When the rumors surfaced Saturday morning that Syracuse and Pittsburgh had applied for membership in the ACC, I didn't think too much of it. They were, after all, coupled with the rumor that ten teams had applied; it looked like everybody was nailing down a Plan B or C for when things went pear-shaped. The more important bit of news was that the current ACC members had voted to raise the buyout cost for anyone looking to leave the conference. It was a clear message that the ACC was not going to be a poaching ground for neighboring conferences.
By the end of the day, however, the reports had become deafening, and the announcement of a 9:30 am teleconference for this morning all but confirmed it. And so it was; John Swofford announced today that the university presidents had unanimously voted to accept Pitt and Syracuse as members. When they'll actually defect is somewhat up in the air, as the Big East bylaws require a 27-month advance notification. There will be talks about shortening that, of course. The Big East now joins the Big 12 in full-panic mode, and we expect a rash of meetings and announcements to follow in the months to come.
This move by the ACC resembles their last expansion, in which they brought aboard two teams in part as an enticement to land the prized school they really want. In 2002, that was Notre Dame, who chose to remain independent. This time it's Texas, who's currently looking to whatever exit will allow it to carry its newly-formed Longhorn Network along as well. Swofford was very coy about other schools soliciting membership, but did emphasize the sanctity of the ACC's revenue-sharing plan.
The announcement also shows how hollow the Big East's boasts of a big payday coming really were. Pittsburgh notified the conference that they were seeking more stability back in May of 2010. It looks like the conference has been less positioning itself for big revenue and more hoping for the lottery ticket that would keep the fractured family together. Two of their founding members just decided they couldn't wait, and now commissioner John Marinatto is going to have to rustle up some replacements quickly.
But enough about the politics; how does this improve the conference? Pitt and Syracuse are both good schools, and adding either during the last expansion would have been a satisfying move. Basketball fans are already excited, as the two teams have more NCAA tournament wins in the last eleven seasons than all but three ACC schools. But personally, I'm not sold on the advantages of a 14-team conference yet, and it would take a really big get to begin to win me over.
Let's start with what we can expect. We'll lose another two home-and-home conference basketball match-ups a season. There was only five left as it is – that will be whittled down to three. There will only be two football games against conference members in the opposite division a season, one of which will be tied up with the rivalry game, meaning the other six will be seen less than twice a decade. The ACC basketball tournament will be a little more chaotic, and non-revenue sports will have a little more strain on their budgets. On the bright side, lacrosse is definitely strengthened.
But I'm a cranky old traditionalist who misses round-robin schedules and is convinced the whole super-conference trend is destined to implode like it has, well, every other time it's been tried. At least the ACC is controlling its own destiny, with members willing to sign on for the long term. They're making smart choices with their expansion candidates, and no state legislatures have gotten involved yet, so it's the best I can ask for in this scenario. Now let's see what happens next.
(But since we're jettisoning tradition now, can we please get a football playoff?)