Syracuse University is set to join the Atlantic Coast Conference next week, which I guess means I'll have to write something (nice?) about the Orange in this space over the next few days. Syracuse's impending conference switch has Orange beat writers wondering what could have been if the conference realignment dominoes have fallen a different way. Syracuse.com's Mike Waters enlisted the help of a variety of folks to ponder how the college football landscape would look had Syracuse, not Virginia Tech, joined Boston College and Miami in the first wave of ACC realignment in 2003-04.
The whole article is well worth the read, though admittedly a little difficult to follow. Even though it's just a hypothetical, I did want to delve into some of the possible dominoes here.
Aside: How many ACC championships would Boston College have won if Syracuse, not Virginia Tech had joined the conference back in 2003-04? Assuming a Syracuse-for-Virginia Tech swap in the Coastal Division, with all else constant, have to think BC would've won it all in 2007 and possibly 2008 (both vs. Georgia Tech) and played for a title in 2005 (a BC regular season win over Cuse would replace a loss to Virginia Tech, giving BC the Atlantic Division and a Championship Game matchup with Miami.) Sigh. What could have been.
Move 1: Boston College, Miami and Syracuse leave the Big East for the ACC
Ajerseyguy.com's Mark Blaudschun (remember him?) argues that this may have accelerated the Big East's football / basketball split given the league would have lost two founding members squarely in the conference's geographic Northeast center. Not sure I agree with that. For purposes of this hypothetical, the league sticks together and adds Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida for all sports and DePaul and Marquette for basketball.
Move 2: Virginia Tech leaves the Big East for the SEC
The theory here is that Virginia Tech, as the most dominant football program in the post-expansion ACC, would have been even more dominant in the Big East. The Hokies dominance on the gridiron and new television market would have made the program an attractive expansion candidate for the SEC, so Virginia Tech leaves the Big East for the SEC.
It's unclear what the time frame would have been for this move and really, this doesn't seem all that plausible. You'll recall that the SEC was never the aggressor over the last few rounds of conference realignment. Would the SEC have decided that Virginia Tech was worth poaching from the Big East without the Big 12 threatening to implode or the ACC or Big Ten pushing forward to 14 programs? I tend to doubt this.
Moves 3-5: Texas A&M to the SEC as #14
Texas and Oklahoma head west to the Pac-10
Big East adds Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Nebraska
With the Big 12 splintering, Texas A&M, not Missouri, accepts an invitation to become the SEC's 14th program to go with Virginia Tech. The rest of the Big 12 breaks apart, with Missouri (?), not Nebraska, becoming the Big Ten's 12th program. Texas and Oklahoma head to the Pac-10, while the Big East scoops up Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Nebraska.
The Missouri-for-Nebraska Big Ten swap is a headscratcher. The Big Ten was faced with this very same decision back in 2010 and chose the Cornhuskers, not the Tigers. Why would this have been any different under these set of circumstances? The Pac-10 also wasn't taking Texas and Oklahoma without Texas Tech and Oklahoma State in tow. Remember the summer that the possibility of a "Pac-16" all held us captive? We also seem to have lost Baylor and Colorado. Someone please go and find Baylor and Colorado.
Move 6: TCU stays in the Mountain West
With the Big East adding Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Nebraska, there's no need to take on TCU. TCU remain in the Mountain West, because there's no longer a Big 12 to scoop up the Frogs. This makes some sense, even if the Big East adding Nebraska doesn't.
Move 7: Syracuse still struggles in the ACC for football
Duh. Also there's this lovely tidbit from Tom McElroy, who was the Big East's associate commissioner at the time of the ACC's first raid.
Boston College has struggled mightily in both football and basketball since moving to the ACC.
"Boston College athletics have become irrelevant over past 10 years,'' McElroy said. "They became isolated.''
Personal ax to grind much? Those adversely affected by BC's move to the ACC -- especially UConn fans -- want you to believe that it was the switch in conferences that torpedoed the Eagles revenue sports (which is a recent phenomena, and not "since moving to the ACC"). Those close to the program know that BC's recent decline in the revenue sports is almost entirely from self-inflicted wounds and has little / nothing to do with the conference switch. BC won a share of three of the first four Atlantic Division titles (2005, 2007, 2008) and came within a bucket of winning the league in men's basketball in 2006 for crying out loud.
Move 8: ACC re-raids the Big East for Louisville and Rutgers
It's a bit unclear why this move is made. Virginia Tech is supposedly already in the SEC, so the Hokies are out. But why, exactly does the ACC goes on the offensive again? There's no impending threat from the Big 12. The conference no longer exists. With the addition of Missouri, the Big Ten is still at 12, enjoying a newfound symmetry with its West Coast dancing partner the Pac-12 (with Texas and Oklahoma). Plus the Big East wouldn't be nearly as vulnerable as it was when the ACC picked off Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Why? Remember that the conference has picked up Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Nebraska(?) from the Big 12.
This move is a stretch.
Move 9: The Big Ten adds Maryland and UConn to get to 14 programs
The experts argue that the cash would've been too good for Maryland to pass up a Big Ten invite, which, reasonable (is Debbie Yow still employed by the University in this hypothetical?). In need of a 14th program to pair with Maryland, the Big Ten adds UConn over Pittsburgh based on the fact that Pitt adds little to the conference that Penn State doesn't already provide.
Several problems with this.
1) UConn isn't AAU; Pittsburgh is.
2) UConn wouldn't be in a contiguous state; Pittsburgh is in the existing footprint, and
3) People forget that the ACC adding Pittsburgh was at least in some small part to help pry Notre Dame loose from the Big East, poaching one of the Irish's main and geographically proximate rivals
4) The biggest issue of all, that the Big Ten's decision wouldn't have come down to just UConn vs. Pittsburgh.
You'll recall that the Big East also now includes programs like Nebraska and Kansas. Why wouldn't the Big Ten just pair the Terps with either of those programs that they've openly discussed adding in the past instead of UConn?
That's not to mention that the notion the ACC would proactively add Louisville and Rutgers to get to 14 seems a bit dubious in its own right. Pittsburgh is still available. So is West Virginia. Both those programs are getting scooped up by the ACC before Louisville and Rutgers, even if you believe that the ACC would continue to be proactive about expansion. Plus even if the conference did add a school like Rutgers, if the Big Ten was successful in poaching Maryland from the ACC, what would be to stop the conference from also picking off Rutgers?
Obviously plenty of holes in this hypothetical and that's OK. It is just a hypothetical (constructed from "experts" tho). And any realignment hypothetical that doesn't include the great white whale -- Notre Dame -- is more or less a nonstarter. Legit question though: Where does Notre Dame fit in this scenario, given the need to fill the middle portion of the Irish's independent football schedule and bowl access?
Personally, I don't think the dominoes would have fallen that much differently from how they did had Syracuse, not Virginia Tech, joined the Big East. If anything, the Hokies football program could have propped up the Big East as a viable football power in ways that the 2005-09 Syracuse teams didn't.
With this hypothetical, the Big East would have included Cincinnati, Louisville, Virginia Tech and West Virginia -- each program had multiple BCS bowl berths over the time period -- to go with Kansas (BCS in 2007), Nebraska (which, while the Huskers have fell short of a BCS bowl berth the past few years, likely would have vied for conference titles in the Big East) and Kansas State (BCS in 2012). That's actually a pretty solid football conference all things considered.
Regardless, I'm of the opinion that things would look close to how they do today. Perhaps Virginia Tech does end up in the SEC, paired with Texas A&M or West Virginia. But the notion that Texas and Oklahoma would pack up and head west without Texas Tech and Oklahoma State doesn't seem all that plausible; not to mention the potential lawsuit Baylor would bring on the Longhorns for leaving them behind. No one was getting left behind under the Leave No BCS AQ Program (In Fear Of Lawsuit) Behind program.
The Big Ten likely still picks off Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers. There's not much stopping the Pac-12 from adding Colorado and Utah in this hypothetical and those moves probably still happen. The ACC would've backfilled Maryland -- which the hypothetical doesn't address -- with one of UConn, Louisville, Pittsburgh or West Virginia. Probably Pittsburgh given that BC and Syracuse would've both been in the ACC for a number of years and pushed for the Panthers inclusion. Maybe the ACC adds all three of Louisville, Pittsburgh and West Virginia (to get to 14 to match the Big Ten and SEC). The Big 12 lives on as the conference replaces Colorado, Nebraska and Texas A&M with TCU to stay at an even 10 programs.
About the only differences with the present day alignment would be:
- Virginia Tech in the SEC, not ACC
- Missouri in the Big 12, not SEC
- West Virginia in the ACC, not Big 12
That's really about it. Fun to think about -- especially all those ACC football titles BC would've taken home (with no apologies to Mr. McElroy). But probably not the earth shattering move that a Syracuse-for-Virginia Tech swap is made out to be.
Hat Tip: Atlantic Coast Convos