The End of Realignment

missouritigersThe ACC has announced a Grant of Rights deal for conference-members to 2027. What this technically means is that any team that leaves the ACC between now and then does not retain the TV rights to their home games. What this really means is that no ACC team will receive an invitation and that conference realignment has officially begun to end. Where high exit fees failed, the GOR has thus far succeeded.

What is sad about all of this is that had this been deployed sooner, a whole lot of the mess of the last couple of years could have been avoided. There was no way the Big East was going to sign one, but the Big 12 and ACC both did – only after losing key members. One of the tragic things about this whole mess is that 90% of it was reactive. Everybody was afraid of what everybody else was doing, and acted accordingly. With the exception of the Big East (which itself was largely a reaction to what happened in 2003), very few of the maneuvers (Texas A&M to the SEC being the only one that comes to mind, maybe Maryland) were actually strongly desired by both the teams that left and the conference that invited them. The instability became a beast all its own. The Pac-12 ended up with two members it really could have done without. Missouri wanted the academics of the Big Ten but ended up in the SEC (academically the weakest of the Power Five) because it offered stability in the face of a pissing contest between Oklahoma and Texas. The ACC ended up accepting an institution with far less prestige than the conference usually demands (Louisville). The Big 12 ceased being a geographical conference. Four conferences have (or will have) fourteen members, a number that really doesn’t make sense for anybody.

The biggest losers in all of this are, of course, the conference formerly known as the Big East, and the WAC. Although most members of both conferences found better homes. So we are really talking about five programs. Then there’s the Mountain West Conference, which actually came out okay but teams that left the WAC fifteen years ago suddenly find themselves in a conference with the teams that they left.

After that, it would have to be the Big 12. They will be the only major conference not to have its own network. Worse yet, I’m not sure if they could have a network because one of their marquee products is doing its own thing. The remaining Texas schools are two private universities and one way off in West Texas. Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, and West Virginia aren’t going to set the world on fire in terms of markets. There is a really good chance that when the dust clears, the Big 12, which is arguably more competitive than ever, will have a substantial income gap in comparison with the other conferences. (Except UTexas, of course.) They had an opportunity to make serious end-roads into the midwest (Louisville, Cincinnati, Pitt) and passed on it, leaving only one far-flung member in a region that doesn’t particularly care about the conference. Even better, there was a window in which they could have decimated the ACC with the first truly mega-conference with 18 teams (at which point, Texas having its own network wouldn’t have mattered nearly as much). But they didn’t. No consensus. All they have is the GOR, which could save the conference for a time, but nonetheless leave it in poor shape.

The ACC has survived, and a few weeks ago that looked like a real uncertainty. There were rumors abound of the Big Ten and SEC each taking two more, at which point the Big 12 may have finally acted. But they’re still around. Nonetheless, they are somewhat stuck with Louisville when West Virginia would have been a better fit by far. They passed on WVU largely for academic reasons, but ended up with one of WVU’s peers anyway. And Louisville was selected over UConn again out of a defensive posture – they knew they could take UConn any time, but Louisville had been on the Big 12’s radar. Signing the GOR sooner might have meant that they wouldn’t have had to replace Maryland, but even if Maryland had left they could have chosen a better (by their standards) match. (Errr, hey Mike, others, I mean no disrespect – Louisville is a fine school, it’s just that the ACC has/had this fixation…)

The biggest winner is the Big Ten, who has proven despite utter mediocrity on the football field, they have their pick of any school they want east of the Mississippi (and some west). And the Mid-American Conference, whose primary strength is that it’s full of programs that nobody else wants.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. …very few of the maneuvers (Texas A&M to the SEC being the only one that comes to mind, maybe Maryland) were actually strongly desired by both the teams that left and the conference that invited them.

    My family members in Nebraska suggest that, indeed, it wasn’t so much that Nebraska particularly wanted to go to the Big 10, but that that was the best option for getting away from Texas. They told me at the time Nebraska left that the people in Lincoln had come to the conclusion that (a) in hindsight, the Big 8 had been far too generous about terms when they bailed the four Texas schools (and UT in particular) out after the collapse of the Southwest Conference and (b) there was no way to fix the problems.

    • I think Texas and A&M would take issue with that characterization. They got the concessions they did because the Big 8 needed them much more than they needed the Big 8. Texas really didn’t want to go the SEC route, but it was always a credible threat. The Big 8 had few alternatives that brought significant markets with them.

      • The perception (hearsay from my relatives in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, plus what I heard at the time here in Colorado) was that the Big 8 teams believed they were being charitable. The Southwest Conference was in the process of imploding, most of the football programs were struggling, and there was a relatively-recent history of NCAA violations (the SMU death penalty had happened less than ten years earlier). The Texas TV market was good, but it wasn’t great because there were two NFL teams there as well. I don’t believe Texas-to-the-SEC was ever a viable threat — and Texas-to-anywhere isn’t a viable threat today — because Texas has never been interested in a deal where they would have to share revenues equally.

        The fact that every team that had a viable way out has left is suggestive. I give the Big 12 a 50/50 chance of breaking up within 15 years.

        • The sharing-revenues-equally thing was particularly important to Texas in large part because the Big Eight has some really market-unfriendly programs and only a couple market-friendly programs outside of Texas. The big stumbling block for Texas now is the LHN network. I think that actually has less to do with money and more to do with prestige. Somebody did the math a couple years ago and determined that UT would likely have made just as much money in the Pac-12 as the Big 12, but it was an ego thing.

          The SWC was indeed falling apart, but Texas and A&M were not really the vulnerable ones. They had options, which is why the Big Eight had to make the compromises it did. I think the notion that Texas and A&M were desperate is something that Big Eight schools like to tell themselves because, hey, who doesn’t like to think of themselves as having thrown a life raft to and being indebted from those arrogant bastards? (No offense, Nob).

  2. Ah – Will, I just saw this:

    “(Errr, hey Mike, others, I mean no disrespect – Louisville is a fine school, it’s just that the ACC has/had this fixation…)”

    I think we adequately demonstrated how far we have come this year. I will also note that the football team is ranked #4 in the preseason polling.

    General consensus around here is that we expect to be a major player in the conference pretty quickly, although I suspect our style of play in basketball is going to be difficult to merge with the ACC. We refer to what they play as ‘sissy ball’. The rough, NY-style play that Pitino brought with him is what our fans prefer. It will be interesting to see who adapts.

    • From an athletics standpoint, Louisville was a great get. I don’t doubt they will do well athletically. I was mostly referring to ACC’s fixation on academic prestige, where Louisville will be an outlier in a number of respects (the same way West Virginia would have been).

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