With college football playoff details coming later this summer, likely by early July, we know conference realignment moves are on hold for the time being. Once the 2014 playoff system comes out, the free-for-all is back on, with the renewed possibility of Notre Dame easing into the Big 12 as its NBC deal runs out, upping the stakes even more.
We have a good sense of the general moves still on the board, but if we really are entering the long-prophesied, 64-team reign of the superconference, we might as well start war-gaming. Below, an attempt at the best shape each conference could be in following the next wave, along with the worst that could happen.
Also, a word on the RVR (Realignment Value Rankings) used in each section. You can read more on that here, but it's my far-from-ideal attempt to come up with a scoring system for all this stuff. I've made some adjustments after getting lots of feedback, including adding a TV Ratings factor, taking out Enrollment, adding more years of money data, and so forth. The lower the score, the better.
Note! This all assumes the 16-team conference is the eventual ideal. I don't know if it really is.
There's a big difference between tactics and strategy. A strategy is what you want to do. A tactic is how you plan to do it. The ACC's lone remaining ideal tactical outcome is also the one it appears to have been planning for a long time: bring in Notre Dame and one more Big East team with ties to a big market. If Tobacco Road can appease Florida State into staying, the academics-rich, basketball-prone ACC will still be a contender for the Irish.
However, while the ACC's realignment strategy (control the East Coast) has not been that terrible, a lack of football results and perhaps its unwillingness to accomodate Texas' and Notre Dame's particular whims have the league in a scary spot. As it stands, the Big 12, Big Ten and SEC could all take multiple teams from the ACC without even fighting over which to take. Yikes. Imagine FSU, Clemson, Miami, Georgia Tech and Pitt to the Big 12; Maryland and Boston College to the Big Ten; and Virginia Tech and a Carolina school to the SEC. That could all happen.
It's almost hard to put a floor on the damage. If eight teams left, could Duke and UNC consider the Big East? Could the food chain reverse itself that completely? We won't go quite that far, but, really, the worst case is really, really bad.
Speaking of things that could turn out poorly. The Big East's problems are different from the ACC's in some ways. The good news: if it does lose more teams, it won't lose as many as the ACC could. Louisville could be out as a Big 12 candidate, the ACC will likely only take UConn or Rutgers unless it needs to shore up due to losses, and Boise State's committed to joining after some hesitation.
And, unlike the ACC, the Big East doesn't have a whole bunch of elite schools with good athletic departments just waiting to be plucked. Most of the Big East's members really are in the best place they could be. The worst news would be Boise State taking San Diego State back west, but anything can be survived, even if in the loosest sense of survival. Plus, there's the MAC and Conference USA nearby ("nearby" is everywhere in the case of the modern Big East) in the event of UConn's and Rutgers' exits. There would be no more Big East culture, but that's been dying for decades now anyway.
So, best case here? If the Big East can hang onto its entire current roster and maybe round up the other two service academies, as it tried to do, that would be a major success. But, just to think wild, let's say the ACC completely collapses and Syracuse comes back. I said best case, not likeliest case.
Nine months ago, Oklahoma had its finger on the trigger. Two years ago, Texas was all but gone. And even though Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri have left, the Big 12 is not only somehow still around, it's as rock-solid for the immediate future as the SEC, Big Ten or Pac-12. Nothing makes sense.
Worst case for the Big 12? Maybe adding some really bad teams (Let's give them Charlotte!), but there's no sense in predicting that. With their 13-year grant of rights deal, nobody's leaving any time soon. Somehow, the sky's only going to get bluer here.
How do you like four from the ACC and two independents, all of which have appeared in Big 12 rumors over the past year, to get up to the mythical 16-team level?
* For the next 13 years, at least.
Nobody's leaving, for starters. The Big Ten's schools will make as much money as anybody's, have as much influence on the playoff system as anybody, continue to enjoy tight cultural and academic ties and continue to make as much money as anybody. Worth repeating. The only real question is what happens if Jim Delany goes shopping. (He returns home with one paper sack, folded over at the top and containing one trial-size pack of Advil, for emergencies.)
Notre Dame has been pegged to the Big Ten for years, with Jim Boeheim telling Irish basketball coach Mike Brey in 2005, "You'll be all right in the Big Ten." That could certainly still happen, but who else? You'd need at least one to even it up, and we're going all superconference here.
Maryland and Rutgers both make sense, as they're large, AAU land-grants in big markets the Big Ten wants more of. Not a whole lot of recent football excellence, but Rutgers sort of helped invent the sport, if you're into that sort of thing. Mizzou wanted in, but I don't see any way they jump out of the SEC right after entering. Maybe Boston College or Syracuse, but I like Virginia Tech here. They're not AAU, but otherwise they fit the profile, down to the wrestling program.
Conference USA, the MAC and the Sun Belt don't have a lot of realignment options. They're all fully stocked right now, but if nearby leagues start taking teams, each of the little guys will have to fight amon themselves or pull up from FCS. The worst case for each is disastrous, while the best is ... maybe the Big East keeps falling right past them?
The Mountain West, however, does have a little bit of a safety net. The Pac-12 is the only power in its region, and Larry Scott's league is going to be as picky as any in its next additions. You have to factor in long-term state population trends to even come up with a reason for the Pac-12 to take most of the MWC's teams. And the Big 12 has better options out east than it does in the Rockies.
Worst case, let's say the MWC loses a team or two to the Pac-12 and has to complete its collection of former WAC schools. Best case, Boise State and San Diego State come back, along with some new Big East friends -- and maybe a western-ish team or two from the Sun Belt, since the MWC's not going to take teams from CUSA, a partner league?
The Pac-12, having passed on Texas' traveling party at least once now, has very few expansion options left. You have to think Big 12 country is as far east as it would be willing to go, and even then only for a blockbuster like Texas. In its own region, Boise State is a recent football power, but lacks facilities, academics, its own recruiting grounds and sure signs of lasting success beyond the tenure of its elite coaching staff.
BYU would be a fine fit for every reason but one: it's a church school, which won't sit well with Stanford and Cal. I'm sorry, y'all. From the Mountain West, the only addition that makes sense would be Hawai'i, due to Scott's goal of expanding Pac-12 football all the way to China. Between BYU and Hawai'i, he'd pretty much control the Pacific.
The last two are even tougher. I'd rather see the Pac-12 hold two spots for Texas and Oklahoma indefinitely, since that thing can't hold together forever, right? Elsewhere, San Diego State is a decent school that would add a market, and a flyer several years down the road on Boise State remaining a TV draw for the long term isn't out of the question.
The SEC has already given us the biggest piece of evidence against the eventual superconference: it's really hard to schedule with more than 12 teams, especially when certain members insist on inconveniently maintaining their traditional, out-of-division rivalries. I have no idea how the SEC can add two more schools while both keeping all its rivalries intact and incorporating some sort of Big 12 scheduling arrangement (since that absolutely must happen).
But let's say they proceed. We're on Year 3 of Virginia Tech-to-SEC rumors, and VPI's now denied that one at least four times. I think it's in the Bible that denying someone four times means you're leaving the ACC. Also, one of the biggest prizes that nobody talks about remains both squarely in SEC country and in a state the SEC doesn't own yet: North Carolina.
They're supposed to be untouchable, due to their ties with Duke and other Carolina schools, along with the ACC basically being built around them. But money is money. Everybody likes money. If the ACC starts crumbling, UNC's brand, football potential, broad athletic department and university history are only going to look more and more delectable.