Yesterday, the Missouri Board of Curators decided unanimously to talk to the SEC about joining their conference. That's not exactly what they said. They couched their words like one does in this situation, but that was the gist of it. This came a day after Missouri agreed to give the Big 12 a try. Apparently, the university immediately had buyer's remorse and realized that at this time a Big 12 with Texas and Oklahoma is not a conference that has a long life. Those who follow Missouri closely also feel that they would not put themselves out like this, at this time, if they seriously weren't considering going to the SEC.
It's obviously best competitively and geographically for Missouri to stay with a strong Big 12, but there is no such thing anymore. Not since Texas started a money grab known as the Longhorn Network. The rest of the Big 12 saw the network as an unfair advantage, rightfully so, and immediately wasn't happy. So much so that Texas's supposed close partner, Texas A&M, bolted the more stable, and profitable, SEC.
Oklahoma, never wanting to be considered second fiddle to Texas, immediately tried to bolt, too. The problem is, Oklahoma, without Texas, does not bring a lot of TV sets, and Texas was not going to give up their network to join the Pac 12. The Pac 12 didn't see enough money in an Oklahoma and Oklahoma State addition so suddenly the Big 12 was filled with half of their schools not really wanting to be there anymore. And you wonder why Missouri wants out?
From the SEC standpoint, the new TV deal for the Pac 12, which is more profitable than the SEC deal, certainly sticks in their crawl. But they had to be certain that if they added any schools, they had to be schools that added to the TV contract, first and foremost. That's why Texas A&M and Missouri makes more sense to the SEC than Oklahoma, West Virginia, Louisville, and even Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Clemson.
Obviously, Texas would have been the first choice for the SEC but the Longhorn Network once again raised it's ugly head. No way would football powers like Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Florida want to give a power like Texas an added advantage in their league. That leaves the second biggest brand in Texas, Texas A&M. With Missouri added, the SEC would suddenly add 11 million new TV sets, and that soon to be revisited SEC television contract will skyrocket the new Pac 12 deal.
If Missouri is added, will the SEC continue to add to get to sixteen? That seems highly unlikely. Many people, mostly in the SEC, talk of schools like Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Florida State joining the SEC, but adding two of those to get to sixteen makes no sense. Neither does West Virginia. Adding Blacksburg, Clemson, Tallahassee, or Morgantown is not going to help the SEC in it's television negotiations. It's the same reason why the Big 10 (+2) has no interest in Pittsburgh. It would only cut the pie into more pieces, not make the pie itself bigger. The goal for these conferences is to grab as much money as they can, not just add teams for competitive reasons. There's no doubt than any of those schools would make the great SEC football conference even more entertaining, but if the money's not there, then the money's not there.
So, assuming the SEC adds Missouri, and stays at fourteen teams, two very good assumptions at this point, that means the battered Big 12 will be down to eight schools and will be looking for more to add. Brigham Young is obviously the first choice, but they have their own network, too, and may feel they are better off remaining a football independent instead of joining the flailing Big 12.
Unfortunately for the Big East, the next on the list for the Big 12 could come from a group of TCU, West Virginia, Louisville, and maybe even Cincinnati. It's not known whether the Big 12 will add four to get to 12, or two to get to 10, but with 12 teams needed for a championship game, that seems like the best bet, especially when a ten team league in the era of 12, 14, and maybe even 16 team conferences makes one reek of inferiority even more. In this scenario, all four of the Big East targets could go to the Big 12. At the very least, the chances are good that at least one, and very possible more, of the current Big East teams could be off to the Big 12.
That brings us, finally, to Notre Dame. A lot was made of Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick's comments about Pitt and Syracuse leaving the Big East. He was not happy about it, and was wondering why both schools would make the move. His frustration is not surprising since the move puts Notre Dame's cushy Big East situation in peril.
If Missouri leaves the Big 12, then the Big 12 raids the Big East. That leaves few behind for Notre Dame to play with. It also means that for the first time, Notre Dame has to seriously consider joining a conference other than the Big East.
For years it has seemed like a foregone conclusion that if they ever did join a conference, it would be the Big 10. But that's mostly the pomposity of the Big 10 at work. The truth is, Notre Dame has shown no desire to join that conference. Most of their alumni live on the eastern seaboard, most of the TV sets are in the northeast, and most of talent that Notre Dame covets is in the southeast. In other words, the ACC is a perfect fit for Notre Dame, not the Big 10, and there has been more than one person with inside knowledge who has said as much. Plus, in the ACC, Notre Dame, despite it's mediocrity in recent years, becomes by far the biggest football brand in the league. In the Big 10, they would have to compete with the other high profile brands of Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State.
If Notre Dame does not join the ACC, UConn and Rutgers very well could. And this is on top of one or more of West Virginia, Louisville, TCU, and Cincinnati bolting to the Big 12. The Big East would suddenly not be the Big East, or even the Big Least, anymore. It would be the Big East Doesn't Exist Anymore.
Many can't even imagine that Notre Dame would join a conference and give up their NBC money, but while Notre Dame could play in a football conference of one, the rest of their sports need conference affiliation. Yes, the school has other competitive sports programs, but only the football program has the magical brand. And it's the non-football programs that need a conference. That becomes a major problem when the Big East is a shadow of it's former self.
One school that could make Notre Dame's admission a smooth, painless transition would be Penn State. No, I don't think Penn State will leave the Big 10 (+2) for the ACC, but they'd be crazy if they weren't seriously considering it. Penn State alone would probably never make the move alone, thinking it's better the Devil you know, than the Devil you don't know. But with Notre Dame, that could change everything. Notre Dame is easily the No. 1 football brand in the country. Penn State can make a case for being No. 2. At the very least, they are in the top 5.
Notre Dame and Penn State may not even hurt themselves financially with such a move. Notre Dame has NBC money and Penn State has Big Ten money, both of which currently makes each respective school more money than anybody in the ACC. But Notre Dame in the ACC would be a cash cow. Adding Penn State would turn it into a cash herd. Imagine a conference ranging from Miami to Boston, with the southern talent and northeast TV, and two of the biggest brands in college football, Notre Dame and Penn State. The TV contract would break all records.
On the field, how great would it be to have Pitt, Penn State, Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Boston College together in a football conference? Both Notre Dame and Penn State would be ecstatic with that setup, especially since both recruit more in the southeast than in the midwest, and both have more alumni along the eastern seaboard than in the midwest.
If Notre Dame and Penn State were smart they would be talking about such a plan. The fact that the ACC stopped at adding Pitt and Syracuse means they have some idea that at least Notre Dame could be a possibility.
If Penn State doesn't make such a bold move, Notre Dame still will need a place to go, and the ACC is their best option. Rutgers or UConn seem to be the next best option, but that's quite a drop off. The buzz is that UConn would get the call over Rutgers, but Notre Dame may prefer Rutgers because of their location. As somebody who lived a year and a half in northern New Jersey, and five years in Manhattan, I can tell you that there aren't a lot of Rutgers fans around, but there are a ton of Notre Dame fans in both areas.
However you look at it, Pitt made the right move. Yes, the Big East basketball conference was legendary, and it was a joy to be involved, but it's just too unwieldy beyond basketball. And the more unwieldy it gets, the more they scramble and talk of adding the likes of SMU and Central Florida, the more the likelihood that the ACC will get even stronger. And there's even a chance for that perfect storm.