Matt Hayes over at Sporting News put out an interesting scenario a little over a week ago regarding the ever-evolving conference realignment saga. A scenario that could ultimately land UNC & Duke in the SEC.
The near-term catalyst is indeed expected to be the battle between Maryland & ACC over the possible $50 million exit fee. The lawsuits have been filed, and the ramifications could end up pushing us toward the conference realignment end game. From Hayes’ report:
“We’d be absolutely foolish to not watch Maryland,” one FSU official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Sporting News. “If or when they get out of (the $50 million buyout), everything changes. It’s almost like free agency.”
Once the lawsuits are settled, if the ACC teams believe they can get out of the conference without getting crushed by a $50 million exit fee, we’re likely to see a sprint to the end game.
The Big 12 needs more teams – they current sit at 10 – and most figure Clemson and Florida State are on their radar. Getting to 12 teams will allow the conference to get back to a conference championship game.
If that happens, the two crown jewels of the ACC become available. Duke and North Carolina, which an ACC source said have been chased by the SEC for “the last three years,” will choose between the Big Ten and the SEC.
While I’ve been a non-stop proponent of the SEC adding only power football programs or nobody, the package deal of UNC and Duke is an exception. Such a move would do a number of things for the SEC. First, it gives you the North Carolina television markets. Second, it turns the SEC into the best basketball conference with three elite basketball programs in Kentucky, UNC and Duke. Basketball isn’t nearly as important financially as football, but the upcoming SEC Network would all of a sudden have a lot more eyeballs during basketball season.
The North Carolina pair are big brand athletic programs in a different way than Alabama and Florida are. These schools indeed strengthen a conference.
Hayes quotes an ACC source that the SEC has been after this pair for three years. It’s not surprising, because like we’ve said before, if you don’t want to add schools from current SEC states, where do you turn? NC State? Ugh.
It’s difficult to say when more moves will occur. First, the ACC exit fee battle has to be settled. Second, the Big 12 would likely need to pick off Florida State and Clemson. Then, out of their own interest, I could see Duke and UNC sticking together and moving to another conference as a package. Maintaining the rivalry between the programs will be paramount. But, there’s no reason that the rivalry needs to be an ACC rivalry.
Bottom line? There’s still plenty of action left ahead. My guess is that we’ll have very close to 4 super-conferences by the time the 2014 football playoff arrives.
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