Conference realignment observers have been chatting about the Big Ten raiding the ACC for awhile, but there were two separate reports today from sites with fairly good track records that point to this possibly occurring sooner rather than later. InsideMDSports, which is the site that was among the first to report that Maryland was heading to the Big Ten, has Tweeted that North Carolina has an offer from former Dean Smith disciple Jim Delany and that Virginia and Georgia Tech are in the mix. Meanwhile, Mr. SEC has his own post about how UVA and Georgia Tech have spoken with the Big Ten, but there won’t be any moves until there’s clarity in the ongoing Maryland/ACC lawsuit.
As I’ve stated previously, this all jives with what I believe the Big Ten wants to do with expansion. The demographic shift to the South (both in terms of sheer population and football recruiting) has been a concern of the Big Ten for quite awhile – recall the results of the conference’s expansion study back in 2010 before they added Nebraska. UVA in particular would give the Big Ten flags on both sides of the Washington, DC metro area, which might end up being the second most important market for the conference after Chicago when all is said and done. (New York City is obviously the great white whale for college sports, but penetrating that market is going to be a long-term process for the Big Ten. DC, on the other hand, can be turned into a legit “Big Ten town” immediately with the right combo.)
UNC, as one of the most prominent brand names in college sports that can deliver its entire home state all on its own, is at or near the top of the list of both the Big Ten and SEC, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if Delany had offered his alma mater an invite years ago. However, I’ll reiterate that the Tar Heels are going to be one of the toughest nuts to crack in conference realignment (if they’re even crackable at all) since TV money alone isn’t going to sway them. The ACC culture is strong at that school and, even if there are other defections from that league, UNC alone could keep the rest of the conference together just as the presence of Texas kept the Big 12 together.
Georgia Tech is a name that is brought up in Big Ten expansion discussions fairly regularly. In a vacuum, there’s a lot to like about Georgia Tech – a great academic school in a top TV market and football recruiting area that is one of the largest destinations for Big Ten grads outside of the Midwest. The problem, though, is that the SEC rules (and likely always will rule) Atlanta. If there is a broader Southern expansion for the Big Ten (e.g. UVA, UNC, Georgia Tech and Florida State are all added to create an 18-school Big Ten), then there probably is enough of a critical mass of fans in the Atlanta market where it’s worth it to be the #2 conference there (as it’s such a strong college football market overall). I’m not a fan of it being a lone geographic outlier in the South, though, which is close to what it would be if only UVA were to be added with the Yellow Jackets.
At the same time, as someone that implored people to “think like a university president and not like a fan” when it came to conference realignment back in 2009, I’ve now come full circle in badly wanting to make sure that the Big Ten ends up with at least one more legit football power if it is going to continue expanding. Unless Notre Dame suddenly gets conference religion, the only realistic option on that front is Florida State and, by several accounts, the Seminoles are there for the taking. As I’ve stated before, Florida State hits virtually every metric that the Big Ten is looking for long-term: football power, growing population and massive TV markets. I understand better than most people about the importance of TV markets and academics to the Big Ten, yet this expansion gravy train is still ultimately fueled by football games that sports fans actually want to sit down and watch. Let’s hope that if the Big Ten actually is able to further raid the ACC (and I’ll be a skeptic of that occurring until the day that there’s an actual announcement) that Jim Delany (who I’m sure is more than open to the prospect of adding FSU) is able to remind the university presidents that there still needs to be football branding on top of collecting large metro areas and research institutions.
(Image from Washington Post)