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This morning ESPN’s Brett McMurphy broke the news that Notre Dame would join the ACC for all major sports except football. The Irish would play five football games against the ACC, which isn’t that big of a stretch considering that Notre Dame has played four ACC schools — counting Pitt — this season and last. More significant than the addition of Notre Dame is the new $50 million buyout, which, if written effectively — unlike the Big 12’s disastrous bylaws — would ensure that no ACC teams will be leaving over the next decade or so.
Indeed, Notre Dame’s decision is likely to represent the final substantial move in the past couple of years worth of conference realignment.
Believe it or not, I think we’re headed for a decade of stability in terms of conference realignment.
Why is that the case?
Dive in below and we’ll explain.
1. The ACC is unlikely to expand further with Notre Dame currently existing as a shadow 15th member.
Why is that?
Because the ACC is going to hope that Notre Dame will become a full-fledged member. So the only way you add schools is if you can pair a sixteenth team with Notre Dame’s fifteenth. Meaning that UConn and Rutgers are dwelling in a perpetually uncertain marriage with the Big East and that both schools are likely to fight to the death to be the final addition to a 16 team ACC.
Of course all of this assumes that Texas won’t become a shadow 16th member of the ACC and follow Notre Dame’s lead. Which we’ll discuss below at number five.
Either way the biggest takeaway from this Notre Dame addition is that the ACC is unlikely to add or lose any members for the foreseeable future.
Which means the college football landscape is going to be much more copacetic than it has been over the past two tumultuous seasons.
2. Big 12 expansion makes no financial sense now.
With the new television money locked in, any Big 12 addition would have to be worth over $20 million per year. Put simply, there is no available team that makes sense. With the ACC teams locked in, this means talk of Florida State to the Big 12 is dead. So is talk of any other ACC school coming along with Florida State. With the ACC schools locked up and Notre Dame gone, who could the Big 12 add?
Louisville or BYU are probably the best two options.
Neither of these schools is worth anywhere near $20 million a year.
You don’t have to believe me on this — although I’ve been telling you the Big 12 would stay at ten over adding more Big East schools for a long time — you just have to hear what ESPN and Fox told the Big 12 already. Remember that expansion memo that the Oklahoman uncovered?
That memo said as follows: “Both representatives of ESPN/ABC and Fox Sports indicated that Notre Dame’s involvement with the Big 12 Conference would increase the value of the conference relative to future television and also improve the image of the conference nationwide.”
“Our television partners agreed that the only new member that would enhance the Big 12 value for television was Notre Dame,” Neinas wrote.
Why is this important? Because it means that in order to expand now the Big 12 schools would all have to take LESS TV money than they are presently receiving under existing deals. That ain’t happening. (A Big 12 title game would return, at best, around $1 million a year to each school. So it doesn’t make financial sense either.)
So the Big 12 is going to stick at ten teams for the next decade or so.
3. The Big Ten has no real expansion targets now.
Big Ten commisioner Jim Delany has said he’s comfortable at 12 teams. That’s fortunate. Because the Big Ten’s options have dwindled to Rutgers and UConn. No other available schools in the country make any sense for the Big Ten. (Louisville isn’t good enough academically). And even these two schools might not make much sense from a financial perspective. That’s why I think it’s unlikely that any additional movement will occur in the Big Ten.
4. The SEC is likely to debut their network in 2014 and start rolling in the cash.
OKTC is about a year ahead of all the fawning articles that will come out when people suddenly realize how valuable the SEC Network is. But as I’ve told you before, we’re talking about a billion dollars coming down the SEC pike.
Just read that piece.
Eventually the SEC will expand to 16 teams, but that might take a decade or so now. I still believe that teams in Virginia and North Carolina are inevitable — Virginia Tech and N.C. State remain the most likely additions — but that may wait for the future, when the SEC Network spigot begins to pour out hundreds of millions of dollars and that $50 million exit fee — assuming that’s what is actually required to be paid — starts to look miniscule in comparison.
Again, high ranking sources both inside and outside the conference believe the SEC’s regional sports network will eventually be the most valuable regional sports network in the country.
That’s because the SEC Network would carry between 40 and 50 football games a year and because the SEC teams are the most popular teams in the majority of its footprint.
At one billion a year in television revenue — a very doable number over the next decade — we’re talking about $70 million or so a year just in television money for the SEC schools.
Other than OKTC no one in the media understands how much money we’re talking about the SEC Network creating.
It’s truly mind-boggling.
5. The Big East remains unstable, but its members have no real destinations.
Which means Notre Dame leaving for the ACC actually makes the Big East more stable than it was with Notre Dame.
By losing Notre Dame, the Big East actually strengthened its position. Welcome to the paradoxical world of conference realignment.
6. The Pac 12 has no schools to add.
We already know that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State didn’t have the votes from the Pac 12. So where can the Pac 12 go to add schools?
Boise State isn’t a good enough school academically.
So the Pac 12 is left to wait on the Big 12 to blow up.
And who can still blow up the Big 12?
Ironically enough for Longhorn fans the reason Notre Dame chose to join the ACC over the Big 12 is because the Big 12’s brand has been significantly devalued in terms of academics. With Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M, and Mizzou all bailing on the Big 12, it hasn’t just been a football hit to the conference, the academic stature of the conference has plummeted.
So when Notre Dame weighed the options of the Big 12 or the ACC, the ACC was a much better fit.
Notwithstanding the swing and miss on Notre Dame, the Longhorns remain the key cog of instability even in the wake of the Big 12’s recent grant of rights agreement. Since Notre Dame seems to have turned its back on the Big Ten and Big 12 for the future, the ACC’s dream scenario is now adding Notre Dame and Texas for a total of 16 teams. Or, potentially, Texas could explore a scheduling arrangement similar to Notre Dame’s. Play five games in the ACC and then retain the rights to seven additional games which it could package as part of a Longhorn Network deal.
Regardless of how you look at the overall results, conference instability is likely to die down for the next several years and the ACC is the big winner here. Locking up Notre Dame, even for just five football games, is a big deal. Locking down a $50 million exit fee — assuming the wording actually makes sense — is a much bigger deal.
Now the only unstable conference in America is the Big East. But no one wants its members.
So conference expansion dominoes is over.