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College Football Insider

Rules of Engagement: Smoke clears to reveal reworked ACC, content Big 12

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Rule No. 206: The ACC adding Louisville is another example of the stark strategic contrast between the ACC and Big 12 in conference expansion.

These differences will deepen the intrigue in the coming years if four super conferences emerge eventually.

The conferences with their own networks -- the Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 -- have poached other schools without losing members. They are comfortable.

The Big 12 and ACC, which have been poached in the past, have traditional major-network deals that were executed in the past six months. Both are locked in.

Will these two slug it out for each other's schools or hope to enjoy a period of stabilization? That might depend on what the Big Ten does. If commissioner Jim Delany goes hard for 16 teams sooner than later, the moves could prompt more landscape reaction.

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The ACC has aggressively expanded out of necessity -- or survival, depending how you look at it.

It persuaded part-time lover Notre Dame into partial football membership and full-time membership in all other sports. It moved on Pittsburgh and Syracuse 14 months ago. It implemented a $50 million exit fee, to the frustration of Florida State and Maryland.

It waited all of 10 days to replace Maryland with Louisville, which once desperately wanted to join the Big 12. This is a sensible addition in a nonsensical realignment game.

And it has a $60 million Orange Bowl deal with the SEC, Big Ten and Notre Dame.

The Big 12 is in a unique position because it's already splitting a $2.6 billion television deal 10 ways. Member schools are not exactly starving over that 13-year deal.

The Big 12 placated its biggest dog, Texas, by allowing the Longhorns to form their own network and thus staving off a Pac-12 raid. Instead of an exit fee, the league went with a grant-of-rights television clause, meaning if a Big 12 school leaves in the next 13 years, the school's media rights and revenue would remain with the conference. It eventually added West Virginia and TCU but seems content with 10 members.

The $80 million Champions Bowl with the SEC is a nice coup.

But long term, 16 teams could have more value than 10. If four sixteen-team conferences is the formula -- and not everyone in the industry expects this to happen -- the Big 12 could be pushed to adjust. Five power conferences can co-exist for now, and possibly for awhile, but four would be cleaner for a bracket-style playoff.

Head to head, the Big 12 has an advantage in television money. That nobody's talking about poaching from the Big 12 right now could be another advantage, though the ACC might be better positioned now than two weeks ago.

With $3.6 billion over 15 years, the ACC can pay its 14 members $257 million over 15 years, or $17.1 million per year.

The Big 12's $2.6 billion over 13 years among 10 teams works out to $260 million per school over 13 years, or $20 million per year.

Is that enough for a school such as FSU to bolt for the Big 12? Make no mistake, the Seminoles are scanning the landscape and don't want to get left on a sinking ship if others defect from the ACC.

A television executive says most contracts contain a "conference composition clause" that allows adjustments for new members. Essentially, both conferences could make more if they add.

Save a drastic move into the Big 12 Network business, the Big 12's ESPN/Fox deal and the Longhorn Network remain intact.

The Big 12 could enhance revenue with a championship game, likely sparking a 12-team league, but as evidenced by Kansas State, a team not named Texas or Oklahoma can position itself for a BCS championship as long as it stays undefeated. There's no rush to add the game.

The Big 12 could increase revenue for a poached ACC team, but there's risk involved with Midwest-East Coast scheduling and the ACC's exit fee. It's not assumed Maryland can escape that.

Based on the past two weeks, the ACC survived the Maryland scare fairly well and remains stable.

If the ACC expands to 16 -- it doesn't have plans to do so now -- it will be a countermove to the changing landscape. Look, we're a super conference.

It's holding at 14 in part because the available free agents aren't exactly max-contract options, especially for a membership based entirely on the East Coast.

Connecticut, South Florida and Cincinnati expressed ACC interest last week, but the ACC already has absorbed nearly half the old Big East. Louisville was the best football program available with the best facilities, even if its low academic ranking (in the 150s nationally) pales in comparison to the rest of the ACC.

In survival times, the ACC couldn't worry about that. It needed a strong athletic member.

For now, these conferences can be selective. Their teams have acceptable homes. They can still try to keep rivalries consistent and avoid major travel issues for teams. There's plenty of money to go around.

But if realignment cannibalism gets ugly again, the Big 12 and ACC could be the first with fork and knife in hand.


Jeremy Fowler is a national college football insider with CBSSports.com. Fowler joined CBS in 2012 after covering the Minnesota Vikings for the St. Paul Pioneer Press for two seasons and covering the Florida Gators for the Orlando Sentinel for two years. Fowler is also a contributor to the CBS Sports Network.
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