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The Confidential

The ACC Sports Blog

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.

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22 thoughts on “ACC Expansion Thoughts: 16 teams?

  1. dacuseman on said:

    no, no, no! just take UL and hold your water. UConn will always be there because of geography and UC has little value without UL. Besides, I firmly believe Notre Dame is already committed to full time membership.

    • 15 is a nice number.

      Add Louisville and UConn. Split into three divisions with two permanent rivals. For example:

      Clemson (Florida State, BC)
      Duke (Wake Forest, Syracuse)
      North Carolina (NC State, UConn)
      Virginia (Louisville, Pitt)
      Virginia Tech (Georgia Tech, Miami)

      Florida State (Clemson, Miami)
      Wake Forest (Duke, UConn)
      NC State (North Carolina, Syracuse)
      Georgia Tech (Virginia Tech, Pitt)
      Louisville (Virginia, BC)

      Miami (Florida State, Virginia Tech)
      BC (Louisville, Clemson)
      Syracuse (NC State, Duke)
      UConn (Wake Forest, North Carolina)
      Pitt (Georgia Tech, Virginia)

      Six regular games plus two with the remaining eight teams. Worst case you play a team every four years.

      The conference championship is between the two highest ranked division leaders. This gives us a better chance of having championship that doesn’t feature a 5 loss team.

      Notre Dame plays all in a single division rotating through the whole conference every three years. And If they ever fully join there is a spot waiting.

  2. j coppertone on said:

    Any conference is inherently unstable when some schools have special deals or special preferences. Enticing ND with a special deal will inevitably lead to resentment, a sense of unfairness and uneven contribution, and either demands for more special deals or schools departing for “equal member” conferences. ACC will regret the ND deal.

  3. You seriously think the Big 12 would add Louisville and Cincinnati? It just goes to show that you do not understand much about what you are writing. Ask yourself this question, why did the Big 12 not add Louisville all that time? There is no sense in adding teams that do not add value to the contract, get paid less just to have one or two more teams? Why? Stop it with the misinformation!!!!

    • BruceMcF on said:

      Since it was made clear up front that none of this was pretending to be based on specific inside information, nobody can reasonably call it “misinformation”. “IF FOX wants to …” is stepping through the logic of the various possibilities. We will find out a lot of actual information how ESPN and FOX actually do see things when we see what move or moves the ACC (and possibly Big 12) make.

      Its certainly POSSIBLE that FOX would see the restoration of a Big 12 championship game, and the combined 3m+ media market brought in by Louisville/Cincinnati as worth bumping up the value of the contract by 1/6 and keeping everyone in the league level with where they are at. A division format tends to inflate rankings of the strongest teams, and games with “ranked” teams mean an audience boost. And as a media property, Louisville and Cincinnati as a pair are worth more than what the two are worth individually, because the pair has a bigger footprint than the two do separately. Also, bringing the Big 12 back to 12 allows it to sit back on further expansion and wait until the Big 10 and SEC move again.

    • Not sure where anything was seriously predicted.

      The whole nature of this discussion is whether the debate is not truly conference vs. conference, but network vs. network. If ESPN and Fox went out of business, how much would the TV deals be worth? The conferences need the networks.

      But, as demonstrated by the payouts, the networks need the conferences. If the ACC goes away, and if the most valuable of those properties go to the Big XII and the Big 10, then ESPN loses. It might be worth it for ESPN to “overpay,” and for the addition of three more schools to be the catalyst for the renegotiation. At that point, it might be in Fox’s interest to overpay for Louisville and Cincinnati to block the ACC.

      Or… most likely… Fox/Big XII won’t give a crap and the ACC will not take all three teams. And so on.

      I just am not sure why everyone treats this like a Risk game between the conferences, but does not see it as a game between the networks too. After all, it is the latter that are financing all of this.

  4. I could really care less who ends up where. I simply beg someone to please throw my Bearcats a lifeboat and save us from the sinking ship that was the Big East!

    Wherever Cincy ultimately ends up (ACC, Big 12, Conference USA 2.0, er, I mean Big East) I’d really hate to see Louisville and Cincy separated, since we have followed each other from conference to conference for 100 years now and have developed a great rivalry over those years.

  5. MrTemecula on said:

    North Carolina, NCST, Virginia, and V-Tech are about to get Godfather offers from the Big-10 and SEC, respectively. The Big-10 and SEC are currently preparing or going through media negotations, so now is the time to get bigger and, unfortunately for the ACC, the ACC has the best assets available. The ACC cannot compete financially because they do not have a conference network. Moreover, the Big-12 will probably swoop in and grab FSU, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, Duke (or Pitt) and Boston College (sorry, Wake) because Fox will offer to create a Big-12 network even without Texas. Unless the ACC can convince ESPN to create a conference network, the ACC is destined to fall apart.

    • BruceMcF on said:

      Both of those sets of Big 10 and SEC moves are possible, but neither are certain. The Big 10 took several years to get the BTN bedded in, and it seems likely that it will take several years for the BTN to leverage the new expansions into better exposure on cable systems in greater NYC and greater DC. So they could very well focus on that. Similar for the SEC getting the SEC Network up and running.

      If both the Big 10 and SEC fall into a posture of “wait and see whether the other one moves”, then its quite possible for nothing to happen for another half decade or more, once the ripples of the recent have finished with the ACC raiding the Greater Conference USA (aka Big East), the Greater Conference USA raiding the Lesser Conference USA, and the LCU raiding the Sunbelt.

    • Vinnie Saltine on said:

      “North Carolina, NCST, Virginia, and V-Tech are about to get Godfather offers from the Big-10 and SEC, respectively.”

      This is very unlikely. ESPN has contracts with the SEC and ACC, yes they can offer more money if they add other teams (as they did with Texas A&M and Mizzou in the SEC, or Syracuse/PITT in the ACC) but it doesn’t help ESPN if SEC adds teams that are currently under an ESPN contract. In that case, they would be deflating the overall value of the ACC, which just signed a long-term deal with ESPN.

      Adding teams from the Big East to the ACC made sense for ESPN because they were unlikely to get the new contract, and certainly were not going to pay the $15M that the BE wanted. It was better for ESPN’s bottom line to let Maryland and Rutgers go to the B1G, which prevents a 3rd party from getting in on the negotiations (NBC/Comcast), and helps to dismantle the Big East.

      If anything, the demand for UNC, NCSt., UVA, and VPI by the B1G or SEC would make ESPN want to retain them in the ACC that much more; so adding L’Ville and/or UConn could open the doors for an ACC renegotation including ND.

      • MrTemecula on said:

        If I was not clear, I meant that Fox would be the broadcaster ponying up the money for a Big-12 network. If the Big-12 could wave a conference network at FSU, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, Pitt and Boston College, I think it would be very tempting to jump. Moreover, this allows Fox more programming for their new national all-sports network. Fox is spending money like a drunk sailor (6 billion for the Dodgers). Another $100-150 million for a conference network would not be that heavy.

  6. Put Louisville and USF in Big 12, UCONN to ACC and call it a day.

    • I’d prefer putting Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St and Texas Tech into the Pac-12,
      Kansas and UConn into the Big Ten, WVU and Kansas St into the SEC, and bringing Louisville, Cincinnati and USF into the ACC… THEN call it a day!

  7. Jackagain on said:

    Am I mistaking or didn’t Boston College already veto the addition of UConn to the ACC during the recent expansion due to the fact that BC wanted exclusive ACC TV rights to the New England area? That’s how Pitt got the offer…UConn is stuck in the BE. They just lost Calhoun too…

    Also, if the ACC decides to go to a divisions setup, they can only have 2 so they can have a playoff game.

  8. Add Navy as FB only member (7 games, we already broke the all-in rule with ND)
    Force ND to 7 game commitment (includes game against new member – Navy)
    Add CT as full member
    Go to pods for scheduling (ND/BC/NAVY/WF, MIA/CT/SU/Pitt, VT/UVa/UNC/Duke, FSU/CU/GT/NCSU)
    Rotate pods every 2 years to create new divisions (gives all teams guarantee of playing ND & Navy 2 out of 6 years)
    Division champ is determined by 7 games in the division (a la Spurrier proposal for SEC)
    Allow Pitt to change pods 2 out of 6 years (into the ND group to promote that rivalry; WF moves to VT pod & Duke to the Mia pod during those years)
    Guaranteed cross-overs are: FSU-Mia, VT-CU, UNC-NCSU, Duke-WF, GT-Pitt,UVa-SU & BC-CT
    Probably would need 9 game schedule for all but ND & Navy
    Demand more money from ESPN in the renegotiation (ND is now giving ESPN broadcast rights to 3 games -when played away of South Bend- plus CCG potential)
    If ND ends NBC deal & has all their home games on ESPN, then demand ACC channel a la BTN

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