Depending on which rumor you choose to believe, the Big Ten hopes to expand by one school, three, four, five or possibly 17, after which time it would become the first major college football conference to set up an international division based in Lisbon.
As Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich said, “It’s accurate to say nobody knows where this is going. I told somebody the other day it’s a similar situation to when there’s literally hundreds of scenarios about bowl games until suddenly the whole thing gets settled in a couple of days. There’s no certainty in college athletics right now.”
If you’re Radakovich, you’re watching with more than a casual interest. Tech’s athletic department has had to deal with budget cutbacks and economic issues in the past couple of years, and the ACC is in a delicate situation right now — so much so that other conferences may be looking to pick off members.
A recent ESPN story mentioned two ACC teams, Tech and Maryland, as possibly being in the mix in Big Ten expansion plans. Once you get past the initial shock of Georgia Tech road games in Ann Arbor and Columbus (the real one), you begin to realize nothing today is off the table.
Conferences are like corporations. They’re going to swallow college teams like Walmarts swallow corner markets. Greed is good. Lunch is for wimps. Gordon Gekko didn’t have a conscience and neither do conference commissioners when ESPN knocks on their door.
Expansion leads to value. Value leads to bigger television contracts. Bigger television contracts mean money for bigger and better libraries. (Kidding.)
It doesn’t quite jibe with the “mission” of college athletics. But the NCAA has been a hypocritical outfit for some time now, and the SEC blew the roof off with gluttonous contracts with ESPN and CBS. Total value: $3.075 billion over 15 years. That’s $17.1 million per school per year before they have ever sold a ticket or opened bidding for a recruit.
How does Georgia Tech and the rest of the ACC fit into this? Expansion with Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, compounded by Florida State’s slide, has kept ACC football lower in stature than other BCS conferences. That is why the conference’s current television contracts, which expire after next football season, pay out about $5 million per school – the equivalent of change found under Mike Slive’s couch cushions.
That could be about to change. Sports Business Daily is reporting the ACC is set to announce a new 12-year deal for football and basketball rights with ESPN worth $1.86 billion. That would be a significant step up for the conference at $12.9 million annually per school, though still behind the SEC.
But this game isn’t going to end any time soon. The Big Ten, which wants to start a conference football championship game and is angling for SEC TV dollars, will start picking off teams. The Big 12 and the Pacific 10 will react.
At some point, the ACC will have to react. But right now, they’re just watching, and so is Tech.
The SEC is proactive on all matters with a dollar sign. The conference easily could expand and cherry pick from the ACC. How’s this for a scenario: Georgia Tech and Florida State joining the SEC? (The Jackets were once charter members of the SEC, for those not familiar with history.) The conference would have built-in rivalries with Georgia-Georgia Tech and Florida-Florida State.
Radakovich has heard the rumors. He says they’re unfounded. He says all the right things.
But does he close the door to change? No.
“Right now we’re very happy with the ACC,” he said. “If the landscape changes, we have to do what’s best for Georgia Tech. That’s our job.
“We’re all fans. We understand this is a business. We’re not turning a blind eye to what’s going on. In any walk of life, you have to ask yourself, ‘Can we do better?’ But I’m also reminded of the saying that the grass is always greener on the other side. It’s not occupying my thoughts right now.”
The Big Ten is still plotting. When it makes a move, it could be like the tipping over the first domino.