Originally posted on Crystal Ball Run  |  Last updated 1/22/12


It's coming one way or another, so why wait? We may only be a couple weeks removed from the end of the college football season, but the conference realignment talk is already starting to heat up with a doozy of a scenario.

According to West Virginia blog Eer Insider, a number of dissatisfied ACC schools have had discussions with the Big 12, a league that has already seen its share of raiding and being raided, about switching allegiances.

You should definitely read through the EI report to get a full picture of the supposed motivations behind the talks, but in sum:

The ACC's football-first schools are beefing with the basketball bluebloods over the direction of the conference. Additionally – and stop me if you've heard this one before – Notre Dame may be looking for a new home. With the Big 12 approaching a new television contract in the near future, the infamously unstable conference suddenly looks more appealing to outsiders, even those from a power conference like the ACC.

Does this sound plausible? Some parts more than others, as with all realignment chatter. At this point, I think we've all learned to take such reports with enough salt grains to choke a donkey. That said, who foresaw Missouri joining the SEC at this time a year ago?

A few observations:

*Yet again, ND surfaces as a key target in expansion. We've all seen this movie before, and it typically ends with a whole lot of foreplay and no consumation. What would be different this time around for the Fightin' Irish?

Well, for one, ND will likely need a new conference home for its basketball and Olympic sports sooner than later.

But what about the white whale, Irish football?

ND clearly values its independence for a number of reasons. The Irish like being thought of as a special, unique brand. Also, independence gives ND ample flexibility when it comes to scheduling, and therein lies a potential problem.

For years, ND has relied on the Big Ten and Pac-10/12 to stock its schedule. The Irish typically draw five or six of their 12 games every season from the two conferences. Going forward, though, the new Big Ten-Pac-12 scheduling alliance could make that more difficult.

Likewise, as conferences expand, will big-time schools from other power be as willing to schedule the Irish? Presumably, it would drive the price of scheduling agreements up for ND at the very least.

Also, keep in mind that NBC/Comcast may be angling for the Big 12's TV contract, which would diminish the value of its exclusive deal with ND for football.

The bottom line for the Irish is that as the Pac-12's head honcho, Larry Scott, noted in a recent profile in Bloomberg Business Week, the future of college sports lies in consolidation. While independence has treated ND football very well, its viability as a business model is declining by the day.

*Should we buy into the idea that a faction of ACC schools that have grown unhappy with the league's apparent emphasis on hoops? I honestly have no idea and would love to hear from more informed fans on the subject.

If so, this could create a tectonic shift in the landscape. Losing five schools to the Big 12, could be a death knell for the ACC. Even three abandoning ship would raise questions about the conference's long-term stability.

*From a dollars-and-cents standpoint, imagine the price a 16-team conference could fetch with markets like Dallas, Houston Florida, Atlanta and the Washington-Baltimore region, not to mention marquee football brands like Texas, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Florida State.

Logistically, travel could prove challenging, although four-team pods (e.g., Notre Dame, WVU, Maryland and Pitt) could lessen that burden and help retain some legacy rivalries.

*Lastly, the note in the EI report about Oliver Luck possibly taking over as conference commish is intriguing. Luck has a a reputation as a savvy administrator with an astute understanding of the business of college sports.

On the other hand, if you've paid attention to the in-fighting in the Big 12, a cozy relationship with Texas and DeLoss Dodds' stamp of approval might not be a huge selling point for Luck in the eyes of the rest of the league.

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