Senior College Football Columnist

Latest ACC deal means realignment madness is over ... for now


PASADENA, Calif. -- Conference realignment died here. Quietly.

What, you didn't hear? Probably not. The BCS commissioners met at a luxury California hotel Monday for their annual meetings, munched on crisp salads in the warm California sunshine and named their proud, new playoff. In California.

Promising to play nice from now on was not among the formal announcements. But certain things can now be assumed after ACC commissioner John Swofford created realignment gridlock.

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Conference realignment for the foreseeable future died here Monday when Swofford got his 15 members to pledge allegiance. Legally, it's called a grant of rights. It means if conference members leave for another league, their TV rights -- and tens of millions of dollars -- don't follow. Those rights are retained by their conference.

So schools don't leave.

It hasn't happened in the Big Ten since members agreed to a grant of rights in 1988. The Big 12 -- after a couple of contentious years -- are good with a GOR until the end of its TV deal in 2025. The Pac-12 has one. The only BCS league that doesn't have one is the SEC. And you've got to be crazy to leave the SEC with seven consecutive national championships and a lucrative network about to be launched.

So why the ACC? Why not the ACC? It's time to end the madness. Rivalries have ended. Relationships have been tested. West Virginia is flying 1,000 miles for a conference game. Texas and Texas A&M are 110 miles apart and, for now, will never play each other.

The commissioners, fans, media, everyone -- even ESPN -- is tired of conference realignment.

"The best evidence I can posit to you now," said Burke Magnus, senior vice president, college sports programming, "is that it has done nothing but cost us money."

And if it costs ESPN money, that is not a good thing for ESPN. So they've all unofficially agreed to stand down from this war that has torn the game apart for the past 2½ years. The ACC's move put to rest, for now, the rumors of the Big Ten poaching any combination of Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia.

It rendered moot Big 12 expansion talk given that Florida State and Clemson are legally bound to Swofford's suddenly stable conference. The same goes for the Pac-12 raiding the Big 12.

Never say never if only because there is the feeling Texas would never sign an agreement it didn't know how to get out of, but things do look settled. The only moveable parts at this point seem to be Cincinnati and/or Connecticut of the American Athletic Conference moving up to a BCS league.

"I just don't see movement happening among the members of the five power conferences -- for a long time," Swofford said.

"My sense is it is going to probably cool the temperature a little bit," Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said of realignment.

"I think it does slow it down to the extent that commitments now are firm commitments," Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky said of the ACC. "That's a commitment you can't walk away from."

"Now you have five basically highly branded conferences," the Big Ten's Jim Delany said.

Everyone among the power conferences (Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, SEC, Big Ten) is more than happy at the moment. They're rich, for years to come. Leagues have become media conglomerates. You are who you network with. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have one. The SEC is announcing theirs next week. The ACC that has won exactly three BCS games in 15 years is suddenly talking to partner ESPN about forming a conference network.

"It becomes more of a possibility with the grant of rights," Swofford said. "An ACC channel is one of those possibilities ... It's without question the sexy thing to be looking at these days. The upside is very intriguing."

Sexy? Not to most of us. Conference networks basically mean we're going to have to pay extra to see extra. But Swofford and his advisers have run the numbers. Folks are going to like the ACC more, basically because there are going to be more folks.

It's no secret that Sun Belt population is exploding. Four of the fastest-growing states in the country -- Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia -- are in the ACC's nine-state footprint. Citing U.S. Census Bureau figures, ACC officials say there are 107 million people -- 12 and older -- in those nine states. That is the largest such figure, they say, of any conference.

That's the reason Delany supposedly wanted in -- maybe still wants in -- at Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Virginia. That translates to more available recruits within the conference footprint. We already know the ACC produces an inordinate amount of NFL Draft choices.

The region is big and getting bigger. Sexy? Some Notre Dame football games would conceivably be warehoused on an ACC Network. The Irish are an ACC member in everything but football, but in that sport Notre Dame has a scheduling agreement.

If Delany destabilized the ACC by taking Maryland, well, the destabilization is over.

"Finally, I told [the members], 'Look, the words are great but here's the action that backs up the words,'" Swofford said. "If you mean it, this is the thing to do."

And so they pledged that allegiance. Swofford's boldness paid off. Yes, he was the guy who damaged the Big East -- and perhaps set it on the road to ruin -- by raiding it for Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College. But this week, he made the entire sport more stable.

Somehow Swofford turned a loose-lipped Florida State trustee into solidarity. Somehow he made an ACC grant of rights a Twitter talking point Monday night with The Office's Angela Kinsey.

"Totally speechless, in shock really ... just numb," she tweeted.

Kinsey, here for an NBC press junket, was kidding. Supposedly. Elsewhere, conference realignment died -- for a while at least -- but not without a disclaimer.

"Time will tell ...," Bowlsby said. "You can always litigate. There are no limitations on who can sue who."

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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