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Conferences in the NCAA are Preparing for Huge Shifts. Should Boston College Be Worried?

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Realignment is benefitting the big boys more and more. Where does that leave a low-tier P5 school like BC?

Oklahoma v Texas Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Texas and Oklahoma announced today they plan to depart the Big 12. And reporting suggests they will be joining the SEC as the newest members of college football’s premier conference.

This development and the prospect of a new round of conference realignment begs a troubling question for fans of minor P5 programs like Boston College: Will we get left behind?

Let’s go through a thought exercise on what conference realignment could look like and how BC could fit into the process.

The ACC has no real reason to start kicking teams out

If you’re on any sort of social media and follow national college athletics accounts, you’re bound to run into Southerners and others who constantly suggest that the ACC should kick Boston College out of the conference. It’s annoying and not based in reality. Realistically, the ACC has no motivation to start kicking out its members, whether it’s BC or somebody else. College athletics is likely entering a period of consolidation in which the Power 5 conferences could become the Power 4 or Power 3. In this scenario, strength comes from numbers. If the ACC is hung out to dry by Clemson and FSU in the same fashion that the Big 12 faces with Texas and Oklahoma, a higher number of member schools increases the chance of conference survival.

The Big 12, in its current iteration without Texas or Oklahoma, has 8 member schools. If other conferences start to pick off West Virginia, Kansas, or others, it becomes likely that the Big 12 may have to dissolve altogether. The ACC can avoid a similar fate by keeping its membership intact and actually adding new members, like WVU or Cincinnati or UCF or somebody else. Kicking BC or others out of the conference makes it more susceptible to dissolving down the line due to lack of strong membership. Boston College may not be a huge money-maker for the conference, but they’re not a money-drain and they’ll provide some stability if the ACC loses its top dogs.

The ACC is currently the 3rd strongest conference

Conferences may be consolidating and dissolving, but BC finds itself to luckily be in a very healthy conference at the moment. The SEC is the clear top dog, with the Big 10 claiming a firm 2nd place, but the ACC finds itself solidly ahead of the PAC-12 and of course now the Big 12. In a world where super-conferences may start to form, BC will luckily find itself already on the inside with little reason to be kicked out.

Clemson must be thinking about leaving the ACC like Texas and Oklahoma left the Big 12, right?

The only significant threat to our prosperity would be the departure of schools like Clemson, FSU, or even Miami and Louisville to the SEC. If the SEC wants to truly be the college athletics super-conference, then they could expand to 18 or 20 teams to do so and steal away the ACC’s darlings. For Clemson & friends to consider this, revenue would have to be pretty bad coming from the ACC, a conference which they dominate, to leave for the SEC, a conference in which they’d have a ton of competition for viewers and wins.

This revenue factor was clearly motivating enough for Texas and Oklahoma to abandon their conference. But the ACC is healthier in that department, getting a total of $497M in revenue in 2020, compared to the Big 12’s $409M the same year. Conference payouts for the ACC also have been increasing each year, while the Big 12’s have been falling. The ACC TV contract in place is less than ideal for the conference, but renegotiation is expected to happen, especially if teams threaten to leave. It’s certainly not impossible that Clemson and FSU would want to bail for the SEC, but it’s less likely than what led Oklahoma and Texas to do so.

And if you’ve heard rumors that the SEC has already started to reach out to other powerhouse schools to form a super-conference... it’s been debunked by multiple reputable sources, including this one:

What would happen if Clemson and Florida State actually left the ACC for the SEC?

Ok, so let’s say that the SEC becomes such a cash cow that it’s too much for Clemson and Florida State to resist. It becomes an 18-member conference, and the ACC is left with the remaining 12 teams (and sort of Notre Dame).

The ACC is still at least a top-4 conference, possibly top-3 depending on the status of the PAC-12. The Big 12 at this point is either much weaker or completely dissolved. The ACC will still have prominent members including Miami, UNC, Duke, Virginia, Louisville, Virginia Tech, and possibly West Virginia if they are nabbed from the Big 12. No football bluebloods, but still some quality football programs and they remain a top basketball conference. Not to mention anybody from the G5 (Cincinnati, UCF, etc.) the ACC might try to grab due to the departure of Clemson and FSU.

There’s not a ton of risk that these other fellow ACC programs are poached by the SEC or Big 10. Maybe the SEC would consider going to 20 members by taking Miami and Louisville (unlikely). Maybe the Big 10 would venture into the Tobacco Road area to try to grab a few schools (even less likely) or replace the ACC as the partner with Notre Dame (possible). All of this would still leave about 8 ACC schools minimum, likely more, that would stick together. Not a great scenario to be in, but still what would be a top-4 conference.

Are there any scenarios in which BC is no longer an ACC school?

There are, but they’re very remote possibilities. One is that the ACC dissolves because too many teams leave for new super-conferences. The other would be if Boston College gets courted by the Big 10 so the conference can capture the New England region, much like they went after Maryland and Rutgers to establish a presence in the DMV and Tri-State areas.

What’s the doomsday scenario for Boston College?

  • The SEC, in addition to Texas and Oklahoma, take in Clemson, FSU, Miami, and Louisville.
  • The PAC-12 takes in former Big 12 schools, which could include Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor, Iowa State, and/or Texas Tech.
  • The Big 10 takes in former Big 12 schools like Kansas or Iowa State, and they reach into the ACC to take the major Tobacco Road schools (Duke, UNC, Virginia, Virginia Tech). Alternatively, the SEC expands even further into a 24+ team super-mega-conference and takes those Tobacco Road schools instead.
  • The college athletics landscape essentially forms into a Power 3 structure with 3 super-conferences. BC is stuck with the remnants of the ACC (Syracuse, Pitt, NC State, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech), who try to take in former G5 members (Cincinnati, UCF, etc.) to try to stay relevant.

So should BC fans be worried about something like this happening?

A scenario like this probably has less than a 1% chance of happening.

In all likelihood, Clemson and FSU stay in the ACC during this round of realignment. The ACC is a much easier conference to play against that gives them pretty much an automatic bid to the CFP every year, while the revenue streams overall remain adequate.

Boston College likely ends up fine, even if other conferences like the the SEC start making obscene amounts of money.