuse - Boston College and Pittsburgh
-- Virginia - Virginia Tech and West Virginia
-- Virginia Tech - Miami and Virginia
-- Wake Forest - Duke and N.C. State
-- West Virginia (was Maryland) - Pittsburgh and Virginia
There are other benefits to both West Virginia and the ACC with this move. The Mountaineers wouldn't have been forced to park a fairly decent men's soccer program in the MAC. But it's the ability to break the ACC's division realignment inertia that would have made this move a slam dunk. Again, out of Louisville and West Virginia, there's no question who has had the better recent run of success and I welcome UofL into the conference. But it's still fun to think what could have been had the Big 12 made a different (better?) decision.