Will Conference Expansion Hit The Hub?

The first moves have been made in conference expansion. Colorado is off to join the Pac-10. Nebraska to the Big Ten, while up to five other Big 12 programs may be set to join Colorado out west. Will expansion fever eventually impact Boston College and the ACC?

The first shots have been fired in the Expansion-palooza of 2010. Colorado is off to join the Pac-Something. The Nebraska Cornhuskers have traded in long standing rivalries with Oklahoma, Missouri and Colorado to chase the almighty dollar in the Big Ten. Four or five other Big 12 programs, led by Texas, seem poised to leave a crumbling conference to join Colorado out west. Heck, even Boise State has gotten in on the action, leaving a conference they have dominated to bolster the Mountain West’s chances of receiving a future BCS auto-bid.

These are indeed strange times in the world of college athletics. This first salvo of expansion moves out west has plenty of conference commissioners, university presidents and athletic directors on edge. In the game of high-stakes conference musical chairs, no one wants to be left without a chair.

While this game of musical chairs has only started in the Midwest, could programs back east -- specifically Boston College and the ACC -- start to feel the effects of the rewriting of the college football landscape?

Here’s a look at what the expansion moves made so far mean to both Boston College and the ACC.

The Atlantic Coast Conference is on much more solid ground in the expansion arms race, thanks in no small part to its recently announced TV rights deal with ESPN. The conference will receive $1.86 billion over 12 years from ESPN for the rights to broadcast all ACC football and basketball games. When the contract is signed, this figure guarantees each of the 12 ACC schools an annual payout a little under $12 million a year.

While the 12 ACC programs are now on much stronger financial grounds, that doesn’t mean that ACC programs haven’t been at the center of a few conference expansion rumors. This is largely thanks to the demise of the Big 12 conference and the possibility of the Pac-10 and SEC picking up the pieces.

Whether the SEC starts to eye one or more ACC programs to expand to 14 or 16 teams largely depends on what Texas decides. The Texas Board of Regents will meet on Tuesday to decide whether they will stay committed to making a 10-team Big 12 work or accept an invitation to play in the Pac-10. If Texas decides to make it work in the Big 12, the most likely scenario is that the 10 remaining teams stay in the Big 12 and the SEC and ACC forgo any expansion plans for the time being.

If Texas decides to bolt to the Pac-10, they will likely take Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and either Texas A&M or Kansas with them to make their new conference a 16-team league. Texas A&M, however, is also eying the SEC, and has what ESPN’s Joe Schad reports is a 30 percent chance of landing among the likes of Florida and Georgia. This is where things start to get interesting for the ACC.

If Texas A&M decides to part ways with Texas and the Big 12 teams moving to the Pac-10, that would bring the total number of SEC teams to an uneven 13. With the Pac-10 possibly scooping up most of the Big 12 South, the SEC would (at least temporarily) be left with 13 teams and could very well turn their gaze towards one of the ACC’s 12 members.

Officials from several ACC programs have already come out with strong statements of support for remaining in their conference, including Virginia Tech, Virginia and Miami. Other programs, including Florida State and Clemson, remain silent on the issue and should be considered strong flight risks if A&M moves to the SEC and the conference looks to round up the total number of league members to 14.

The threat of an ACC program being poached is coming not only from the south, but also the north. Up to four ACC schools have been rumored to be targets of the Big Ten’s expansion plans, most recently Maryland and Georgia Tech.

If the Big Ten thinks it can’t reel in Notre Dame by poaching up to three Big East schools, it may turn its gaze south and take a good look at Maryland and Georgia Tech. Both schools are AAU members and boast strong academics, provide the BTN with a new, highly populated TV market and give the conference inroads into the southern half of the U.S.

As of now, however, the ACC seems to be on relatively sound ground. All eyes will certainly be on Texas (and Texas A&M) this week as they decide what conference to be affiliated with going forward. If A&M splits off from Texas and courts the SEC, the SEC may start to take a good, hard look at one or three ACC programs.

Of course, with the conference expansion rumor mill swirling, everything I’ve said will likely change within the week. So stay tuned.

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