The latest round of conference realignment has put the entire world of college athletics on notice. The Pac-12 is down to four teams, the Big Ten and Big 12 are gaining teams left and right, while the SEC is waiting in the wings. Even more relevant to Syracuse, Florida State has one foot in, one foot out of the ACC. FSU’s president even said “staying in the ACC under the current situation is hard for us to figure out.”
While the current Grant of Rights is holding the conference together, things can change in the blink of an eye, like they already have. So what are SU’s options if the ACC starts to crumble?
Other conferences have lost several teams at once, yet still rebounded back to full strength. The Big 12 lost four teams, dropping its membership to just eight teams, back in the early 2010s. However, the conference is now bigger and stronger than ever. This could happen with the ACC if it lost several teams.
The ACC wouldn’t even need to necessarily add teams if Florida State, along with just a few other football powerhouses like Clemson, left the conference. There are 15 full-member schools in the ACC, and 14 for football. As long as the conference stays at 10 or more teams, then it can still be a viable power conference and wait to formulate to add more teams longer term.
If more than five teams leave, then it becomes necessary to add replacements. However, there are several solid options for that. The ACC could look at non-power schools like Memphis and USF. Another option is looking at teams who might not love how competitive the Big Ten is getting, like Maryland and Rutgers. There are even reports that the ACC considered adding some of the remaining Pac-12 teams.
As long as the ACC doesn’t completely resolve, staying in the conference is a moderately safe decision for Syracuse. There’s competitive football, a must in the modern era. More importantly, the ACC has a broadcasting agreement with ESPN for the next decade. Even if that deal is tweaked a bit, having a path towards a lucrative TV contract is vital.
The Big Ten is plenty crowded, with a field of 18 teams set for 2024. However, if consolidation continues, it wouldn’t be surprising to see three superpower conferences of 20+ teams. Between the SEC, Big 12, and Big Ten, the latter seems to be the best fit for Syracuse.
The Big Ten has been trying to expand its television market into the northeast for over a decade. Rutgers and Maryland joined the conference in 2014, while Penn State joined the Big Ten back in the 1990s. Syracuse would continue to grow the market for Big Ten football in the region, so if the conference wants to get up to 20 teams, maybe SU could be a target for them.
The move would make sense for Syracuse too. The Big Ten boasts lots of depth in basketball, so SU wouldn’t be sacrificing its most popular sport. The conference also offers lacrosse and features the rival Johns Hopkins team in that sport. However, money is the biggest factor, and the Big Ten is a top-two conference in the nation in terms of its broadcasting deal.
Moving to the Big Ten would be great financially and competitively for Syracuse. The only question is whether or not the conference would want SU.
Don’t kid yourself. Rejoining the Big East would be a disaster for Syracuse.
Before getting into the financial ramifications, it’s important to remember that nothing will ever bring back the old Big East. The conference now features schools like Butler, Xavier, and Creighton. These schools often have great teams, but if nostalgia is what SU fans are after, the current Big East makeup doesn’t provide it. Besides, many of the biggest Syracuse rivals are shells of their former selves. Georgetown hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2014. The Big East SU would be returning to is completely unrecognizable. If Syracuse is going to go back, it should be for a better reason than missing the good ol’ days.
Even more importantly, the Big East doesn’t play football. That means conference payouts are much lower due to a lack of football broadcasting. To replace that, Syracuse would likely have to be independent, which provides broadcasting and scheduling questions. That has proven to only be a viable option for Notre Dame. Former independents like BYU and Liberty have joined conferences recently for stable schedules and payouts. An independent SU football team would have to structure its own broadcasting contracts and try to get power conference schools to play them.
Because of all the logistic and financial issues, joining the Big East should be the last option Syracuse considers.
What’s the best option?
All three of these paths forward have plenty of issues. Because of that, the best option is to not have to make a choice in the first place. Do whatever it takes to keep the current ACC together, even if it means agreeing to give unbalanced payouts to the member schools like Florida State wants. If Syracuse can help the ACC keep all 15 of its teams, then that is far better than any alternative.