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The Big East Coast Conference?

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Now that the ACC has accepted Pitt and Syracuse into the ACC the discussion moves to what this means going forward. The first thing that immediately jumps out to me is that, in stark contrast to the last expansion, this is expansion significantly improves the basketball side of the ACC. With 4 of the last 9 National Titles, and 4 different teams who have been ranked #1 in the last 3 years, the ACC will clearly be the best basketball conference in the country, and as Gary Parrish notes, it is not even close.

So what does this mean? I'll let Doc and THF handle it from a football perspective, but from the basketball point-of-view, there are several questions that immediately come to mind.

First, is this it, or is there more to come?

I can't claim to have any more knowledge than any other fan, but I would still have to guess that the answer is no.  The idea of the ACC, SEC, Big 10 and Pac 10 all expanding to create four 16-team mega conferences has been a rumor for a while, and I don't see how this move makes that possibility any less likely.  Who would those teams be?  Well, that rumor mill is just starting to churn, but to me, the two teams that would make the most sense historically and geographically would be South Carolina (former ACC member, solid rivalry with Clemson) and UConn (bitter rival of both Syracuse and Pitt, geographical rival with BC, and a nice little history with Duke to boot).  I have to imagine that South Carolina would be hesitant to leave what is sure to be a growing SEC, but if the SEC expands into Texas, maybe not.  UConn, on the other hand, would jump at an offer I am guessing.  And as THF mentioned earlier, Rutgers is another interesting possibility, as it would allow the ACC to dive deeper into the NYC market, there is the existing, recent history between the UNC and Rutgers football and basketball teams, and it would provide Duke with an additional home game each year.

Getting back to the the likely 14-team conference, what is going to happen to scheduling?

I can think of three possible scenarios:

  1. An unbalanced 16-game schedule.  This would be the easiest answer.  Each team would play the other 13 members of the league once, and three other teams in a home-and-home.
  2. An unbalanced 18-game schedule.  Would teams be willing to give up 2 non-conference wins games?  Hard to say, but expanding to an 18-game schedule would allow for each team to have 5 home-and-homes, and as we saw with last year's Big East, winning conference games in a conference as good as the ACC will be goes a long way towards getting bubble teams into the Tournament (I am talking to you, Seth Greenberg.)
  3. Two, 7-team divisions. In this scenario, each team would play a home-and-home with the other six teams in its division, plus another 4 teams from the other division.  I doubt this would happen, if for no other reason than that there is something inherently wrong with the idea of going through an entire college basketball season without playing every team in the conference at least once.

Of the three, I definitely like option 2 the best.  Let's be honest, a lot of the games that UNC (and most elite programs) play in December often leave a little (lot?) to be desired.  Sprinkling in another conference game or two in between Thanksgiving and Christmas would be a welcome change, in my opinion.

And what about the ACC Tournament?

Well, that could be tricky.  Ideally, the conference would keep the tournament format the same and only invite the top twelve teams to participate.  Unfortunately, money, and a misguided sense of "fairness," will probably lead the league to want to include everyone.  In this case, the first possibility would be to give the top two teams a bye and have the other 12 teams play on Thursday.  On Friday, the #1 seed would play the 8/9-winner, the #2 seed would play the 7/10-winner, the 3/14-winner would play the 6/11 winner, and so on.  The obvious flaw in this is that scheduling 6 games on Thursday is probably (definitely) an impossibility, which means that we can expect that, more likely than not, the ACC Tournament with switch to the stupid "double-bye" format the Big East used the last couple of years.  And how long do you think it will be before the ACC Tournament is held at Madison Square Garden?

Final thoughts?

Overall, I'm actually less against this expansion than I was the first.  While football is sure to remain the tail that wags the dog that is college athletic, it is nice to see the ACC make a move that clearly impacts the conference's basketball stature more positively than it does its football stature.  From a Carolina perspective, it probably will not have too much of an impact, though more trips to the North East might help the Heels re-tap the NYC recruiting market, though as long as Roy is at the helm, recruiting is not something Carolina will need a lot of help with.  And from a personal/selfish point-of-view, I'm psyched because I will be able to watch the Heels at least every other year when they come up to stomp on the Orange.  Finally, I will be able to show my upstate NY friends what real college basketball looks like! ;)