For anybody that has someone missed what has been going on in college athletics, allow me to catch you up: USC and UCLA announced yesterday that they will join the Big Ten on August 2, 2024. This announcement sent shockwaves throughout college sports, and now everyone is wondering what the future will look like for the Power Five conferences. It also opened the door for a LOT of chatter about which schools could be joining either the Big Ten or the SEC (who just obtained Texas and Oklahoma a while back), and UNC’s name has been mentioned quite a bit. Is there any reason to be concerned a move is in their future? My short answer is I don’t know, mostly because it is so complicated.
So let’s discuss how we got to where we are when it comes to college athletics in general, and then we will discuss what this means for UNC/the ACC moving forward.
How We Got Here
If you are like me and didn’t fully understand why USC and/or UCLA would leave the Pac-12 to go to the Big Ten, the answer is pretty much as simple as one would think it is: money. Dan Wetzel with Yahoo Sports wrote a piece today about how the Pac-12 and ACC blocked a 12-team, six-automatic-bid College Football Playoff proposal. The four highest-ranked conference champions would be seeded 1-4 and each of those teams would receive a first-round bye. Seeds 5-12 would’ve then played on the home field of the higher-ranked team. In theory, this sounds like it would’ve been a great deal for Power Five teams, but the Pac-12 and ACC shot the proposal down back in January.
Now that the CFP remains a four-team endeavor for now, a part of why USC and UCLA left the Pac-12 almost certainly has to do with their ability to not only give themselves the best chance to have a good enough resume to get into the playoffs, but all of the other money that the Big Ten has to offer — the TV and NIL deals allegedly are more appealing there than the Pac-12, which isn’t terribly surprising considering the fact that the Big Ten has such a massive footprint in football and basketball. Now, here is where things get especially dire for the Pac-12: per Wetzel, all of the remaining members of the conference have inquired about moving elsewhere. So in short: if we are to believe Wetzel’s theory, the Pac-12, and potentially the ACC, signed their own death warrants in blocking the 12-team CFP proposal, and what we are seeing is only the beginning of what will be a major shake-up of college sports.
What does this mean for UNC?
Now that the Pac-12 is starting to melt before our very eyes, the big question is what will happen with the ACC moving forward, and more importantly, what does UNC do next? Let me start off by saying this: the biggest immediate concern at this time is what Notre Dame decides to do. Their deal with the ACC is bizarre to say the least, and their independent status has been threatened for most of the existence of the CFP. Their ticket into the playoffs involves hopefully playing highly-ranked ACC teams, hoping that their historic rivals have a strong resume (USC for instance), and a little bit more careful scheduling. In a world where they realize that they need to be in the SEC or the Big Ten in order to maintain their elite status in football (aka actually have reasonable chance to play for the CFP each season), then the alarms may start going off for the ACC.
However, here’s where I personally am at with UNC. It’s no secret that Bubba Cunningham has an elite athletics program thanks to success in basketball, lacrosse, soccer, field hockey, tennis, and other sports. This is a program that just finished sixth in the Learfield Director’s Cup standings, and basketball specifically is poised to have a huge season in the fall (hopefully). Add the ACC Network deal that still has a little bit of new car smell, and it is hard to imagine why UNC would want to do anything right this moment.
Things become even more complicated when you think about what this would do to some of UNC’s historic rivalries. The UNC/Duke rivalry at this point is bigger than both programs themselves, and it is hard to imagine that there is any amount of money that is worth ripping that apart. However, college sports have become more and more of a business, so I could see Duke and Carolina being a packaged deal for either the SEC or the Big Ten. I can’t really think of a scenario where these two teams split apart completely, so I feel like if there was any realignment involving the Tar Heels, Duke would have to be part of the deal.
Finally, we all know that football is the crown jewel of college athletics when it comes to profit. We also know that Carolina football has had good moments, but has only won nine total conference titles, has a sub-.500 bowl record, and has never won the national championship. In my opinion, it would be a really odd move to uproot everything Carolina has going for athletics in general just for football. Cunningham’s next moves really should hinge on whether or not the ACC renegotiates their TV deal with ESPN — the conference will bring in half of what the Big Ten and SEC bring in when it comes to TV money by the end of this decade. This, more so than really anything else, is why I could see Carolina leaving the ACC in the near future. Will they? I have no idea, but I do feel like the ACC has to do what they need to do to prevent the conference from falling apart.
In short, I think there is a very real threat of UNC leaving the ACC, but it is really up to the conference to give all of their schools reasons not to run off to the Big Ten and the SEC. I spent a lot of yesterday thinking that Carolina coming up in these conversations was silly and ill-advised, but when you dig deeper there are reasons that exist for them to pack up their bags. I personally can’t stomach such a thing happening, but everything in college sports is about money, money, and more money. Things have definitely taken a hard left when it comes to maintaining the allure and tradition of college sports, and we are witnessing things become more and more like the NBA and NFL every single day. It’s sad, it’s disappointing, but at the end of the day, we will probably all just cry all over our Michael Jordan jerseys and eventually accept it. I mean, there’s really no other choice, right?
What do you think of the USC/UCLA situation, and what do you think UNC will do in the future? Let us know in the comments below.