Following the news of Notre Dame’s move to the ACC, we’ve been bombarded with questions here via our comment boxes and the firstname.lastname@example.org email account. I’ve narrowed all those questions down into five basic categories.
Here are my views — after a couple of days of chatting with some folks at SEC various schools — on each of these general topics.
Hope you find your question answered below.
1. What does this mean for future SEC expansion?
Well, it should quiet any rumors of future movement for a while. To be honest, this past summer was spent dealing with rumors that never should have been dealt with in the first place. It was the tail wagging the dog.
The ACC cut a new TV deal with ESPN. Some blogs claimed that the deal was a bad one and that Florida State and Clemson had already cut backdoor deals to leave for the Big XII. Then suddenly Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech had supposedly brokered deals, too.
A hot-headed former chairman of Florida State’s board of trustees reacted to those erroneous reports and — kaboom! — the mainstream media jumped in.
Only that trustee had his facts wrong. And FSU’s president came out strongly against leaving the ACC, etc, etc.
Fast forward and there was never any deal in place for FSU and/or Clemson to change leagues. And despite Texas AD DeLoss Dodds letting it be known that he wanted Notre Dame in the Big XII, there was never any real chance of that happening, either.
By joining the ACC, Notre Dame will partner with a league that has more schools with superb academic reputations. Presidents care about that type of thing whether fans do or not. The Irish also helped their recruiting by guaranteeing themselves games across the talented and population-growing Southeast. Their basketball program will now be in the top hoops league in the country and their football program can maintain its independence — playing five games versus ACC foes each year — while still gaining access to the ACC’s bowl tie-ins.
In addition to grabbing Notre Dame, the ACC raised its exit fees to $50 million to start — and whether the vote to do so was unanimous or not — that’s going to be a lot of cash for any school to cough up. Schools in other conferences have negotiated down their own exit fees of $20 or so million, but when the starting point is at least $50 million, well, that’s a pretty expensive set of handcuffs.
But — and here’s why I mentioned all the chatter from this spring/summer — as soon as basketball season ends next year and sports stories start to dry up, you can expect a blog or two to kick out rumors of realignment. It’s good for traffic (whether that kind of balderdash journalism should cast them into Hell of not… and I think it should). Sadly, we’re past the day and age when credibility matters. Folks scan Twitter, messageboards, blogs and big sites for any rumor or murmur they can find. If you’re right with your guess… you’re a hero. If you’re wrong… well, then you just wait to throw another dart at the board and hope it hits something tomorrow.
For that reason, even though I’ve been told time and again by SEC administrators that their league has zero interest in expanding again, I guarantee you that someone will float Clemson, FSU, NC State and/or Virginia Tech rumors again next spring. They’ll take on a life of their own and we’ll play this nonsense out once more.
Now, I could be wrong. I could have a lot of really bad sources (though they’ve never misled me before on something so big). But I’d bet the house that the SEC remains a 14-school league for some time to come.
The Big XII schools are locked together with shared media rights. The ACC’s schools has bound themselves together with massive exit fees. And — in case you’ve forgotten — the SEC’s schools will already make a bit less revenue per school until the SEC launches its own television network in 2014. (It’s coming. It’s only a question of who ESPN will partner with… and don’t be surprised to see NBC/Comcast offer up carriage on Comcast systems as a means of grabbing part of the deal.)
Right now there are more reasons for the SEC not to expand than there are to expand.
(Sidenote — I’ve seen some people claim that I’m against further expansion of the SEC. That’s not so. I’m simply passing along what I’ve been told by multiple sources from multiple Southeastern Conference schools. In fact, I once wrote that the SEC could actually someday expand to 20 and create two 10-team divisions that would look a lot like the old SEC and the old ACC. That didn’t mean I was for that happening, I was simply tossing out my own hypothesis. Personally, I would have no problem with the SEC expanding to 16 — or 15 for the right school — but I don’t believe there’s anyone in the league who wants to do anything of that sort right now.)
2. Now that some ACC schools will be playing 10 “big school” opponents per year, will the SEC be forced to go to a nine-game football schedule?
No. When the SEC decided to stick with a nonsensical, cowardly eight-game format this summer, it still looked as though most other major conferences would require their teams to play at least nine BCS-level foes per year. That’s changed now as the Big Ten will remain at eight conference games, just like the SEC.
Nick Saban — God bless him — is still fighting the good fight and calling for a nine-game plan, but most coaches and athletic directors prefer to rundown to their local bakery and pick up three or four creampuffs and cupcakes each fall.
Feasting on duds helps teams get bowl eligible — something Mississippi State AD Scott Stricklin has alluded to — and it brings in an extra home game’s worth of ticket sales, concession sales, and parking fees, each year.
The SEC will go to a nine-game schedule when the new playoff selection panel starts “spreading the wealth” and inviting teams from other conferences to take part in football’s new final four. Once an SEC team or two gets buggered by the new system, then the league will make the switch.
Currently, league officials will tell you that teams competing for national titles will schedule a big-time ninth foe anyway. But if a team comes from way off the radar — like Auburn in 2010 — it may not have a prime nonconference foe on its schedule.
Example: What if Mississippi State went 11-1 this year and lost only to Alabama in overtime. In a selection panel world, do you think the Bulldogs would get in the playoffs with a nonconference schedule featuring Troy, Jackson State, MTSU and South Alabama? Not if they’re being compared to a team from another league that played nine or 10 BCS-level opponents.
The ACC’s new scheduling with Notre Dame won’t force the SEC to go to a nine-game schedule. Someday, the new playoff selection panel will. Wait and see.
3. Will this impact SEC recruiting at all?
Of course it will. While Alabama, LSU and Florida won’t be frightened of the Irish swooping in and stealing all the talent down South, it’s still one more coaching staff and one more top name school to recruit against.
Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and now Missouri are all targeting the Peach State for recruits. Now you can toss Notre Dame into that mix as the Irish will be playing Georgia Tech in Atlanta every few years. You may scoff now, but as soon as some four-star lineman from Marietta picks the Irish over your favorite school, things won’t be so funny. All it’ll take is one guy to be nabbed from your hometown program and suddenly the Irish opening doors into the Southeast will be a bad thing.
Will they own the South? Of course not. But every kid from Florida or Georgia or South Carolina that Notre Dame signs is one less for an SEC school to ink.
4. Notre Dame stinks… so what?
Boy, we’ve gotten a million different variations of this one. Unfortunately, that shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the business of sports.
Notre Dame hasn’t won a national championship since the 1980s. The Irish haven’t been a BCS staple, either. Once they raised their academic standards — after that last title in ’88 — they’ve basically been a mediocre football program.
Yet they’ve still had the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, and Big XII fighting to land them. NBC still gives them their own television contract because the Irish still pull huge ratings. They’ve still held their own special seat at the BCS table since its inception.
The Notre Dame brand is still the Notre Dame brand.
Let me give you an example of what I mean by that. The Boston Celtics have long been one of the top two names in professional basketball (along with the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers). But the Celtics stunk for a whole lot of years post-Larry Bird. You couldn’t find them on television anywhere. Fans disappeared. But then Danny Ainge added Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo to Paul Pierce and suddenly the Celtics became a big TV draw again. They started winning. Everyone broke out their green caps and T-shirts.
Now, Notre Dame hasn’t been nearly as bad as the 1990s and early-2000s versions of the Celtics were. And the Irish have never disappeared from the national sports scene like the Celtics did, either. At some point, they’ll win again — the top programs in the country always rise and fall and rise again. When they do win again, look out. If you’re tired of hearing about a fair-to-midland Notre Dame just let ‘em get good and see how many Irish fans climb out from under their pots o’ gold.
5. Is there any chance of Vanderbilt or Kentucky leaving for the ACC?
I was surprised to get questions like these, but in short — no and no. Neither school is great in football, but both are competitive in just about every other athletic endeavor.
While a few fans might like to jettison them from the SEC every autumn, the Wildcats are the name program in college basketball. Kentucky is also a founding member of the Southeastern Conference and most UK backers would probably agree that it’s best to reign in the SEC than battle in the deeper, hoops-crazy ACC. The Cats aren’t leaving.
Neither is Vanderbilt. The SEC wouldn’t want Vanderbilt to leave. Think like a university president for a minute. Would you want the best academic institution in your conference to depart? No. Now think like a football coach. Would you want to trade a game with Vanderbilt for one against some bigger name program with a better history of success? Again, no.
For those who are hoping for such things — and I just can’t understand that way of thinking — the ACC won’t steal Kentucky from the SEC and the SEC won’t try to trade Vandy to the ACC. No way.