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Teel Time: As A&M-SEC dance continues, what's future of Virginia Tech, ACC?

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The train carrying Texas A&M to the Southeastern Conference may have slowed Sunday, but it remains securely on the tracks and headed toward its scheduled destination.

Done deal? Conference realignment machinations never are until the contracts are signed.

But folks in these parts must continue to wonder: If the Aggies become the SEC’s 13th school, does the league consider an ACC member as No. 14?

For those who missed it Sunday, the SEC released the following statement from Florida president Bernie Mechan:

“The SEC Presidents and Chancellors met today and reaffirmed our satisfaction with the present 12 institutional alignment. We recognize, however, that future conditions may make it advantageous to expand the number of institutions in the league. We discussed criteria and process associated with expansion. No action was taken with respect to any institution including Texas A&M.”

Translation: The SEC wants to cover any possible legal exposure for being party to A&M breaking contracts with its current Big 12 colleagues. Oh, and since 13 is an awkward number, officials need time to identify a 14th school, and, longshot here, a 15th and 16th.

A&M’s Board of Regents meets late Monday afternoon, and university president R. Bowen Loftin issued his own statement Sunday:

“As we have seen over the past several days, there has been a considerable amount of misinformation regarding these discussions and any associated timelines. The chairman of our board has indicated that the regents will proceed with tomorrow's agenda item, which authorizes the president of Texas A&M to take all actions related to athletic conference alignment.”

(The board granted Loftin that authority Monday.)

Loftin added that he has accepted an invitation to appear before a committee of the Texas legislature Tuesday to discuss the Aggies’ conference future. That hearing has since been postponed with no new date announced.

Might sanity and the status quo prevail? We can only hope, but when money and politics – A&M and Texas don’t play well together – are the driving forces, sanity rarely is a concern.

There’s also this: At a political rally in Alabama on Friday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, an A&M alum, entered the room to the tune of the school’s fight song.

“How many SEC fans are here?” Perry asked, according to Kevin Scarbinsky's account in the Birmingham News. “Rumor has it you may be hearing more of that Aggie fight song.”

So again, where does that leave the ACC?

Various media have reported a “gentlemen’s agreement” among SEC members that no school from a current state represented in the conference will be added, lest the SEC give up inherent recruiting advantages.

If true, that makes good horse sense. Florida, South Carolina and Georgia can tout SEC membership when recruiting against state rivals from the ACC such as Florida State, Miami, Clemson and Georgia Tech.

Such an arrangement would also remove South Florida, Central Florida and Louisville from consideration.

Hence, many continue to identify Virginia Tech as a possible 14th. But Friday’s statement from the office of Tech president Charles Steger was adamant.

“Virginia Tech is exceedingly pleased with our membership in the ACC. It is the perfect conference for us. The university administration has no interest in any discussion concerning affiliation with any conference other than the ACC.”

Hear, hear.

So now what? Would the SEC look outside the ACC, possibly toward Oklahoma or Missouri? Or, might the SEC tread into North Carolina and target N.C. State? Given the Wolfpack’s ACC heritage, that seems far-fetched – Everett Case would haunt the school from his grave for eternity.

Besides, how would an N.C. State football program that hasn’t won an ACC football title since 1979 fare against a steady diet of Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina? Methinks we know the answer.

Swiping Maryland and, in theory, the accompanying D.C.-Baltimore television market, might appeal to the SEC and its network partners. But would the Terps jump to a league where its closest rivals (Tennessee and South Carolina) would be about 500 miles away? Difficult but not impossible to imagine.

“As I've said previously, we'll continue to be mindful of the collegiate landscape and what's best for the ACC and its member institutions,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a statement Friday. “With that said, I've received no indication from any of our 12 presidents that they have any intention of being affiliated with any conference other than the ACC.”

Swofford didn’t just issue that statement, according to sources. He canvassed the membership.

Could someone be sandbagging? Sure. In which case the ACC could continue with 11 or find a 12th. Syracuse or Rutgers? Pitt or West Virginia? South Florida or Central Florida? Louisville or East Carolina?

One would hope the ACC has dossiers on all. I hope they’re never needed.

Others disagree and believe that four 16-team “super conferences” are inevitable and preferable. Here’s why I think they are neither.

First, there’s a reason no all-sports league has ever prospered with as many members. It’s too unwieldy.

Too many schools, too many agendas, too disparate geography. Governing would be problematic at best, impossible at worst, like the proverbial herding cats.

Not to mention scheduling. With 16 teams, you'll go four, five or more years without playing some conference rivals. Absurd.

An SEC in which Alabama and Florida don't play for five years? Really? Who wins there? Certainly not fans or TV.

 

Second, if 16 is such a magic number, how and why were the major conferences as configured able to land long-term media deals with so many television networks?

The SEC in 2009 signed 15-year contracts with CBS and ESPN valued at more than $3 billion.

The ACC last year locked into a 12-year arrangement with ABC-ESPN worth nearly $2 billion.

The new Pac-12, with Colorado and Utah joining the old Pac-10, inked a 12-year agreement this year with Fox, again with a reported approximate worth of $3 billion.

Also this year, the Big 12 agreed to a 13-year secondary contract with Fox worth $90 million annually, according to the Sports Business Journal. This on top of its primary partnership with ABC/ESPN.

The Big Ten’s 10-year deal with ABC/ESPN runs through 2016, and the conference also partners with Fox to produce the Big Ten Network, all of which guarantee the league more than $200 million annually.

Moreover, with NBC turning Versus into the NBC Sports Network, the peacock is bidding on Big East rights, providing the league leverage in negotiations with partners ESPN (football and basketball) and CBS (basketball).

So spare me this idea that the ACC should be proactive and expand to 16 before others.

And certainly be gone with the argument that four mega-conferences creates the idea field for a four-team national playoff football. The champions of the current big six plus two at-larges would make for a more inclusive, compelling and lucrative playoff.

That’s enough for now from Dinosaur Central. But stay tuned. This saga figures to change by the hour.  

 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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