In Conference Realignment, Imitation Is The Sincerest Sign Of Failure

Andy Lyons

We've seen this movie before. Some characters are new, some names have been changed, but the plot line -- it's all too familiar.

You can't always get what you want.

Sometimes when you don't get what you want you try to fill that hole with anything else, doing you more harm than good. The Big East has gluttonously scarfed down schools for years trying to fill its void -- ultimately leading to its certain death. Now, we're watching the ACC do the same thing.

And if you think about it, there is an eerie connection between the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference. For years on my radio show I bashed the Big East and said Syracuse would be out of the league in five years. That was well before conference realignment became a "thing" and well before any rumors of the ACC.

I based my opinion that SU was as good as gone on the real rift between football and basketball-only schools in the Big East. A divide that only grew wider after the ACC's big raid in 2003. So, given that and the fact that SU even tried jumping on the ACC bus out of town in '03, I figured SU would have a new conference home sooner than later.

I was wrong in that I hoped Syracuse would end up in the Big Ten. Still, after this musical chairs realignment, I was just glad SU was getting out of dodge. But as July and Syracuse's official entry into the ACC draws nearer, I'm getting cold feet. I'm talking "Having To Use Your Hands To Clear Snow Off Your Car Because You Forgot Your Gloves and It Snowed Like a Foot While You Were At Work" cold.

There isn't another option, no lifeline waiting. It's the ACC or nothing right now for Syracuse. Which is better than the position Connecticut is in, but still, I'm not confident in the future of the conference because the recent past has been pretty bad.

I mean, looking back, the ACC didn't exactly win big with its gamble on Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College. And it didn't exactly invite SU and Pitt to join because things were going so well it wanted others to share the wealth. Plus, just a week ago Maryland -- of all schools -- bolted.

The Big East's biggest problem wasn't that the ACC wanted to steal some of its programs in '03, it was that schools wanted to be taken. That spring and summer nearly a decade ago, while John Swofford courted the Hurricanes and Hokies and Orange (and Eagles, I guess), then Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese had to have known things were bad. His teams were openly cheating on him, practically falling over themselves to move on and move out.

The ACC just watched Maryland do the same thing. And Its dealing with rumors that Florida State and Clemson want out. And Its patching holes with schools the other "power conferences" don't want (no offense Louisville). In essence, the ACC is going through exactly what the Big East went through and continues to go through.

It's a little like a deadly disease that has no cure, once you have it, it's curtains. You're done. It could take days, weeks, months, or even years, but eventually, the disease will win. The Big East contracted one years ago and now is losing the battle. We may not have known it before, but it's obvious now that the ACC is up against that same disease -

Conference Inferior-osis.

And you know who signed the Big East's death warrant and may is doing the same for the ACC? Notre Dame. The second the presidents, athletic directors, and Swofford allowed the Fighting Irish to join their league in every sport but football the Atlantic Coast Conference as we knew it was dead. Sure, Notre Dame will play five ACC schools a year in football, but its still independent, still NBC, still its own conference. The Big East took hell for allowing one school, even one with as much history as Notre Dame, to run roughshod over it. Suddenly the ACC was pushing the Big East out of the way to happily take a paddling to the backside.

And it's not just that perception that kills. Notre Dame will never join a conference, but the fact it is free to join whenever it wants makes the school Moby Dick to every conference commissioner's Captain Ahab. "Sure Notre Dame is not walking through that door, but imagine if it did?!" When the ACC said yes to every other sport but football, the charter members, Maryland for sure, knew that White Whale was never coming. ND could still go Big 12 or Big 10, but that option for the ACC is gone because Notre Dame is better than the ACC.

So now the question I keep asking myself is: Will the Syracuse Orange be in whatever the hell the ACC looks like in five years?

I'm not nearly as confident about that as I was that SU would be out of the Big East. There are a lot of underlying problems for the ACC. Maryland left because the Big 10 called, that's a sign of trouble -- just ask Tranghese. Sure Maryland athletics needs money and the Big 10 can easily provide that, but in the end the Big 10, the Pac-12, the SEC, and even the Big 12 are simply in better positions than the ACC. If they call, FSU, Clemson, or any other "ACC" school will listen and will probably jump ship.

There is some hope that the Big 12 could still fall, or that the Pac-12 already oversold itself, or that the ACC could snag a big name. You can hold on to that hope, but I don't see that happening. I see the Pac-12 probably staying put, at least for now. The Big 10 and the SEC don't even need to worry about making a move as they both practically print money. It's that Big 12 with ten teams ACC fans should worry about. It has survived losing Nebraska and Colorado and now it could be an ideal home for a Florida State, Miami, Clemson, Georgia Tech, etc. Ten teams will eventually go to 12.

And when it does, or if any other power conference does make another move, the ACC will go from in danger to on life-support very quickly. There are schools to swipe up, schools that evidently want to be taken. And that will put Syracuse back in the same boat its been in for the last couple of years - playing in the new ACC but still running from the old problems of the Big East.

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