The conference realignment rumor mill has started up again. Reportedly the Big Ten is on the cusp of issuing invitations to a number of ACC schools, namely North Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Virginia. This should be viewed with excitement from Cincinnati fans. UC is one of the top teams set to receive an invitation to the ACC should it lose any more programs.
However some are complaining that the ACC would be no better for Cincinnati than staying in the Big East. And my response to that is an emphatic, undebatable “NO“. If there is one reason and one reason only as to why I feel this way, it’s the fact that under the Big East’s new TV deal Cincinnati would be taking a pay cut to stay in the conference. That’s right, after 7 years and multiple Big East championships, UC would me making less money in a rebuilt Big East ($2 million per year) than they were making in the previous TV deal (~$3.5 million). Oh and the automatic access to a major bowl game is going away. Sounds terrible, yes?
Still not convinced? Well think of it this way; if you had worked in the same position for 7 years and led multiple projects to increase the respectability of your company would you want to take almost a 50% salary decrease? Of course not.
That’s why at this point in time the ACC is by far the better option and it’s not even close. This is so no matter how much the conference is raided by the Big Ten, Big XII, or SEC. Let’s run down some of the scenarios that illustrate that even if the ACC gets annihilated in the next round of conference realignment it’s still a better destination for UC sports than the Big East:
SCENARIO A: ACC retains current members and expands further
This scenario certainly can happen although the likelihood is slim. If after Maryland finds a way out of their lawsuit and the likes of Florida State, UNC, etc. stand pat, preferring their longstanding ties to the ACC then the conference would boast 14 football schools in addition to Notre Dame on the basketball side.
If the ACC then wanted to expand to 16, bringing their membership count to “Super-Conference” levels then conceivably Cincinnati would be one of those additions. Again, while the chances of this occurring is small, it would be the best scenario for UC and just how much the school and athletic programs would benefit compared to the Big East is obvious:
- $20 millionish per school/year TV contract vs. $2 million in the Big East.
- Major bowl tie in (Orange Bowl) in new playoffs vs. no automatic bowl tie in.
- Better brand name vs. national punchline.
- Stronger football vs. pseudo-Conference USA.
- Excellent basketball vs. SMU.
SCENARIO B: ACC loses North Carolina, Georgia Tech/Virginia
On the scale of “most likely” to “me going on a date with Kate Upton”, I’d say this has the best shot of happening. The Big Ten has been sniffing around ACC territory for years in an attempt to expand their reach not only to the major cities on the Eastern seaboard but deep into SEC country. As such they landed Maryland, bringing part of the Washington D.C. market, and snagged Rutgers that although was a member of the Big East, did give the Big Ten a foothold in New York City.
But I don’t think the conference stops there. At 14 schools they themselves have the opportunity to expand further and create a Super-Conference. As a result they’ll likely target North Carolina, the crown jewel of the ACC that not only boasts excellent academics and athletics but a sizable TV audience. Also going along would be Georgia Tech (large TV market, strong academics, deep in SEC territory) and/or Virginia (solid academics, more TV markets, flagship university). If this were to happen mark my word Cincinnati would receive an ACC invitation. And still UC would benefit from making the jump
- TV deal probably takes a slight hit but will still be millions of dollars more than the $2 million in the Big East.
- Likely Orange Bowl tie in stays in place.
- Still a strong brand.
- Still strong football (Florida State, Louisville, etc.) and basketball (Duke, Syracuse, etc.).
SCENARIO C: ACC loses North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Florida State/Clemson
If just two of the above schools bolt the ACC, look for more programs to reevaluate their options as well. Again the key is Maryland. Once they, as cash-strapped as they are, figure out a way to pay the $50 million conference exit fee I’d expect not only the Big Ten to start acquiring ACC schools but the Big XII and SEC to begin initiating contact with them. The Big Ten would still target North Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Virginia. The SEC might come after North Carolina and Virginia as well. Finally, the Big XII will likely target Florida State, Clemson, or both.
And even if the ACC lost 4/5 key football programs it would still be a better landing spot for Cincinnati:
- Again the gap between the ACC and Big East TV deals probably shrinks but the latter is still ahead. Say, $10 million ACC vs. $2 million Big East.
- Coin-flip if the Orange Bowl and ACC stick together, although looping Notre Dame in helps keep it.
- Brand takes a sizable hit but still superior to the Big East.
- Football takes a big hit but like the brand, it will still be strong than the Big East programs.
- Basketball remains basically unchanged, arguably better with additions of UC and UConn.
SCENARIO D: ACC loses North Carolina, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Florida State, Clemson and one other
In the final scenario, woo doggie do the floodgates open! The ACC loses 6 schools including the 5 above and potentially Boston College, Virginia Tech, or even Louisville. You might wonder about that last one but in no way are the Cardinals currently locked in to joining the ACC. At least in the next couple of months, which is when the next round of conference realignment will probably occur. Remember, TCU had “committed” to the Big East before balking and moving to the Big XII, which coincidentally could still happen for Louisville.
And if the rumors hold water the Big XII targets Florida State and Clemson from the ACC in this scenario while the Big Ten adds, again, North Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Virginia. I can also envision the SEC getting into the mix and going after an ACC school like Virginia or potentially North Carolina, after which the Big Ten snags Boston College. At that point everything gets too messy but the message is still the same; the ACC is still a better option for Cincinnati than the Big East:
- ACC TV contract would be diluted but not nearly to the level of the Big East’s. It would still pay schools at least $5 million per year vs. $2 million the Big East.
- Orange Bowl access likely goes away.
- ACC viewed as old Big East, new Big East viewed as old Conference USA. At worst, a lateral perception move.
- Old Big East level football, slightly upgraded.
- Superior basketball.