Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

17 Sep 2011

Pittsburgh and Syracuse "Likely Gone" to ACC

According to CBSSports.com, the wheel of college football realignment has spread to the east coast. Pittsburgh and Syracuse have submitted applications to leave the Big East for the ACC, and both are expected to be admitted.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 17 Sep 2011

30 comments, Last at 20 Sep 2011, 4:31pm by Jericho


by kj (not verified) :: Sat, 09/17/2011 - 11:39am

Really hate all the re-alignment. Any guesses on who replaces them in the big east? My completely uneducated guess is they will target Houston, Memphis, Temple, and/or Navy?

by Guido Merkens :: Sat, 09/17/2011 - 12:08pm

So if this goes through, the only members of the Big East who were in an AQ conference seven years ago are West Virginia and Rutgers. Kiss that autobid goodbye.

by zlionsfan :: Sat, 09/17/2011 - 12:27pm

Realignment's been going on since the birth of conferences; the only thing that will stop it will be when football at that level throws off the NCAA and adopts a model more like the NFL's. When there's a vested interest for all teams to stay put, they will.

Temple got booted by the Big East, so I doubt they'll be asked back. Navy just isn't cut out for major-conference membership. Memphis is flat-out awful; they might as well ask Georgetown to move up to I-A. Houston's possible, if only to keep TCU happy. (The idea of conference domination sounds great until the AD starts mapping all the flights they'll be taking.)

I suspect they'll look into the weaker parts of the Big 12. Baylor and Iowa State are rumored to be interested, but I suspect that hinges on those schools dropping their right to sue over A&M's move, and even so, Baylor may be painting themselves into Independence Corner anyway. (Sending Ken Starr to DC to lobby politicians is a horrible idea. Baylor must be completely unaware of the climate in today's NCAA.) Kansas and Kansas State would probably be better, particularly given Kansas' basketball strength.

One option would be to make a southwest "pod", with Houston, Rice, and SMU joining TCU. Even though geography isn't a concern for the Big East, that doesn't mean they can't take it into account to a certain extent. Plus, taking three Texas schools will mollify any Texas legislators who listened to Starr.

Another would be to take teams that pair with existing conference members, say Marshall, Central Florida, and SMU. That wouldn't expand their football footprint, but it might provide reasons for teams to stay in the conference longer. With Pitt asking to leave, there really aren't any rivalries remaining in the conference.

I think C-USA and the Big 12 are likely to be the sources for Big East expansion. The WAC and Mountain West are too far away for the most part, and the schools close enough to TCU aren't really worth taking (Louisiana Tech?). The MAC and Sun Belt aren't worth raiding. The ACC doesn't have many teams likely to leave, and the ones that are would be headed up in prestige, not down. The rest of the conferences will be adding, not losing; the Big East doesn't have the strength to pull from them.

by Drunkmonkey :: Sat, 09/17/2011 - 2:38pm

I agree with a lot of what you're saying, especially concerning 1) Baylor shooting themselves in the foot bay being a prick about movements (although I can't blame them; they aren't going to get into another major conference, especially since they had to sue to get into the Big 12 originally), 2) Baylor and Iowa State have made inquires into getting into the Big East, but only if the Big 12 formally dissolves, and 3) where the Big East starts to look for replacements.

The only thing I have to add would be for the last part: Don't overlook UNC Charlotte. I know it sounds crazy, and they aren't really a sports powerhouse (that's not really true, they are tops in the nation regularly in baseball, softball, golf, women's soccer, and have a women's basketball team that makes the NCAA tourney pretty regularly.). However, back in the early 2000's, when the Big East was expanding to what they were as of yesterday, Louisville, Cincinnati, DePaul, Marquette, and South Florida were all in Conference USA, along with Charlotte, and apparently, the Big East did look at Charlotte to include, as a sort of bridge to the rest of the south (meaning they wanted to have some presence in the south, other then South Florida, in case of yet further expansion), since Louisville and South Florida were already committed, and some were saying Providence might not stick (never thought Providence would bounce at the time, they really didn't have anything to gain by leaving).

The reason that UNC Charlotte didn't end up joining is that they were told they had to commit to bringing in football right then and there in 2005, and they couldn't get it passed in time. But since Charlotte has approved football, and has made it known that they plan on having their team in the FBS (as apposed to just keeping it in the FCS level, along with the rest of the Atlantic 10, Temple excepted), there has been some talks of looking to join a bigger conference. Charlotte is a college town, albeit leaning more towards established universities such as Duke, Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, and NC State, but as the school is always growing, and their alumni base is increasing, especially in Charlotte, I don't think they could be counted out.

I realize there is a lot going against Charlotte, namely that the realignment right now is pretty much about acquiring schools that already have name recognition, and that its pretty much all about college football, but I think the ACC shows that it isn't entirely about college football, and that the Big East and the ACC will look to keep basketball big time.

All that being said, I think schools like Memphis, Rice, and SMU are good ideas for football, if only to keep TCU feeling good.

by zlionsfan :: Sat, 09/17/2011 - 4:16pm

Charlotte would have to be a long-term addition; they're not even playing until 2013, so the earliest they could be a I-A school would be 2015, I think. (If I understand the process correctly, there has to be a transition period for a couple of seasons where you play mostly a I-A schedule as a I-AA team, and then you can move up.)

The one advantage the Big East has is that theoretically, they could lose all their football schools and still be a conference; small consolation on the football side for schools like Charlotte that would want a I-A opportunity, but at least they'd get to play in a big conference in basketball.

Keep in mind that the ACC could still be thinking football first: Pitt and Syracuse applied to join them, the ACC didn't solicit them (as far as we know). I would imagine they would be welcomed eagerly, though, in part because of their basketball power.

And the weaker BCS conferences can't afford to add just anyone. When it's time to award BCS auto-bids, if the Big East loses the top half of their conference and replaces them with non-AQ schools, they might find themselves trading places with the Mountain West. (Of course, the MWC could be raided as well.) On the other hand, if the choice is between adding schools and collapsing as a football conference, they'd probably choose to add schools.

Charlotte's overall athletic program doesn't seem to be very balanced; this is most likely because they don't field a football team and thus don't have the money to play in enough sports. It looks like they hang out in the 180s-190s in Directors' Cup standings, basically MAC-Sun Belt territory. Of course that can change some once they add football (would have to, I think, to stay in Title IX compliance), but it's kind of a Catch-22. They can add more sports once they get into a power conference, but they might not get into a power conference until they add more sports.

I would guess we'll start to know more on Monday, when OU announces they're applying to the Pac-12 (with OSU in tow) and then Texas announces that they're taking their network somewhere else. (I could be wrong, but I have yet to read that OU is willing to stay, and if Texas tried to talk them into staying and failed, then UT isn't calling a press conference to announce their undying support for the new Big 8.)

by Drunkmonkey :: Sat, 09/17/2011 - 5:32pm

I agree with all you're saying; I was going to put some of that in my post, but I kind of got bored, lost my train of thought, and added that little part at the end. The reason I'm bringing Charlotte into this is because they were looked at back in 2003/4 by the Big East as a possibility to bring into the fold when the expansion was more in tune with creating a bigger conference/ basketball powerhouse. I know they aren't much right now, but back when half the Big East was in C-USA, Charlotte regularly competed with Cincinnati, Louisville, and Memphis.

I totally agree that the Big East can't just add anybody to retain their automatic BCS bid, and I'm not saying that by adding Charlotte everything would be fixed. I just think that Charlotte, which from what I'm hearing is aggressively looking to move into a better conference (it actually, believe it or not, has to do with academics: the board of governors for the UNC system want to see Charlotte start competing on a national scale in order to justify giving it the second largest endowment in the system, behind Chapel Hill, in order to bring in more exposure), would be a good addition to a conference that looks like it's going to need members to support the powerhouses for a while.

And I don't know the actual specifics for how you have to move up from FCS to FBS, but I do know that the plan is really to just stay in FCS for about 10 years or so, then move up to the big boys league, a la South Florida did. Charlotte kind of screwed the pooch when they flat out said as much, turning off a lot of FCS conferences, namely the Southern Conference, which would've been great for Charlotte to join, since a majority of the schools in that conference are in the Carolinas.

by TomKelso :: Sat, 09/17/2011 - 4:18pm

Baylor didn't have to sue - the break-up of the SWC required legislative approval in Texas, and the governor at the time, Ann Richards (yes, THAT Ann Richards), was a Baylor alum. Houston got booted out of the deal in favor of Baylor to make sure the move got the necessary legisaltive approval.

Adding a bunch of schools from non-AQ conferences isn't going to help the Big East stay part of the BCS. Adding Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri will ease the hit on basketball and keep the football up at the expected level. What makes TCU nervous is losing exposure in the Northeast markets, which is why their AD is saying he's not sure if the Big East can survive as a football league. Maybe the Frogs think they can slide over to be the 16th member of the Pac-Whatever if OU, Ok State and Texas Tech go that way. I don't know.

by Southern Philly :: Sat, 09/17/2011 - 2:53pm

So if the Big East and Big XI become so decimated as to no longer exist, is this the best chance we'll see in a long while of a revamp of the BCS?

by Jeff M. (not verified) :: Sun, 09/18/2011 - 11:50am

Yes, I do really think the current wave of realignment is going to trigger the end of the BCS and its replacement with a four-team, conference-based playoff (which you could argue is an eight-team playoff once conference championship games are included).

This is what I see happening (which at this point I think is really not that much of a stretch):

The four mega-conferences will be the Pac-16 (current plus UT, TTech, OU, and OSU, with the old Pac-8 as one division and the newer southwestern members as the other), a 14-team Big-10 (adds ND and Mizzou), a 14-team SEC (TAMU to the West, WVU to the East), and a 16-team ACC (adds Pitt, Cuse, UConn, and Rutgers; North division runs down to Virginia schools and South division from Carolinas on down).

The Pac-16 champ will play the Big-10 champ in the Rose Bowl and the SEC champ will play the ACC champ in the Orange Bowl, then the winners/losers will go to a championship game/third-place game in the Fiesta Bowl and Sugar Bowl (rotates annually).

The "left-behind" schools (Cincy, Louisville, USF, TCU from Big East; Kansas, KSU, ISU, Baylor from Big-12; C-USA; Mountain West; etc.) will form two big second-tier conferences and stage an also-run championship in the Cotton Bowl, but they will have no access to the playoff for the real championship (this means that ultimately the only former non-AQ better off is Utah, while the remains of the Big-12 and Big East are worse than under the BCS--but their loss is our gain, as we finally get rid of the BCS in favor of a playoff).

by zlionsfan :: Sun, 09/18/2011 - 12:38pm

I really don't see that happening, for two big reasons. One is that you're changing the format from five games to three: none of the major bowls will be interested in giving up a massive payday to suit the new system. (If the Fiesta Bowl had gotten the boot it deserves, that would have solved the problem nicely.)

The bigger problem is that the BCS just avoided a lawsuit by opening up two more spots and giving non-AQ schools something of a chance to participate. Baylor trying to stop an avalanche of change is one thing, but locking out all non-AQ schools would land the BCS exactly where it does not want to be, choosing between Congress and courtrooms to decide its fate ... and they'd really have no defense for their actions. It would be obvious that the new system would be intended to lock out non-AQ participation.

I don't see any of the other bowls banding together to make the equivalent of the NIT, either. The interest simply isn't going to be there. Bowls aren't that interesting as it is: there weren't really that many bowls with actual tradition in the first place, and the few that do are all either jammed together on January 1 or strung out after the old bowl season to "whet our appetite" for the MNC game. If there were to be a change that suggests something like a playoff, even in plus-one format, the bottom would drop out for several of those intermediate bowls (not to mention the challenges they'd face without automatic suckers, I mean qualifiers, from the two doomed conferences).

Second-tier bowls have a strong interest in preserving the status quo. Anything approaching a playoff system is going to decrease their importance; a full-blown playoff (16 or 24 teams) is more likely to include home games up through the quarterfinals, and while there could be interest among non-qualifying schools for postseason play, I don't think the bowls would see it that way. Second-tier bowls plus non-AQ conferences equals a lot of potential legal opposition ... the NCAA and BCS could find themselves in adjacent courtrooms, arguing about how they aren't cartels.

by Jeff M. (not verified) :: Sun, 09/18/2011 - 5:52pm

I think you're misreading me.

The BCS would cease to exist.

The Rose Bowl would have contracts to take the Pac-16 and Big-10 champs, as it has since WWII, without anyone going to court saying it was an unfair restraint of trade.

The Orange Bowl (or whatever, the Rose Bowl is the only one that matters, as those two conferences actually do care about maintaining the traditional pairing) would have a contract to take the ACC and SEC champs.

Some other former BCS bowls would have contracts to take the winners/losers of these games in alternating years (this is a little different than the way contracts have previously worked, but from a legal standpoint no different than one to take the 3rd place Big-12 team vs. the 1st place Mountain West, or any other current bowl contract).

Some sponsor would have an agreement to award a championship trophy to the winner of the plus-one game. There would be no agreement with polls, or with any of the former BCS apparatus, or with the NCAA.

Do you really think a court would find two conferences can't legally agree to stage a post-season bowl game against each other? That's certainly not a position any of the bowls want to take, as it would invalidate all of their contracts. It's probably not a position any non-AQ school wants to take either, because if you got a court mandate or a congressional resolution that all bowl pairings had to be determined by overall national rankings, you'd immediately see most of the bowls go out of business.

by c0rrections (not verified) :: Mon, 09/19/2011 - 2:40pm

I think that is a bad reading of the situation and the permutations. I don't get how you draw bowl game contracts up into analogous to freezing all non-AQ schools out of your playoff system. That conference level collusion is what would make it an anti-trust violation not a simple contract to stage a bowl game.

by c0rrections (not verified) :: Mon, 09/19/2011 - 2:36pm

And then the anti-trust lawsuit comes and the courts bust up your playoffs. The only reason the BCS hasn't been challenged is that everyone in theory can play for the championship (even if in practice outsiders will rarely get in). Your system is a slam dunk case.

by TomKelso :: Sat, 09/17/2011 - 4:07pm

If the Big East wants to keep its seat at the BCS table, it pretty much would have to include all the remaining Big 12 members -- Iowa State, Kansas, K-State, Missouri and Baylor -- which with TCU, Cincinnati and Louisville ought to keep them in the mix.

Let the ACC have the Northeastern football schools then -- if they lose Florida State and Virginia Tech to the SEC, they will stil lhave their sixteen.

With their Longhorn Network, it seems that Texas may be the school left as an independent; apparently the Pac-12 wants no part of that headache. It would be fun to see if almighty UT can actually prosper that way.

by graywh :: Sat, 09/17/2011 - 10:42pm

I really doubt the SEC wants Florida State. The SEC would be better served by expanding into new markets (NC, VA, MO, TX) than adding a school in UF's backyard. And FSU has tried to get into the SEC for decades. It's just not gonna happen.

by justanothersteve :: Sat, 09/17/2011 - 10:48pm

Why? I think just grabbing Kansas and Missouri would be all they need. K-State and Iowa State are rarely ranked in football or basketball.

by zlionsfan :: Sun, 09/18/2011 - 12:50pm

Kansas probably isn't going to get to go by themselves; like Oklahoma, there would be a significant political cost in trying to go their own way.

by Aaron Brook's Good Twin (not verified) :: Sun, 09/18/2011 - 4:44pm

VT isn't leaving the ACC. Their primary rival is Virginia, they have a shared vet school with Maryland, and a shared biomed department (dual campus) with Wake Forest.

VT's rivalries are: Virginia (all sports), Miami (football), West Virginia (all sports), and Pittsburgh (football). With Pitt joining the ACC, their only serious non-con rivalry is West Virginia.

by qckendall :: Sun, 09/18/2011 - 8:28am

So if the ACC is succesful with this play, the next step is locking up the non-FB playing Big East schools. This guarantees ACC's viability in a future world of mega-conferences, as they will be the premier hoops conference in the country.

by qckendall :: Sun, 09/18/2011 - 8:28am

So if the ACC is succesful with this play, the next step is locking up the non-FB playing Big East schools. This guarantees ACC's viability in a future world of mega-conferences, as they will be the premier hoops conference in the country.

by Aaron Brook's Good Twin (not verified) :: Sun, 09/18/2011 - 4:45pm

No one wants the non-FB Big East schools. The existence of that unhappy marriage is why the Big East football division keeps collapsing, and why it included Temple, an A-10 school, in the first place.

by Olivertheorem (not verified) :: Sun, 09/18/2011 - 9:26am

What I find ironic is that one of the big arguments for the BCS has been appealing to the bowls as tradition, and wanting to keep that tradition. But now, with the shifting toward superconferences that I think is largely motivated by the BCS reality, we're looking at losing rivalry games such as Texas-Texas A&M and Texas-Oklahoma. Those are part of the tradition too, and now we're seeing this BCS reality start to hamper those. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

by justanothersteve :: Sun, 09/18/2011 - 1:35pm

Non-conference rivalry games, including Texas-Oklahoma, have been going on long before these teams were in the same conference. Shouldn't be a problem unless a school wants to discontinue the rivalry.

by Monkey Business (not verified) :: Sun, 09/18/2011 - 5:40pm

As always, I'm more concerned about how this impacts the Big Ten.

Syracuse and Pitt were both serious candidates for membership in the Big Ten, but that's out of the picture at this point.

Frankly, the remaining schools are slim pickings. Among AAU schools, Kansas and Missouri expand the TV market in the wrong direction, and Iowa State isn't a football power. Among FBS schools, Oklahoma, Louisville, and West Virginia are a poor fit academically.

Rutgers would be a good candidate, expanding the Big Ten into New York. Texas and Notre Dame would also fit, but it's unlikely that either would give up their lucrative TV deals to join the Big Ten.

That being said, adding Texas and Notre Dame to the Big Ten would be a major coup for Jim Delaney and would completely rewrite the rules of realignment.

by stephenbawesome :: Mon, 09/19/2011 - 8:56am

Considering Baylor and Iowa State already asked into the Big East, supposedly, there should be Big-12 also rans looking to make that move.

But it seems like the remaining Big East schools are poised to move, themselves. I think West Virginia and Rutgers were actually regarded as the more desireable adds by other conferences. West Virginia because of their history, and Rutgers because of their media market.

There had been rumors of West Virginia as a dark horse SEC add, and that might be the reason the Mountaineers have been silent so far. They might be hoping to push themselves into a bigger conference than the ACC.

Meanwhile, Rutgers has been pretty consistently linked with the Big Ten since the expansion talks ever got going. The media market would open up the Big Ten network around New York City, which would have a huge financial windfall for everyone.

New Jersey is already a pretty hotly recruited state by most of the Big Ten. Most of the coaching staffs there already make visits there for recruits, so it wouldn't be adding much additional cost in terms of travel expenses as the recruiting visits would lend themselves to be scheduled around road games in Piscataway.

If those two dominos fall, it's very conceivable that all remaining football brands in the Big East campaign for ACC entry. Connecticut would make sense as a basketball addition, and South Florida would push their recent success against their Florida ACC counterparts. Cincinnati and Louisville would probably be the cogs that the Big East tries to build itself back around.

TCU is another interesting piece in this puzzle, as they could still get out of their deal with the Big East and move to the Big-12 if they believe that conference would be in less shambles and would offer more financial support.

by TomKelso :: Mon, 09/19/2011 - 12:32pm

Interesting in the reports of Syracuse and Pitt being accepted into the ACC is that the ACC has also increased the financial cost for withdrawing from the conference. Sounds like they are worried about SOMEONE jumping to another loop and are trying to preempt that.

Those reports also mention UConn and Rutgers looking to join the ACC, which would leave WVU free to head to the SEC; but I have to think the SEC is looking for something bigger than the Mountaineers in the East, even if the do make a nice pairing with Kentucky.

Every time I think about Texas, I get a headache. They have a huge part in starting this mess, and it will be interesting to see just how much of their proprietary network they have to give up to avoid independence.

A little math: with TCU, there will be 68 schools next season that either belong to an AQ conference or are Notre Dame. Assuming that we're headed for four 16-team leagues, that leaves four schools stuck in independence or having a fairly decent lawsuit over the substantial financial loss not getting money from the BCS would entail. That's the handwriting Baylor sees on the wall. Forget the empire being split between the Medes and Persians, they see the Pac-16 and SEC carving them up.

by stephenbawesome :: Mon, 09/19/2011 - 12:47pm

It's survival instinct at its most Darwinian. Anyone in fear of being left out is probably pandering in some degree for inclusion into some league. But the bigger fish, like Texas and Oklahoma, are clearly going to dictate how it goes. The revenue split from bowls might preclude a conference from wanting to include an also-ran if there isn't some way to make money off them elsewhere.

My guess is the leftovers will try to court enough high-profile non-AQ schools into a conference to at least keep some BCS tie-ins intact. Boise State would clearly still be pretty desireable for a conference. BYU will probably be interested in a good conference. East Carolina and Central Florida are marketable enough to appeal to a group. Houston and SMU have tradition and ties to Texas. Memphis has that supposed promised investment from the chair of Fed-Ex where they'll pay to be included... There is a good chance that there could be enough leftover to field a respectable fifth conference.

by bcube1789 (not verified) :: Mon, 09/19/2011 - 2:44pm

The Big Ten network is already in New York. And no one cares about Rutgers.

Notre Dame would really open the New York market to the Big Ten. Schools like Michigan and Penn State already have massive alumni bases in NYC. Adding ND would be the icing on the televised cake. Rutgers doesn't add as much as people seem to be thinking it does; other than a solid academic school that is in the tradition of the Big Ten (much moreso than a small, Catholic, undergrad school like ND).

Add ND and Mizzou and the Big Ten should be done.

by dryheat :: Tue, 09/20/2011 - 8:18am

Am I totally off-base to suggest the "Big East" cease to exist in Football, and become a basketball only, or maybe basketball/hockey conference?

The alternate is to downgrade a bit to 1AA, and get those New England schools like UMass, UNH, and Maine that currently serve as feeder schools for the relatively unknown area high school students to the factories, and possibly try to grow them up, like UConn in recent years.

As a NCAA Lax fan, a huge consequence of this shift is that Syracuse is now in the same league as UVA, UNC, Maryland, and Duke.

by Jericho (not verified) :: Tue, 09/20/2011 - 4:31pm

No, your comment makes a ton of sense. The "Big East" would be the old school non-football teams (e.g. Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall, etc...) plus Marquette, DePaul, and maybe a few other schools added (e.g. UMass).

The football schools could then form their own confernece, mashing Lousiville, WV, and so forth with the Big 12 leftovers.

The only negative is that losing Louisville and passing on Kansas really hurts the basketball possibilites of the Big East. But I don't see logisitcally how it could work having a basketball only wing in the northeast plus a litany of schools going through Texas and Kansas. That has to break at some point.