September 17, 2011
While you're enjoying the first round of college football games this afternoon, another game is afoot: Citing "high-ranking" ACC and Big East officials, both CBS and ESPN are reporting that Pittsburgh and Syracuse — already rumored to be in discussions about defecting from the Big East to the ACC — have both formally applied for ACC membership.
How likely are those applications to be accepted by the the ACC? Judging from this:
"There is no scenario where a president applies to a league and isn't admitted," a Big East official told CBSSports.com.
…I'd say pretty bloody likely. And just like that, the ACC is on the verge of moving to 14 teams, and the Big East — at least where football is concerned — of being trimmed to seven.
From there, the dominoes are lined up in multiple directions like the spokes of a wheel. The ACC is playing offense and defense at the same time: In addition to boosting the membership rolls to 14, it also voted to substantially increase the exit fee for leaving the conference to $20 million, a step clearly aimed at forcing potential SEC targets — Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech — to think twice about taking calls from the Chosen League. But if Pitt and Syracuse are in the fold, is the ACC content to sit on fourteen? Or do the Panthers and Orange represent the first step in its bid to go all the way to 16? If it's the latter, the ACC is likely already making a strong push for Texas, which should have a lot more to say about the subject on Monday.
For the Big East, this looks alarmingly like the beginning of the existential crisis it narrowly avoided last summer. In the meantime, while it's been hemming and hawing for the last year over the viability of adding the likes of Villanova or Central Florida, it's apparently had two of its flagship schools plucked from under its nose by the same conference that sparked the last existential crisis in the Big East by plucking Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College from under its nose back in 2004. There's a pattern here: The ACC gets what it wants, and the Big East settles for padding its ranks with the scraps.
In the last round, the arrival of Cincinnati, UConn, Louisville and South Florida didn't dilute the quality of the league enough to cost it its precious automatic bid or full-fledged payout from the Bowl Championship Series. This time? West Virginia, Rutgers and TCU may be picking up their phones as we speak.