If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
That’s the thought that’s surely crossed every embittered college football fan’s mind over the past few days – or years, give or take – as they’ve watched the NCAA’s traditional structure and Power Five alignment begin to break down. It should tell you a lot that UCLA and USC’s ridiculous June 30th decision to bolt for the Big 10 is still holding the attention of even the most sugar-crazed, attention-deficit riddled circles of social media. Like it or not, a new West Coast flavor is what’s coming to the conference.
Last summer, we wrote about how the ACC might be interested in welcoming refugees from the staggered Big 12, which had just learned of Oklahoma and Texas’ intention to move on to the SEC. Now, another pillar of the Power Five is collapsing, and there are even more teams trying to snag hold of Big 10 and SEC life preservers before they’re doomed to irrelevance or awkward fits in conferences that resent them.
The consequence of college football now resting in a throttling chokehold of ESPN and FOX’s monetary ‘forever war’ is this: no conference has steady footing any longer. The SEC and Big 10 are almost certain to keep growing, and that means grabbing better programs from existing conferences to add into the mix. The Pac-12 has just about been euthanized, and the ACC and Big 12 now sit on quicksand. Is Clemson going to be content for much longer with wiping the floor with the ACC, or will the Tigers up the ante and head off to the SEC? Would former Big East outfits in Miami, Pitt, or Virginia Tech decide to jump ship and further weaken the conference?
These are all things for Syracuse Athletic Director John Wildhack and his programs to think about. SU football isn’t the dynamic program it once was, but it needs to avoid the fate of teams like UConn, whose quality of play and stability have steadily declined since an ill-advised trip to the American Conference. The alarmist vision is that if ‘Cuse chooses wrong and budgets begin to tighten with less conference money to go around, things could easily get worse and do so quickly. If you’re a fan of square peg and round hole fits, you can do enough gymnastics to get enthusiastic about a Big 10-bound SU team rekindling geographic rivalries with Rutgers and Penn State and using Big 10 money to jumpstart recruiting efforts in nearby pipeline states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.
However, it’ll be difficult for plenty of ACC squads to actually flee the conference. As of last year, the financial penalty for jumping ship includes a $52 million ‘exit fee’ and hundreds of millions more in forfeited television revenue thanks to the ACC’s “Grant of Rights” agreement that extends through 2036. Not even the likes of Clemson can look at that and decide in good conscience to take that type of blow – for now.
Syracuse would not be a natural fit in the Big 10, but it’s obvious that doesn’t matter anymore. If you regard NCAA athletics as a zero-sum game with only a program’s success in mind, it’s a potential move that makes sense . If Rutgers could do it and if the Orange could already stomach a flip to the ACC that’s produced a whole lot of listless “rivalries”, they should have at it if financial penalties eventually soften. Such a move may be what makes the difference between a bleak or promising future of the football program and perhaps others as well.