With changes to the other four power conferences being announced in the past two summers, including what appears to be the death of the PAC-12, Boston College has to ensure that the ACC survives for both its competitive and financial health in terms of athletics.
While the Eagles may have an outside chance at receiving a spot in a bloated BIG 10, if the conference decides that the Boston media market and BC’s hockey program are worth a slot, it's not something they can count on.
Two threatened conferences, two different routes:
We’ve seen two conferences have their existence threatened in the past few off-seasons and they’ve responded in completely different ways.
This off-season, the death of the PAC-12 was all but confirmed, with the departure of eight of the 12 teams. Last summer it was announced that USC and UCLA would be BIG 10 bound ahead of the 2024 season but the conference did nothing to backfill. They were paralyzed by broadcast right negotiations and the threat of other departing teams leading to Colorado starting the mass exodus to the BIG 12, with Oregon and Washington being the final nail in the coffin when it was announced they were also headed to the BIG 10. Ultimately the promise of more security and certainty was enough to break up a century-old conference.
However, it wasn’t always the PAC 12 that looked to be dead in the water, 12 months ago we assumed the BIG 12, reeling from the loss of its marquee brands in Texas and Oklahoma, would be the conference wiped off the map. Instead, they responded by adding four schools in BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF. All four schools have a deep fan base with a big market (or in BYU’s case a religious backing) and have had a high level of success in the past few years, most notably being UCF -- winning 25 straight games between 2017 and 2018 (including a claimed National Title) and Cincinnati making last season's CFP. They’ll continue to strengthen with the addition of the four corner schools from the PAC; Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Arizona State. They appear set to be one of the nation's premier basketball conferences and in strong contention to be the third-best college football conference.
If the ACC wants to survive in any recognizable form, they’ll have to take lessons from both of these, not repeating the mistakes of the PAC 12 and copying the BIG 12’s blueprint of expansion. To best illustrate this, we need to look at what the ACC could look like a decade from now if they follow each conference's path.
First for reference; the current ACC teams:
Current ACC Teams
Virginia Virginia Tech
Notre Dame is a member in all sports except football; it plays five teams in the ACC annually and is ineligible for the ACC Championship.
Scenario One (PAC 12): ACC Collapses without additions
Result for BC: Big East 2.0
*Providence/UMass (Providence for all sports, except football. UMass only football)
In this scenario, the ACC sees the SEC (Clemson, FSU), BIG 10 (Notre Dame, Virginia, Miami (FL)), and BIG 12 (Duke, UNC, Louisville, Virginia Tech) gut the conference of almost all the financially lucrative programs in football and basketball.
With nine teams voting to dissolve, the ACC ceases to exist as its ESPN contract, Grant of Rights, and other agreements (autonomous status, Orange Bowl and other tie-ins). This also likely allows teams to leave for free as there’s no conference left to pay a buyout to, resulting in the six that could not find landing spots being out hundreds of millions of dollars.
The remaining six rebuild by rebuilding the conference into a more regional one, adding eight teams from across the northeast. The crown jewels of expansion end up being the two service academies and UConn’s basketball program. The end result is a football conference that is significantly weakened, replacing some of the best programs in the country with the bottom of the FBS and questionable FCS programs. Holy Cross was one of the best teams last year but they lack the consistency of the Dakota schools or the teams from the southeast who have recently made the jump.
The basketball part of the conference takes a step back with the loss of UNC, Duke, and Virginia but at least brings in some quality programs. UConn has five national tournaments and in terms of programs is just one step below those blue bloods. Villanova has been one of the top programs of the twenty-first century, but it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to stay at the top with Jay Wright gone. Providence is a lesser version of Villanova in this sense, a good program who just lost one of their best ever head coaches in Ed Cooley.
Financially, the conference will likely be relegated to the status of the American and Mountain West currently, maybe slightly better. Schools in these conferences receive approximately $7 million and $4 million per year each, so it's hard to see the Big East 2.0 making any more than $10 million each.
TLDR; The rebuilt conference loses all the perks of the current ACC and is relegated to a G5 level for football, may have enough to still be a power conference in basketball. Financially the league will only make about a quarter of the current ACC in media deals.
Scenario Two (BIG 12); ACC only loses two, replaced with a quantity of solid G5 and PAC 12 schools.
Boston College Duke
Virginia Virginia Tech
By preemptively expanding, the ACC is able to limit the damage to just Clemson and FSU possibly departing for the SEC.
The ACC completed the addition of Stanford, Cal, and SMU in time for the teams to start competition in 2024. This decision keeps schools from attempting to break the Grant of Rights, especially as landing spots are uncertain and the ACC seems like just as good of, if not better, option than possibly ending up in the BIG 12. A side note that could turn into a massive turning point, the addition of Stanford could potentially swing Notre Dame’s opinion on becoming a full-time member. At the minimum, it will keep the status quo with them.
Closer to the expiration of the GOR and media contract, FSU and Clemson likely do leave but the league stays together and expands again. This time they pick up four schools. First, it's a pair of teams that fit relatively well in the established geographic footprint; Memphis, a solid football and basketball program in a major media market, and Tulane, a good academic school with a big alumni base, and another solid football program. They also pick up the remaining (former) PAC-12 teams in Washington State and Oregon State, which can help with some travel as it allows for a west coast pod with Cal and Staford.
In this scenario, the ACC has a ton of leverage over the potential new schools. Its already been reported that SMU could forgo media revenue for seven years and the two California schools will come in on partial shares. The second wave of expansion would likely see teams coming in on partial shares, potentially for a long time. It could be as extreme as five seasons at a half share and another five at a three-quarter share. All this gives the original ACC teams revenue to offset any increased travel expenses. In addition, it minimizes the gap in revenue between the remaining ACC schools and the BIG 10 and SEC in the short time.
Financially, the ACC largely maintains its payouts of approximately $40 million per year for existing schools, with short term bumps for the original ACC teams of up to an additional $10 million per year following expansion. While still behind the BIG 10 and SEC in terms of revenue and football programs, the conference is in contention to be the best basketball conference and is likely the best football conference outside of the big two conferences.
TLDR: ACC replaces Clemson and FSU with two rounds of expansion. The conference maintains its status and ends up as the third best football conference and a top three basketball conference. No change long term in financial status, potential short term bumps following expansion.