For the first time in the past decade’s realignment carousel, commissioner John Swofford and the ACC will be making a reactionary move. After Maryland‘s defection over to the Big Ten today, the ACC is faced with replacing one of its founding members, while catering to the differing needs of the conference as a whole, and both new and old members of the league.
If the only goal is to simply replace Maryland with another school, then the clear-cut choice would be Connecticut. Providing another team in the general northeast area, the Huskies already have rivalries with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, plus an easy new one with regional foe Boston College. But there’s so much more to consider as realignment takes a turn. Up until this point the number-one rule of realignment was John Swofford always wins. Now that this has been proven patently false, the league must quickly adjust, not only to add replace the Terps, but to keep the rest of its members in place as well. And that’s no easy task, considering the league’s pipeline for new members has virtually dwindled to four.
According to CBS Sports, the ACC is having conversations about adding a replacement school already, and plan to act quickly. The candidates should not surprise anyone: Connecticut, Louisville, USF and Cincinnati, with the former two being the frontrunners. For UConn, the draws are an easy cultural and academic fit, well-rounded athletics outside of football and a close proximity to ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. campus. Louisville, while lagging behind on the academic front, has made a huge investment in athletics over the past 10 years and has strong football and basketball brands. The Louisville area also appears to be a growing market, and could potentially be an assist when it comes to television negotiations.
And what of the Bearcats and Bulls? Right now, the ACC only needs to replace one team, but what if that number suddenly grows to four or six? (terrifying, by the way) If so, those teams become the ACC’s only options — though neither is a slouch, either. Cincinnati’s football program has developed into a consistent success and already has rivalries in place with Pitt, UConn and Louisville (should the latter two already be added). USF, while struggling this season, managed to build a successful program from scratch in a decade, and has ties to the former Big East schools, as well as Miami and Florida State. You also can’t go wrong with another school in the football recruiting hotbed of Florida. For South Florida and Cincy, the bigger drawback is academics, but again, if forced to replace more members, I think that consideration can be waived.
So while these options could present easy replacements for the ACC, just one (Louisville) really accomplishes the other big goal of their next addition: keeping the “football” schools happy. Mirroring some of the issues the Big East has experienced for years, the ACC’s basketball stature is such that it can take precedence in the minds conference leadership. But since football still drives the freight, it must be the property that takes center stage. So while UConn seems like a great fit that solidifies the ACC as the best basketball conference under the sun, it does nothing for football. It also does nothing for Notre Dame, Florida State and Clemson, who have other, very real options out there for them. Louisville, while by no means a world-beater, has the football and basketball pedigree required to placate all involved parties, even if they fall short on academics. By adding Louisville, the ACC tells its members it’s serious about being a major football conference, while signaling to the Big 12 they’re running out of expansion options themselves. Of course, things can always change, but for now, adding Louisville functions as both a preventative and growth-related measure. UConn will always be there, so why force the scenario where the ACC would actually NEED them more than they need the ACC?
So what do you think? Connecticut or Louisville? Do either keep the ACC together as-is, or is Maryland’s move just the tip of the iceberg?