On Monday, a two-day meeting of the Big XII’s athletic directors got under way. At the time, there was much discussion of a potential Big XII-ACC scheduling alliance. Such a deal could conceivably delay further conference realignment for the short-term. Bob Bowlsby had said leading up to the meetings that his league had already held exploratory conversations with three different conferences. He mentioned the ACC specifically.
As for the other two leagues with which the Big XII had chatted, the vast majority of national pundits assumed the Pac-12 and the Big Ten were the other potential partners. We thought otherwise:
“We suspect, however, that Bowlsby and (Mike) Slive might have had some chats. The SEC takes a beating for its nonconference scheduling and when we move from the current BCS system to a playoff selection committee — complete with regional biases — any perceived soft scheduling could hurt the league’s chances of getting multiple teams into a four-team playoff.
Bowlsby and Slive captain the two most successful ships of the BCS era. They’ve just worked out a groundbreaking deal to partner up and split the cash from a new Sugar Bowl that’s basically owned by the leagues and run by the folks in New Orleans. What better way to further consolidate power than to reach a scheduling agreement, especially in football?”
One day into the Big XII’s meetings, the media began to focus even more closely on the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 as potential partners due to a Monday afternoon tweet put out by Kirk Bohls of The Austin-American Statesman. It stated that Slive had said that the SEC “is not involved in those (Big XII) alliance discussions at all.”
We remained a bit skeptical as that didn’t sound very much like Slive’s MO. Perhaps wires were crossed somewhere. So we wrote on Tuesday morning:
“Mike Slive has said the SEC has had no alliance discussions with the Big XII ‘at all,’ which is surprising considering he almost always keeps his options open.”
Yesterday afternoon, the story changed. Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News called across town to the SEC office and was told by SEC associate commissioner Mark Womack that the league “has engaged in limited dialogue” (Solomon’s words) with the Big XII.
Further, Womack said: “That’s a situation we would keep an open mind on, but we haven’t had a lot of significant discussions at this point. There’s a lot of different ways that could work. At this point, we’re continuing to move forward with scheduling the conference we’ve planned.” Womack pointed out that any scheduling arrangement with another league would face its share of hurdles, namely most schools’ desire to play seven home games each season.
(Sidenote — Womach also told The News that there is no timetable to finish the 2014 football schedule, that the possibility of expanding to nine league games “is probably something that will always be out there to look at,” and that it’s likely the league will only schedule the next four-to-six years rather than the usual 10-to-12-year cycle. “Given the state of everything, we’d probably look at a shorter term.”)
As we stated Monday and quoted above, it would only make sense for the SEC to consider some form of partnership with the Big XII. Those two conferences have been the lead dogs in college football for the past decade and together they control the fertile recruiting zone from the Carolinas to Texas and on up into Oklahoma.
The ACC is looking for survival. The Pac-12 wants some way to promote its product east of the Rocky Mountains. The Big Ten is looking to reach into the growing Southern states for athletes, future students, and future donors. In other words, all of those leagues want something that a partnership with the Big XII or SEC could provide. The Big XII, being the smallest of the power conferences, is the most likely to strike a deal because Bowlsby’s group doesn’t want to end up being the runt of the power conference litter.
But if you were running the Big XII or SEC, why would you aid one of those other leagues? The Big Ten and Pac-12 have their own Rose Bowl relationship. They tried to work out a scheduling agreement but failed. Let them deal with the slow growth of the Midwest and the three-hour difference between Pacific time and Eastern time.
Meanwhile, the ACC is working feverishly to protect itself from further raids. You can be certain John Swofford is putting in more calls to Bowlsby than vice versa. But if you’re the SEC or Big XII, why throw his conference a life vest? Especially if the Big XII has its eyes on Florida State and Notre Dame (it does) and if the SEC has been wooing North Carolina and Duke for years (an ACC source told The Sporting News that it has).
Our SEC sources have told us since the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M that the league does not want to expand further. But if the league feels it must expand further, well, that change things. If the Big XII feels it must grow, too, then that’s two leagues with one goal. Might they work in concert — and we’re talking about more than a scheduling alliance here — to topple a rival conference and then pick its bones clean?
First, it’s hard to imagine Slive and the SEC’s presidents taking part in such a nefarious plot. Second, even if the SEC did engage in such a plan, the Big XII would have to sign on as well.
So let’s be clear, we’re stating that an SEC-Big XII alliance makes sense for both leagues in terms of improving their current schedules and consolidating their power.
We’re suggesting that it’s theoretically possible an SEC-Big XII alliance could bring down the Atlantic Coast Conference altogether.
See the difference there? If so, put on your tin foil hat and allow us to toss a conspiracy theory at you (one we don’t subscribe to, but one we have thought about).
We’ll call our scenario “Operation Yalta.” For the non-history buffs out there, in February of 1945, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin met in Yalta to discuss the final stages of World War II and to plan the post-war reorganization of Europe.
Fast forward to the current day and the ACC is in trouble. The Big Ten has just raided it for Maryland and our sources suggest Virginia and Georgia Tech are simply waiting to learn the cost of the Terrapins’ exit fee before joining Jim Delany’s league as well. (Other reports state that North Carolina is a Big Ten target, rather than Georgia Tech. If that’s true, we don’t believe it has anything to do with a “contiguous states” clause that can be easily ripped from the Big Ten’s bylaws.)
With the Big Ten already gnawing away at Swofford’s league, it’s highly doubtful he will turn to Delany in hopes of salvation. The Pac-12 could form a scheduling alliance with the ACC but the distance between the two leagues probably makes such a deal impractical. If the ACC wants stability, it can really only get it through a partnership with the Big XII, a partnership with the SEC, or the entry of Notre Dame into the conference as a full-time — football, too — member. Notre Dame, however, has made it very clear they have no problem playing chicken and the world will have to pry football independence from their cold, dead, Leprechaun hand.
With the Big Ten and Pac-12 likely non-starters and a full-fledged entry by Notre Dame is just as doubtful, it leaves the SEC and Big XII as the ACC’s only options. And if the SEC and Big XII decide to work together, the ACC is likely doomed. Swofford’s conference doesn’t make as much cash as the other power leagues. It’s strength is basketball in a time when football is worth much more money. Worse, its best remaining football brand is one of two members that recently voted not to raise the league’s exit fees. (Maryland was the other, if that tells you anything.)
The ACC is shaky. Notre Dame knows it. Irish AD Jack Swarbrick has recently struck up a friendship over cigars and bourbon with Slive of the SEC. Swarbrick is also on good terms with Texas AD DeLoss Dodds, a man who’s tried and tried to lure Notre Dame into the Big XII. And Bowlsby of the Big XII just last year cut a deal with Slive and the SEC on a groundbreaking new bowl idea that will see the two conferences keep most of the revenue from their new and improved Sugar Bowl agreement.
Now let’s say Bowlsby, Slive and Swarbrick gather on someone’s back porch for a Cuban and a glass of Blanton’s. Scheming ensues. A plan is hatched.
The SEC and Big XII announce a scheduling partnership, thus leaving the ACC without options and finished. The Big XII has 10 football teams. Currently the SEC has 14 teams, but four of those programs have rivalry games with schools already in or moving to the ACC (Florida-Florida State, South Carolina-Clemson, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville). Adding another home-and-home series with a Big XII school might make it impossible for those teams to play seven home games per season. (Ah, but what if those four rival schools weren’t in the ACC?)
Knowing the ACC is dead, Notre Dame announces that it will join the Big XII as a part-time member. The Irish will play five football games per year against Big XII teams — which was the plan for its ACC membership — while getting the benefit of tapping into Texas for recruiting and keeping its beloved independence. It’s not as strong a push southward as Notre Dame had been hoping for, but moving into Texas and Oklahoma beats sitting in the cold Midwest watching the population around you shrink in comparison to the faster-growing South. Notre Dame’s NBC contract would be an easier fit into the Big XII than any other share-and-share-alike league, too.
Realizing there are no paths to growth for their current league, those ACC schools who’ve been playing footsie with other conferences decide to go ahead and hit the eject button.
Now that the SEC and Big XII have effectively destabilized the ACC — simply by not agreeing to stabilize it with a scheduling alliance — all that’s left to do is divvy up the teams. The post-war reorganization, if you will.
There’s no doubt the Big XII wants Florida State if the Seminoles leave the ACC. With the ACC crumbling, the Noles would indeed leave. Especially if the Big Ten grabbed Virginia first. The Big Ten will not invite a non-AAU Florida State into its ranks. We would have to see that to believe that. So if the SEC isn’t interested, that leaves only the Big XII as an option.
As we wrote a few weeks ago during our Big Bang series on expansion/realignment, we believe Miami is in play for the Big XII as well, especially if Florida State moves. Clemson has long been discussed as a potential Big XII member. Louisville almost fought its way into the league past West Virginia during the last spin of the realignment wheel. But what about Georgia Tech? Would Tech officials choose to join the Big Ten along with Maryland and Virginia? Or would Tech move to the Big XII along with Florida State, Miami, Clemson and Notre Dame (with Louisville in tow)? All the while knowing that a new Big XII-SEC scheduling alliance would keep the Yellow Jackets’ end-of-the-year game with Georgia alive and kicking? Pencil Tech into the Big XII.
But if the Big XII has jumped to 15 full-time members (with part-timer Notre Dame as the 16th school), why not snap up AAU school Pittsburgh, its major television market, and its natural rivalry with West Virginia as well?
All that leaves the SEC to gobble up any two of the remaining ACC schools it desires without ever firing a shot to sink Swofford’s league. Would that mean North Carolina and Duke? Would it mean Carolina and Virginia Tech? Would the SEC be able to win a head-to-head battle with the Big Ten for any of those schools? For the sake of argument, let’s say the SEC would win such a tug-of-war with Delany’s league by taking both Carolina and Duke.
Add it up and groups of ACC schools would be able to move together. Old rivalries could be kickstarted (Texas-Texas A&M, Missouri-Kansas, West Virginia-Pittsburgh) and preserved (Kentucky-Louisville, South Carolina-Clemson, Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech). Notre Dame could maintain its independence in football. The Big XII could expand to the point of being in same ballpark sizewise with the remaining three power leagues (SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12). The SEC could land the two schools most believe people believe Slive covets most without appearing to submarine another conference. All of those things would be wins… or at least as close as one can come to “wins” in this expansion-crazed age.
Obviously, this is a far-fetched scenario. For all this to fall into place, dozens of tumblers would have to click in just the right way at just the right moment. It’s kookery at its finest. Pure fiction. A flight of fancy.
But, technically, it could happen. And we simply wanted to show you that while an SEC-Big XII scheduling alliance would make definite sense in terms of improving schedules and consolidating Southern power, such a deal could also have more far-reaching effects. Devastating effects, in fact, if things spun too far for the ACC, the league most in need of an alliance-style lifeline.
Ohio State president Gordon Gee has said he believes there will wind up being three or four power conferences of 16 to 20 schools each when all this realignment nonsense finally winds down. If the folks in the Big XII and SEC offices agree with that conclusion, then this type of massive growth — regardless of per-school payouts — could come to pass due to nothing more than pure fear. “I know we don’t need School X, but we can’t afford to let that other conference grab them.” That isn’t the wisest way to do business, but that hasn’t stopped other leagues from hurriedly, recklessly adding schools.
Again, we’re not suggesting this will happen… only that it could. And that should scare the Hell out of the ACC. If the Big XII and SEC don’t partner up with Swofford’s league, the chances of that league surviving as we know it are awfully slim. Whether there’s a pre-planned raiding party or not.
The Operation Yalta scenario
|| Big XII
|| Florida State
|| Georgia Tech
|| Iowa State
|| Kansas State
|| Miss. State
|| N. Carolina
|| Oklahoma State
|| Ole Miss
|| S. Carolina
|| Texas A&M
|| Texas Tech
|| W. Virginia
|| Notre Dame