|Syracuse and Pittsburgh are just the first dominoes to fall in college football's realignment. (Getty Images)|
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Everyone thought the SEC, Pac-12 or Big Ten would tip over the biggest domino that would lead to the 14- or 16-team superconferences.
Instead it was the Atlantic Coast Conference. A league known more for its basketball muscle than football brawn. A league that has been woefully outmatched in BCS bowl games was the one that officially made the biggest major move that will reshape the college football conference landscape as we know it.
These developments will have a major impact reaching from the Pac-12 to the SEC and everywhere in between. They could even result in Notre Dame losing its independence.
A Big East source told CBSSports.com that the league was not notified by Pittsburgh and Syracuse that it had submitted letters of application to the ACC until Saturday morning. It blind-sided the league, one source said.
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"There is no scenario where a president applies to a league and isn't admitted," a Big East official said.
The Big East is now resigned to the fact that Syracuse, a founding member of the league, and Pittsburgh, a member since 1982, are "gone," a league official said.
With all of the speculation and connecting-the-dots scenarios surrounding conference realignment (Texas A&M to the SEC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State possibly to the Pac-12), the obvious end game was this: the ACC and Big East would be the final two conferences with possibly only one surviving.
Sort of like a Thunderdome showdown: two conferences enter, one conference leaves.
And the ACC took the initiative in guaranteeing its survival.
Last week, the ACC's presidents met in Greensboro, N.C., and unanimously voted to increase the league's withdrawal fee to $20 million, an ACC official told CBSSports.com. That change took affect immediately, meaning if the Big Ten or SEC was interested in an ACC team, that ACC program would have to pay dearly to leave.
An ACC official told CBSSports.com the league has been contacted by 10 schools about membership.
The decision to expand is the "right thing" to do, North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said.
"It's obvious that the world is turning upside down and we want the ACC to be in a position where we are strong," Baddour said. "It's absolutely the right thing to do."
ACC commissioner John Swofford discussed the possibility of expansion with CBSSports.com in July.
"We want to remain nimble enough so if we want to look in that direction we'll be ready to do that in very short order," Swofford said. "Twelve [teams] works. It's not to say 14 or 16 can't work, it can. I don't think [16 team conferences] is inevitable, it's possible."
The biggest question is what's next? Here's my best guess on how this could play out in what's obviously a very fluid situation:
ACC: Now at 14 teams, if the ACC looks to expand to 16 the league could seek a number of Big East schools, notably UConn, Louisville or West Virginia. The ACC is hoping that the SEC doesn't target Florida State.
Big Ten: Earlier this month, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany told the New York Times that his league is fine with 12 members. "We thought a lot about 12 to 14 and 16 when we had the opportunity last year," Delany told the Times. "I don't think that our thinking will change by what others will do. Our view, really, is that it's about quality and not quantity."
SEC: The league needs to find a 14th member to join Texas A&M. Sources told CBSSports.com that Missouri is the most likely candidate. But now that the ACC increased its withdrawal fee, is it possible SEC commissioner Mike Slive got caught off guard by Swofford? The increased ACC buyout would make it unlikely -– not impossible, but unlikely -– an ACC team would now leave for the SEC. The league prefers not to add a team from a state that currently has a league member, but does the SEC make a push for Florida State -– widely considered the most attractive option for the SEC? And will Florida allow that for the good of the league?
Big 12: Oklahoma and Texas regents will meet Monday separately to discuss their future. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State reportedly are set on joining the Pac-12, while Texas remains the biggest unknown. Texas has been linked to every conference in America, except maybe the Sun Belt or the NFC East. Texas has "reached out" to the ACC, an ACC official told CBSSports.com. However, any speculation Texas is joining the ACC is "premature" the source said. It was premature as of Saturday morning. At this rate who knows if its premature on Sunday?
Pac-12: Oklahoma and Oklahoma State appear headed west, but does Pac-12/14/16 commish Larry Scott stay on 14? Texas and Texas Tech also could head west, but the biggest sticking point for every Texas scenario is its commitment to the Longhorn Network. If Texas opts for the ACC, ultimately imploding the Big 12, then the Pac-12 could look at Kansas and Kansas State.
Big East: This is the most uncertain and fluid situation. With Pitt and Syracuse on the way out, the league must find suitable replacements. Its first option is any Big 12 teams that don't go to the SEC or Pac-12. Sources told CBSSports.com that the Big East has reached out to Texas, Texas Tech, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State and Baylor, gauging their interest in the league if the Big 12 doesn't survive Oklahoma and Oklahoma State leaving.
Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, a staunch Big East supporter, is now left wondering about the future of the league. His view is shared by many within the league.
"Our intentions are to stay in the Big East," Jurich told CBSSports.com. "We will do what's best for our university, but will explore all options within our current conference and outside our conference."
What's most troubling to Big East officials is that Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenburg is the chairman of the Big East's executive committee. Nordenburg also "put the brakes" on accepting a $1.3 billion media rights deal from ESPN this spring. Now Pitt is gone to the ACC. "It's sort of like the fox in the hen house," a Big East source said.
Notre Dame: This is where things gets really interesting. The Irish always have wanted to remain an independent. And as long as the Big East is around for the Irish to have a landing spot for their Olympic sports, they will stay independent. However, if there no longer is a Big East, the Irish would be forced to join a conference to find a home for their Olympic sports. In other words: hello, Big Ten.