ACC Expansion: UConn, Notre Dame, Louisville, WVU and More

| by Sports Nickel

The ACC is expanding — and with the addition of  two of the players they rejected when they added Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami, they once again go after the top of the Big LEast.

Let me be upfront, I grew up in ACC land, and I am the rare UNC fan that will pull for Duke to win over, say, Kentucky.

That being said, and ESPN again pushing the idea of 4×16 super conferences (I’ve got thoughts on that as well for another time) I’d like to list who I would add if I was in charge of the ACC. At the conclusion of each entry, our BCS Buster guru, Zach Bigalke, will give his take on each school, and why each conference should be no more than four schools.

Bigalke: Now I wouldn’t go quite that far, David… but I have written before about how overgrown conferences can be as much of a detriment as a boon to their development and long-term health. Too few yields as many problems as too many. But apparently 16 is the new 12, so let’s humor the subject, shall we?

15th Team — UConn


The easy pick for a fifteenth team, UConn brings value in both men's and women's basketball and can hold its own in football...

UConn, to me, is a no-brainer, they want it, they fit geographically, they play decent football, they will bring more ESPN eyes and they do know a little about that sport with the little round orange thingy. The ACC does have some solid chickball teams and the Lady Huskies vs the Lady Heels/Devils is a solid matchup to show on a  slow night on ESPN8.

The only downside is the ACC final should be for a bye to the Final Four from now on.

Bigalke: From a basketball standpoint, the ACC would be hard-pressed to find a better program to admit into its league. They fit quite well into the expanded geographic footprint created with the addition of Pitt and Syracuse and the earlier expansion with Boston College.

In football terms the Huskies are a solid mid-level team. Coming off the school’s first-ever BCS appearance, the commodity has never been hotter. Since joining the Big East in 2004, they have won at least eight games in 5 of 7 seasons, including each of the past four. It might just prove that Randy Edsall literally made a move from one ACC middleweight to another… and might have downgraded depending on the future fortunes of his former program as compared to his new post in Maryland.

This really is the closest thing to a no-brainer, given the conference’s focus on returning to the preeminent basketball status that has been stolen away by the very league they’ve started to poach. And in terms of football, adding UConn is not going to hurt the bottom line.

So now who do you add to get to sixteen?

East Carolina, Georgetown, Temple


The Pirates would love to turn UNC and the rest of the Carolina schools into conference rivals... but the ACC hasn't been as receptive every time ECU has applied.

Non-starters, but have to be mentioned just to clear them out.

Bigalke: We have all watched the Pirates slobber all over themselves as they drool over the possibilities of becoming a BCS-level school. But their recent pedigree was built by a guy who is now gone (we’ll talk more about him at his new school in a bit), and East Carolina hardly improves their already expansive hold on what is the heartland of the conference.

If we’re just talking basketball, Georgetown isn’t an unreasonable selection. But the school adds nothing to the football footprint at the I-A level, and it would take years to build it from a minnow to being competitive at an ACC level.

And Temple has shown vast improvement in recent years, first under Al Golden (now at ACC school Miami) and now under former Florida coordinator Steve Addazio. This would also be a way of thumbing their nose further at the Big East, the conference that rescinded the Owls’ membership back in 2004 due to both the dwindling fan base and the competitive gap. (The school had gone 30-126 in the 14 years between its last winning season in 1990 and being booted out of the Big East after 2004.) But Temple still has just two winning seasons since 1990, and there’s no guarantee these past two seasons will yield sustained success.

In all three of these cases there is too much baggage being dragged into the conference for the benefits that would come from extending invitations to any of them. 

Rutgers & Marshall

I think had the ACC went to 12/14 before adding Pitt and the Orange, these two would make decent fits in keeping the Atlantic in the ACC. But neither school is going to be more than a Wake Forest-level addition to the conference. With John Swofford and the powers that be expanding the conference’s footprint, the window of opportunity seems to have passed by both these schools.

Bigalke: Marshall would have been a great addition… back at the turn of the century following their undefeated 1999 season. Now, they’re a rarely-competitive team that would make Wake Forest look good.

Rutgers is an interesting question. There’s no doubt the conference would love to get their footprint into the New York/New Jersey area, and the school has a definite football pedigree — if not sustained recent success. The Scarlet Knights have a better chance than the Thundering Herd… but neither, in the end, offers enough zazz to justify the invite.

That out the way…

South Carolina


Would there be any incentive for the Gamecocks to turn the Palmetto Bowl into a conference rivalry for the first time since 1971?

Had this happened before stepping up and hiring the Visor, it’s possible the ACC would bring back this charter member. It does make a little sense — the Gamecocks already have a solid rivalry with Clemson, they do pull a good bit of talent from Georgia/Florida, and you add one team from both the North and South halves of the conference.

USC is better in football than basketball, but adding a solid top 10-20 team never hurts.

My negative for them is what do they bring that I don’t already get from Clemson? Do I get more TV ratings or recruiting bases? No. If I’m spreading to Pennslvania, than South Carolina isn’t on my radar or worth fighting off the SEC trying to replace the “other” USC with Florida State.

Bigalke: The lesson from this dissertation? Rob the SEC at your own peril, for they have the resources to go Dr. Strangelove on this whole landscape…

Notre Dame


The Golden Dome is the Golden Goose of college athletics realignment, the one school that instantly brings value to any conference it would wish to join...

Don’t laugh.


ND is the golden goose of realignment, and the chances are close to nil from the view of both, but look at it this way. The Irish LOVE the East coast, they already play the Big East in everything else, and the ACC has a huge black mark on the schedule so the South Carolina/Clemson and Florida/Florida State cross-conference rivalry games come off every year at the same time. Give the Irish the same for the Trojans, Army and Navy every year,  and we are there. True, they are not on the Coast, and they will have to give up Michigan, but Pitt isn’t exactly coastal either. Notre Dame is just a better fit to the Big Ten(Eleven/Twelve), but there is something there that they just don’t like about joining that league.

Finally, look who they would have to play in the ACC North:

  • Virginia
  • Virginia Tech
  • Syracuse
  • Pitt
  • Boston College
  • Maryland
  • UConn

Ain’t happening, but it is something to ponder… isn’t it?

Bigalke: It sure is, David. From a competitive standpoint, Notre Dame retrenches into its traditional recruiting bases and offers itself a more viable means of achieving a BCS berth. Winning the ACC North would be imminently possible annually for a team like the Irish, with only Virginia Tech and possibly Pitt presenting any sort of challenge. And they wouldn’t have to win ten or more, like they do now as an independent, to get there. There would be years where eight wins would win the ACC North as configured in this scenario, and then all that is required is a win in a conference championship game. If I’m Brian Kelly, I understand after my time at Cincinnati how much easier qualifying for a BCS bowl can be in an undaunting AQ situation. But this school has too much pride, for the yellowed newsprint of yesteryear, to cast aside that independence unless the ACC forces Big East Armageddon. And in that case they might also be too bitter at the conference that wrecked their have-it-both-ways setup to join forces with them.



Would Pitino really be willing to take a backseat to the other coaches of the ACC? The smart money says no...

Here is the problem — Pitino likes being king. No… his ego LOVES it. And he will never be the king in the ACC. I know people think he’s the greatest thing since Wooden was teaching Shoe-tying 101, but I’ve seen his teams lose MANY games they had no excuse to lose, and his mid-game ajustments have never impressed me.

Pitino is going to use every bit of his power to ensure he dosent go 1-7 against Roy and Mike for the rest of his contract. Cardinals football puts them on this list, but is Kentucky recruiting worth it? In terms of sports, I think the ACC already has a Louisville-level team in Georgia Tech, and there really isn’t  a reason to add another.

Bigalke: Let’s be completely honest about this school’s chances. In terms of basketball, the team is a regular presence in the NCAA Tournament… but has won just one conference championship since joining the Big East in 2005 from Conference USA. In terms of football, it has been a consistent .500-level team save its one charmed 2006 season on the arm of Brian Brohm and the wits of Bobby Petrino. There’s no incentive for this poaching, for either side.


See Notre Dame. True, the basketball is there, the football is better than some (ask NC State) and I do love the inroads into the fertile lands of Ohio. Problem is, would a kid in Ohio rather go to Wake Forest or UConn instead of Iowa or Nebraska? I don’t see many 3- and 4-star kids at South Dayton choosing Maryland over Wisconsin.

Bigalke: If Brian Kelly was still there, he’d push for the value in jumping to the ACC with that alignment of the North as mentioned above. But Cincinnati has no real pull at this point. Sure, they’d be a solid basketball program. But the conference has already taken steps to bolster that side of things, and with the 16th pick they need to ensure that football is improved upon rather than kept at a null point or even regressing. That precludes taking Cincinnati, who had a string of three straight seasons of double-digit wins under Kelly but absolutely no football tradition prior to that…

So who’s left?

The SEC schools are a non-starter, even though the SEC might not mind SC leaving and replacing them with a Florida or Texas school, but no chance the ACC takes that chance (trade SC and Tenn for Miami and Va Tech?)

The “major” independents are not really there, so we are down to the Big East. (At this point, can’t we just call it a merger?)

If I’m the big ACC chief, it’s either South Florida or West Virginia…

South Florida


Would Florida State welcome another in-state school so close to its Gulf Coast base of operations?

Daaaaaa Bulls.

I’ll be honest with you, I initially dismissed the Bulls, but pitching this idea to the Bearded One, this was the team he pulled out as a choice.

Looking a little deeper, this does make a bit of sense:

The advantages:

  1. Solid football team, and they also play at Raymond James, so they have another 60K+ football home.
  2. You can always ensure a trip to the state of Florida every year for the ACC North teams.
  3. With the addition of UConn and the ‘Cuse, who cares if they go 6-20 in basketball?
  4. Pitt and Maryland start getting WRs from southern Florida.
  5. Not that baseball matters, but the Bulls post 30+ wins the past couple of years.

The negatives:

  1. Miami and Florida State might not enjoy having four games in Florida — especially Miami, who makes their players enjoy a 30-minute bus ride to play home games.
  2. Basketball still means something, especially joining the ACC.
  3. In this scenario one of the North Carolina schools has to go North. Line to volenteer begins here. Imagine the ACC North in Basketball if Duke or UNC are moved… DAMN.
  4. I’m not so sure in five years that FIU isn’t the team you want as #16. They have stellar facilities, spending money like a drunken Acorn supporter, and seem to be on a rocket in  recruiting.

Lets face it. If you get 15% of the top 200 prospects within an hour drive of the USF campus, you will be setting up a long reign in the top 25.

My other problem is, from time to time, the ACC had problems where it was NC vs the rest of the teams. If USF joins, and all three teams recruit well, then the football picture REALLY tilts to the south. Other than Pitt (and Virginia Tech),  the rest might have major issues competing.

Bigalke: That basically covers all the positives and negatives. Jim Leavitt built this program into a sleeping giant, and Skip Holtz has it well positioned to take another leap forward into its awakening. The basketball program is mediocre (at best), yes, but with the value the school brings in both football and in baseball it is worth the loss leader on the hardwood. When I first mentioned the school to David, though, the one thing I hadn’t really thought much about was divisional configuration.

The addition of another school in the south does damn one North Carolina school away from all its rivals; and while the current Atlantic and Coastal configurations break them up, the size of the conference at twelve teams still allows the rivalries to remain in place annually. That is the one downside I see to the addition of the Bulls… and given the sway of the power base, it seems unlikely the ACC would do anything to piss off the Devils or Heels or Deacons or Wolfpack.

So while the Bulls might be the best fit, they also don’t fit quite as well as might be hoped. Too much gerrymandering would need to take place to accept them into the conference. As much as I was initially pulling for this pick, the threat to both the Florida schools and the North Carolina schools seems too much to overcome.

West Virginia


Would Bob Huggins be enough of a recruiting draw against schools like UNC and Duke?

West Virginia seems almost like a no-brainer, much in the same way UConn is. If I had to put cash on the matter, I’d take West Virginia as the team, but are they the university of choice?

The advantages:

  1. West Virginia isn’t scared to face anyone on the football field and plays a rugged style that keeps them in games.
  2. In basketball Bob Huggins, for better or worse, can walk into any gym in the country in any conference and do damage.
  3. 60K+ football stadium, the fans are LOUD no matter the opponent. The staduim becomes the biggest city in the state on Saturday, and they are looking to expand another 10-15K in the future. (True, people from Michigan, LSU and Tennessee can scoff at those numbers, but some schools in the ACC draw more fans in a basketball dome than on the football field. (You could play UNC versus Duke in a 100K stadium and still not have enough seats for that contest.)
  4. The Mountaineers have a solid history, and they pull athletes from Pennsylvania and Ohio like mad. As noted before, that is not exactly Florida or Texas, but quite a few schools would be more than happy to stock up on western Quaker QBs.
  5. The ACC, in killing off the Big East, is poised to dominate the Boston/Washington media — if you dominate ESPN, and you dominate the sport… why do you think the Big 12 is dying?
  6. Again as noted above, the divisional alignment just works great.

The negatives:

  1. Bob Huggins, yeah — he’s not exactly Calipari, but he’s not Dave Odom either. The ACC isn’t as squeaky-clean as it used to be, but it’s not the SEC either.
  2. See #2 in advantages — THE BIGGEST CITY IN THE STATE — which is not exactly biggest city in Florida or Georgia there. Yes, they are pulling players from Ohio and Pennsylvania… but the existing teams of the ACC would rather those players come to their schools wearing their colors, okay?
  3. The “new” ACC would have 8 teams from the 2011 NCAA field of 64, including five of the twelve top-3 seeds. Good thing this isn’t football, isn’t it? Could this conference be TOO good with all this power?
  4. Four North Carolina schools, three Virginia schools — that’s a thick middle right there in the conference. How long before someone starts thinking the conference theme song is the theme from “Deliverance”?

Bottom line, I think either school is a great get for the ACC, and to be honest, I don’t think the ACC can go wrong either way. South Florida has a bigger enrollment than West Virginia, but WVA draws better than the Bulls do to their football and basketball games. This comes down to money — and not only the athletic department’s financial future.

In that respect South Florida is just MILES ahead of most schools in the country in terms of research facilities. Research means money, and that’s how you build massive athletic theme parks. South Florida simply is just on a massive growth curve. If they can satisfy my fears that they are trying for too much, too soon, I’ll gladly take the Bulls. I just hope that FIU don’t make me look stupid by the end of the decade…

Bigalke: Money is value, yes, but money comes from many sources. A conference cannot expand its reach without protecting its base. And the one fear I have for the ACC, were they to take South Florida, would be the risk that they would alienate that core enough that they were willing to defect to the SEC or another conference.

Is it that far-fetched to think that Florida State would be more receptive to a call from the SEC if they feel like the Bulls are infringing on their Gulf Coast territory? Would UNC or Duke or NC State or Wake Forest defect if they felt they were getting the short end of the stick? (That one seems a lot less likely… but given the current landscape, where we’re here discussing the ACC expanding to 16 and cannibalizing the Big East, it isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility.)

So in my mind the ACC will eventually come around on West Virginia and send Oliver Luck an invitation for his athletic department to cross conferences along with their Backyard Brawl rival. And when 16-team superconferences become passé and the conferences that survive start looking for more teams, you can bet they’ll be going after both USF and FIU in addition to more northern additions. They just better hope that the SEC hasn’t already recognized the ascendant nature of both by that point…