As another domino has fallen in the midst of conference realignment, the Virginia Cavaliers’ future in the ACC and in the NCAA appears under serious threat. Specifically, last week, the Big Ten officially announced that it would be adding USC and UCLA, starting in 2024. This was seen as a counter move to the SEC adding Texas and Oklahoma the previous offseason.
More importantly, it sets the stage for these two conferences to seize control of college athletics as it is known.
Just got off the phone with someone who believes this eventually leads to two megaconferences — the Big Ten and SEC — with 20 or more members apiece.— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) June 30, 2022
Room For Three?
There is nothing but uncertainty regarding the long-term future of college athletics and conference affiliation. Will the SEC and Big Ten monopolize the current power five? What happens to the institutions that do not find their way into this “big two?”
It is important to note that there are 65 Power Five schools. Even considering the handful of schools at this level that do not contribute much to their conference financially, there are some Group of Five schools that are significant moneymakers. So as the SEC and Big Ten inevitably continue to expand, there are going to be some reputable schools left over.
Keep in mind that if a third mega-conference emerges, it would not be nearly at the same caliber as the big two. It would presumably set up a three tier system of FBS football, as opposed to the two tier system right now:
- Tier 1: SEC, Big Ten
- Tier 2: Leftover P5 and high level G5 schools
- Tier 3: The rest of the current G5 institutions
But at the very least, there is potentially a place for the schools that get left out of the expansion process to go, rather than a large pool of independent schools.
Understanding the ACC As It Stands
As a result of the SEC and Big Ten’s acquisitions, the Big 12 and Pac-12 have been getting weaker. On the other hand, the ACC has stayed put during this time, likely for one primary reason: the Grant of Rights.
The ACC’s lasts until 2036, while it will have expired in the Big 12 and Pac-12 by the time the pending transactions are made. As of now, the Grant of Rights makes it finically unfeasible for any school to leave the conference. However, this will not be the case several years in the future as the opportunities elsewhere continue to become more enticing.
Navigate projects the financial future of the current Power Five over the next seven years:
The ACC has slightly more leeway than the Pac-12 and Big 12. However, they must make their own countermove quickly.
Where Does Virginia Stand?
This new projected model for college athletics endangers a majority of FBS schools and UVA is included in that mix. They are currently relatively successful and certainly stable in the ACC. Yes, there is an opportunity for Virginia to be included in the new mix but it is not guaranteed.
On one hand, UVA is a large, prestigious public school with a vastly successful men’s basketball program and a well-rounded athletics department. On the other hand, football is the driving force. UVA is reputable in this respect but they also would not be one of the first choices of these mega conferences.
If Virginia’s destiny is anywhere in their control, several factors will be involved. How many current ACC schools seriously consider leaving? Can the ACC decide to focus on improving their men’s basketball prestige while remaining just relevant in football? These will uncover themselves in the coming years.