The mad shuffle has begun. Texas A&M has told the Big 12 not to leave the light on for any Aggies anymore, and if you’re counting you’ll note that the Big 12 has been reduced to a Puny 9. That’s the way of this zero-sum game: Your loss is somebody else’s gain.
Texas A&M president R. Bowen Loftin said in a statement Wednesday: “We are seeking to generate greater visibility nationwide for Texas A&M and our championship-caliber student-athletes, as well as secure the necessary and stable financial resources to support our athletic and academic programs.” And if that doesn’t sound like, “Hellooooo, SEC!” … well, my name’s not Rockey Felker.
It’s all but certain the SEC will seek to balance the Aggies’ arrival by enfranchising a 14th team, but these endeavors can assume a momentum unforeseen. (Back in 2003, who’d have thought the ACC would wind up with Boston College and not Syracuse?) The SEC might decide to expand to 16, which brings us to the overarching point:
Any school the SEC adds must come from somewhere.
Geographically, the prime poaching ground would seem the ACC. It’s believed the SEC isn’t interested in adding teams in states where it already has outposts — meaning: no Georgia Tech, no Florida State, no Clemson — so that would, by process of elimination, leave Virginia Tech, North Carolina, N.C. State and Maryland as targets. But would the latter three choose to break an alliance of more than a half-century’s standing? Would Carolina, which is big on basketball, want to leave its old pal Duke?
The ACC must be on its guard. The league has forged a nice fat football contract with ESPN, but everyone realizes that, regarding the sport that pays the freight for most every athletic department, the SEC is the place where the biggest money flows and the brightest lights shine. If you’re serious about college football, the SEC is the place to be.
When it added Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College, the ACC sent the message that it was getting serious about the sport. Alas, that plan hasn’t found fruition. So what, knowing the SEC will surely seek to pounce, can the basketball league do?
Larry Williams, who covers Clemson for Tiger Illustrated, made an intriguing proposal a couple of weeks ago:
Everyone is wondering whether the ACC will be proactive to secure its place amid the anticipated conference realignment Armageddon, and we tend to frame it all in football terms. But what if the ACC’s audacious move consisted of raiding the Big East of some of its basketball jewels (Connecticut? Syracuse? Louisville? Pitt?) and supplanting the Big East as the nation’s premier basketball aggregation?
That would be one way to go. But the other BCS leagues will try to strengthen themselves in the months ahead, and it’s just as likely the Big East and the Big Ten will take a run at ACC schools. (And the Pac-12, having already scarfed up Colorado, might well try to pick the carcass of the Puny 9.)
This is, in sum, going to get messy. High-minded academic institutions will be scrambling to find the best fit — i.e., the most money — and conferences will be down on bended knee to try to lure/keep these high-minded institutions lest their league fall to the level of Conference USA, and pretty soon we’re going to end up with Southern Cal in the Atlantic Coast Conference. (Don’t laugh. Know who’s joining the Big East next season? Texas Christian.)
As bad as all this figures to be, it might also be good. College sports have become the place where cognitive dissonance runs riot. We wax poetic about the color and pageantry of these stirring tableaus, but when you cut through the color and pageantry you’ll find these games aren’t games at all. They’re performances staged by massive businesses. Shocking revelation: Businesses run on money.
As much as college sports attempt to tug at our heartstrings, it’s the purse strings that count. Texas A&M got miffed that Texas is making too much money with its Longhorn Network, and the Aggies want to go where they can get rich, too. And so it begins. When it ends, the map of college athletics will have been redrawn.
By Mark Bradley