A Google News search on "conference reallignment" will yield hundreds of newspaper articles and blogs with speculation of how the new conference realignment will shake out, and offering almost that many speculative scenarios positing where dozens of teams may end up.
One possiblility that has not been mentioned (by anyone other than me) as far as I can tell, might make more sense than it might seem - Notre Dame to the ACC. While almost everyone's knee-jerk reaction to that idea is dismissal, there are some important things to consider.
Before even discussing this, you have to base it on a a few givens:
1) The Big 10 will expand. This is pretty much accepted at this point.
2) Independence is no longer viable for Notre Dame. This is subjective, but if the Big 10 expands to 16 teams, it's a real concern for the Irish. First, almost every Big 10 expansion scenario includes the destruction of the Big East, which currently provides a home for all Notre Dame sports other than football. Trying to schedule all the other sports as an independent, while the nearby Big 10 now has five more conference foes to schedule, will be exceedingly difficult. And once the Big 10's seemingly eternal courting of Notre Dame is officially (and bitterly) over, we'll see how eager Big 10 teams are to schedule the Irish anyway.
3) The SEC will expand in response to Big 10 expansion. This doesn't have much to do with the Notre Dame side of the equation, but has everything with the ACC having to come up with a major move to a) try to hold onto it's football schools, and b) try to remain financially competitive
Let's take those three for granted for the sake of this discussion. The first and obvious question is: Why wouldn't Notre Dame just join the Big 10? In terms of geography and historical opponents, it appears to make the most sense.
Well, first of all, Notre Dame clearly doesn't want to be the 12th member of the Big 10. They've had numerous opportunities to do so. A few years ago the Big 10 basically fell on it's knees and begged the Irish to join, and were rebuffed. The Big 10 taking a different approach this time, basically trying to force Notre Dame against their will into joining. Make no mistake about it, that's what the Big 10 is doing. In the history of conference reallignments we've seen, when has a conference came out so publicly so far in advance to announce it's plans, even naming target schools?
The purpose is to tell Notre Dame "either become our 12th, or we are going to destroy the conference that allows you to play all your other sports." We don't need you anymore, but we're going to make you need us.
If you want to know why Notre Dame values it's idependence so much, google it. I'm not going to go into it here, but Notre Dame became the national icon it is because it was spurned by Michigan and the Big 10. In other words, the Big 10 treated Notre Dame like crap, and now that it wants Notre Dame, it expects it to join the Big 10 because it seems the most obvious (sound close to home to anyone?).
Well, we've already stipulated that Notre Dame has to give up football independence, but it doesn't have to bow (by force this time) to the Big 10. The most independent thing it could do at this point is marry someone else.
That someone else just could be the ACC. If you put aside geography (which Notre Dame has already done playing all it's other sports in the Big East), it makes some sense. ... Continue Reading
First, Notre Dame as a small private school has little in common with the schools of the Big 10, but has a lot in common with schools like Duke, Miami, Boston College, Wake Forest. Academically, it can be just as comfortable (as it could be in the Big 10) with Duke, UNC, UVA, GT, etc.
Secondly, football-wise, Notre Dame is experiencing challenges, not the least of which is strict academic and disciplinary policy, and a less than appealing locale. Notre Dame is the rare school where it isn't the money that's the obstacle (they've got plenty). If they choose not to abandon these long-held principles (and they can't move the campus) and still be football-relevant, the ACC is probably a better fit. The ACC will be an easier conference to compete in than the Big 10, and they will likely have a financial advantage over most schools in the ACC that they wouldn't have in the Big 10. Notre Dame has a much easier road to winning the ACC than the Big 10. It is very easy to see a Notre Dame never rising above the upper middle of the Big 10. No football school in the ACC however approaches the resources of a Michigan, Penn State or Ohio State.
How does it make sense for the ACC? Simple, Notre Dame is a ratings (cash) magnet. The value of Notre Dame (the highest tv-rated team even when they suck) is incomparable to any other combination of teams the ACC could add. Look at it this way, Notre Dame has more eyballs in New York than Syracuse, Rutgers, and UCONN combined. You can stop worrying about TV markets when you add Notre Dame.
Which also means you can stop at 14, instead of 16. Which is important to the ACC. Because their pie won't be as large as the Big 10's or SEC's, it will help to split it just 14 ways.
West Virginia should be the other team. The ACC can't afford not to address it's football problem, and West Virginia is the best football program (and a hell of a basketball program) that won't be hotly pursued by another conference. With all the talk of markets, people forget that the SEC went from just another conference financially to a juggernaut on the basis of it's football play. Adding South Carolina and Arkansas didn't do anything market-wise, they just put the most compelling product on the field, which made it the most valuable. So a UCONN just doesn't fit the bill here.
14 teams gives the ACC another advantage. It won't be as unwieldy as 16 teams, and we can sit back and hope that the Big 10 and SEC find it to be a problem (as the WAC did). 14 teams doesn't screw up the ACC too much. You can still get pretty good coverage with an 8-game conference schedule, six in your division and a rotating two on the other side. Since we already have a set cross-division game, we were playing 6 of the same team every year and two rotating every year anyway. The rotation period just gets a little longer. Miami and GT join Clemson's and FSU's and FSU's division making it tougher, but a lot better football as far as TV is concerned, and preserves important rivalries. A 16-team conferences of the Big 10 and SEC is either going to force teams to go to a 9-game conference schedule, or not play their entire division, or basically NEVER play the other division, or seriously destroy rivalries.
Also, having Notre Dame in conference will GREATLY increase the chances of a second BCS bowl for the ACC. If an Irish team is in the hunt for an at-large bid, it will be the first one chosen. Not to mention, adding ND and WVU gives the conference two schools that will definitely sell out the conference championship game if they make it, and all their bowl games, which about doubles the number of ACC schools that can say that now.
Having Notre Dame on board also guarantees the ACC a spot at the table in any possible future BCS or playoff scenario.
What are the obstacles?
1) It just doesn't seem right. True, but FSU to the ACC made no sense on the surface at the time. Penn St. to the Big 10 (and the dropping of Penn St.-Pitt) was shocking. The ending of the Nebraska-Oklahoma game was unthinkable. Strange things happen.
2) Several ACC teams would rather go to the SEC than stay in the ACC. True, you have to assume that Clemson, FSU, Miami, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech would all seriously consider a move to the SEC, which would destroy this plan. This will only work if the ACC strikes fast, before the SEC moves. The SEC is likely to be deliberate, because they are already in great position and will not want to risk it rashly. The ACC will be desparate, and needs to act like it. Adding Notre Dame can probably shore up those schools with wandering eyes.
3) The biggest one to me - what about Notre Dame's traditional rivals? This is a hard one to get around. I could see them still playing Navy, because they're going to have to schedule a weak team anyway, and despite the last couple years, this has not been a competitive game historically. Purdue is an in-state rival, but frankly, nobody cares much nationally about that game. Which leave us USC and Michigan. I think the Irish will have to pick one of those two, and I imagine it will be USC. Let's say that bad blood on one side or the other over the expansion mess makes a split with Michigan more palatable to Irish fans. Notre Dame became Notre Dame originally because Michigan refused to play them. Now the Irish can turn the tables. And Notre Dame does have history with several ACC schools, especially Boston College. In addition, the Miami series is very relevant to modern Irish lore, FSU and Notre Dame have serious history (and enduring arguments about the 93 title), and Notre Dame - West Virginia woud reprise one of Notre Dame's modern classics.
Sources say that in the last ACC expansion, the ACC and Notre Dame had talks (which eventually broke down over ND's refusal to play a full football schedule). That means there's been at least some interest in the past. It's time for both sides to get talking again.