ACC Expansion Thoughts: 16 teams?
The message boards are heating up over the idea of the ACC adding Louisville, Cincinnati, and UConn to become the first 16-team conference. Indeed, this was a legitimate enough “rumor” that the well-respected Frank the Tank blog (notwithstanding the Confidential’s recent criticism of some of the comments there), included this quote:
One interesting example of Twitter having fans on edge was a Tweet from Brian Miller, a Tallahassee Democrat reporter that said that the ACC wouldn’t even make a choice between Louisville and UConn, but rather add both of them along with Cincinnati* to create a 16-team conference. By the time that Tweet spread like wildfire, Miller had removed it from his timeline. Time will tell whether that was removed because it couldn’t be backed up or the information was too sensitive for the reporter’s source to put it out there for public consumption immediately. The ACC may very well have the most incentive to grow to 16 first to create a perception of strength in numbers (even if it might not look like the most financially lucrative move). [Full article here.]
At first glance, the idea of expanding to 16 teams seems counter-intuitive because it would mean 16 teams dividing an already too-small pot for 14 teams. But there is plenty to discuss about it. Here are the Confidentials thoughts (albeit with zero predictions).
The recent addition of Maryland to the Big 10 is a benefit to Fox. While ESPN has a piece of the Big 10, as the Big Ten Network grows, the risk of losing more inventory also grows. And Fox’s partnership with the Big 10 is one that includes joint ownership of the BTN. While much is said about ESPN and Fox being cooperative in preventing a third major sports network developing, it cannot be forgotten that ESPN and Fox are not simply dividing the world for mutual benefit. At some point, they are competitors. In the same vein, the SEC and Big 10 both covet North Carolina–they may be cooperating to some extent, but they both ultimately have a similar goal. In any event, if the Big 10 were to take two more ACC schools or if the Big XII were to take a few (or more) ACC schools, then the ACC’s ability to survive would be in jeopardy. If ESPN profits from the ACC deal, they stand to lose that profit AND suffer the embarrassment of losing ground to Fox. The Confidential believes that if ESPN wants to have a presence beyond merely the SEC in football and the remnants of the Big East in basketball, it needs to preserve the ACC. If it wants to do that, it will have to pony up the $$$ to keep the ACC alive. You know, like it did with the Big XII.
However, ESPN cannot just go around re-negotiating its contracts to pay more money. It cannot show that little deference to its contracts or otherwise play favorites within the conference scheme. The loss of Maryland is a one-team change in the conference. If the ACC were to backfill with UConn or Louisville, ESPN would have to voluntarily renegotiate its contract. This just cannot happen.
Instead, what needs to happen is that the ACC take on three new teams… such as Louisville, Cincinnati, and UConn. If that happens, ESPN can renegotiate the TV deal. It can help narrow the differences with the other conferences, such that the ACC seems less likely to be broken up. Perhaps it would even be enough to make Florida State happy. If so, the Big XII would be without effective replacements from the ACC to get to 12 teams.
Now, if the Big XII truly does want 12 teams, suddenly the best options on the table are the Big East schools–with Louisville and Cincinnati perhaps being the best targets, as they would be a nice fit with West Virginia. Plus, Fox and the Big XII could see taking Louisville and Cincinnati a good measure to block the ACC from getting the revenue increase it needs from ESPN to start evening the balance. This would make it more likely to eventually land Florida State and Cincinnati. Indeed, imagine if Cincinnati starts having more TV revenue than Clemson and Florida State. The pressure on the ACC would be substantial. It could start to crumble.
On the other hand, the ACC could be pleased to see the Big XII take Louisville and Cincinnati because it would mean less spots available for a future raid of the ACC. Does the Big XII want Florida State badly enough to go to 14 or 16 teams? In addition, while Louisville to the ACC makes sense to make Florida State happy, UConn has the location and basketball pedigree to make the hoops schools happy. In fact, the Big XII does not even need to TAKE Louisville, it just needs to have Louisville sufficiently convinced that the Big XII would take them to defer making a decision. If Cincinnati is told they are the 16th team, their decision is dependent on both Louisville and UConn accepting. If UConn accepts first, then it just comes down to whether Louisville is willing to sign on with the ACC or not. The ACC could end up with UConn, without running the risk of angering Florida State. After all, the decision was Louisville’s. It chose the Big XII.
On yet another hand, if you are the Big XII… why care about Louisville and Cincinnati? The Big XII’s best move would be to take USF with Louisville. Tampa is a GREAT place for a school. If the Big 10 can gamble on making Rutgers relevant, why couldn’t the Big XII gamble on USF becoming a clear 4th Florida school? With Miami down, this is the time to strike. Of course, USF couldn’t be having a worse year to struggle on the field. But, from a demographics and recruiting standpoint, this has to be a worthy add. Or the Big XII could use USF as the partner to try to woo Florida State. If Clemson is unwilling to abandon the ACC, perhaps USF could do so. Actually, an argument could be made that the Big XII expanding into Florida by taking BOTH USF and UCF makes some sense. You get inroads on the Orlando/Tampa markets. Two HUGE schools. Again, if the Big 10 is willing to gamble on schools the Big XII.
With more hands than Secretariat, the Confidential has one more. If the ACC goes to 16 teams, is there room for Notre Dame? Suddenly, the Fighting Irish are looking at being the 17th school–an unwieldy number. The ACC may have to move beyond the Fighting Irish at that point. Maybe drop them down to 4 games per season. Play each team once every 4 years. Or this rumor could be a play to get Notre Dame to consider taking Cincinnati’s spot. Having already sold the alums on the ACC partially, maybe there is a better ability to just bite the bullet and go “all in.” It’s better than dropping down to the Atlantic-10 or being in the Big XII or Big 10. For the ACC, if Notre Dame is not going to join now, it is never going to join. If/when the big money conferences do start poaching the ACC schools, Notre Dame will lose interest. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. With ND, perhaps the ACC becomes safe. Without ND, who knows?
Another hand… if the ACC was smart, it would just negotiate with ESPN to allow Florida State to now keep their Tier III rights. Allow ND to join the ACC but also keep their Tier III rights. ND can put theirs on NBC. Florida State can do whatever it wants with theirs. Keeping Florida State makes the Southern ACC schools like Clemson and Ga Tech happy. Getting ND makes everyone happy. Although ND and FSU would get some extra $$$, is there any doubt that those two schools are, by far, the biggest Kings that the ACC will ever have? It’s the difference between football relevance and irrelevance. In 2020’s, the ACC can negotiate something better for Clemson and Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. For now, Florida State and Notre Dame can keep those schools in the picture so that their prominence remains stable.
Of course, Occam’s Razor comes into play. Perhaps the ACC just decided that adding three schools is a good idea. Or perhaps the rumor is just a rumor. Who knows anymore?
So, no predictions here… just thoughts. Feel free to share where you think this is going.