|The ACC takes a hit with Maryland leaving, but ultimately it's bound to bring in another hoops power. (US Presswire)|
The speed and cloaked execution of Maryland's exit from the ACC is the least surprising shocking thing to come out of realignment's latest regurgitation process. Of course it unfolded the way it did.
It's lunchtime on Monday as I write this, and yet, a week ago -- even sooner -- nobody was discussing anything imminent or even possible regarding realignment. The moment everyone eased their back, lifted their legs and got ready for the end of college football season and the start of college basketball's -- BAM. More schools on the move.
Oh, what's this? Sorry, folks, but you gotta let me interrupt the proceedings to tell you multiple reports are inevitably showing that Rutgers too is fleeing to the Big Ten, joining Maryland arm-in-arm and kicking the dominoes once more with glee as they tango toward a new conference.
This time, it's not football, it's TV driving the bus. Football is the motivator, but that "footprint" and "market" and "opportunity" are really just euphemisms for: "holy crap TEEVEE MONEY!!!!"
But what about ACC hoops? Ah, right, that pesky little basketball angle. Basketball: the other major sport involved in this, the one that also feels the effects. You know, Maryland basketball, the sport the school is actually known for? What does its exodus mean for the ACC? It means some rivalries will die (I can see Duke vs. Maryland getting nice and hot again for the next two years before getting killed off) and that's just casual causalities at this point. Overall, the watered down, behemoth reconfiguration of college sports' conferences has all but sucked the fun out of most rivalries, whether they're football or basketball.
It's no longer about rivalries. At this point, I feel college sports has about three or four truly untouchable, immovable rivalries that can withstand conference earthquakes. Everything else is on wobbly ground. Texas vs. Texas A&M forever proves this a truth.
So put the nostalgia and sadness over tradition, history and rivalries aside. You'll then see the ACC is going to be fine. Yes, fine. Maybe more than that. Instability is probably still on the way, what with murmurs that Florida State, Clemson or Georgia Tech could be thinking about leaving too. To them, I say, hey, go ahead. From a hoops perspective, the league can more than survive that. In fact, it's probably going to get a program imported from the fire-alarmed Big East that can replace Maryland, if not improve it. Connecticut, Louisville, Cincinnati -- you have to figure all three would love to get involved at this point on the basketball end of things, and football would be the bonus.
(UPDATE: And look at this. This is how fast news is moving: Could UConn already be getting in on the ACC as early as Tuesday?)
And it's how it should be. Now and forever: the ACC is a basketball league. Don't tell that to Maryland, because it's clearly not interested in reveling in the ACC's reformation, but it is. When Pittsburgh and Syracuse, and then Notre Dame, all decided to bolt on the Big East to head to the ACC (moves that will go into effect next season), football was the catalyst (Notre Dame not included there, though; the Irish remain independent in football) but basketball was the benefactor.
The ACC hasn't been the same league since 2003 changed its landscape, bringing in Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami. It's true the league's best days of top-to-bottom competition are behind it, but not entirely. The ACC is set up to be the best basketball league in the country. Losing Maryland is only a temporary wound. There are plenty of schools that would love to upgrade to the ACC, but more importantly, they are schools with big-time basketball credentials.
That's what should matter to the ACC. Football brings in money, but the product is not good enough nationally to keep up in the race. The league needs to embrace its basketball identity and own it. It worked for more than 40 years and it can work again.