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College Football Insider

Conference realignment: Can ACC take schools for their word?

In early December, ACC presidents issued a statement of solidarity to address speculation about conference realignment.

Nearly a month later, about six weeks ago, the topic came up between the ACC and North Carolina, which said it hadn't had any contact with other conferences, according to a source.

Without babysitting, the ACC is keeping tabs on its membership since the Big Ten lured the cash-strapped Maryland Terrapins in November.

But if an ACC school is going to leave eventually -- and the speculation persists with schools such as UNC, Georgia Tech and Virginia -- the ACC might be the last to know. That's how realignment works.

"At some point, you have to take people for their word," said the league source.

It comes down to this: The ACC has enough to offer that it would take a major greed play for a school to leave for another conference.

This begs the question: Isn't greed the catalyst of conference realignment? At least in part, yes. I think administrators want peace of mind as expenses balloon, and a bigger vault helps ease a president's anguish over that next $100 million stadium renovation project.

Whether Maryland is an ACC anomaly or an appetizer to more realignment feasting isn't so clear-cut. Nothing should surprise anymore. But what's clear is no conference outside of maybe the SEC has a chance to maximize television value the way the Big Ten can.

The additions of Maryland and Rutgers prompted commissioner Jim Delany to talk about opening an East Coast office, where he'll likely have enough square footage for more than two members.

Big Ten revenue projections could reach $40 million per school by 2020, according to reports. Some in the industry are skeptical of that number, but when running this by two television experts, they say the Big Ten's tradition and national brand can help them sell the East Coast markets they need.

Despite all that, the Big Ten still has to persuade a school to wreck its own tradition and potentially damage a conference. Maybe that won't matter if the money talks loudly enough, but remember the Big Ten capitalized on a school that was so financially deflated that it was cutting sports. Not that other schools don't have debt, but Maryland was in a more dire situation than other in its own conference.

FSU faced a $2.4 million shortfall based on USA Today reports of revenue/expenses, which, coupled with its disapproval of the league's vote to implement a $50 million exit fee, makes the Seminoles potentially explosive in realignment.

In some ways, the Big Ten will take what it can get, whichever school from a power conference is willing to bolt, possibly one with an Association of American Universities affiliation. Heck, UConn and Cincinnati out of the Big East would probably love to join.

The ACC isn't in bad financial shape. The 15-year media rights deal with ESPN pays $3.6 billion, and the addition of part-time lover Notre Dame (five football games per year plus other sports full time) should net each ACC school at least an additional $1 million per year. The Orange Bowl contract and playoff money will help.

The league is looking into an ACC Network to help bridge the financial gap, but it's hard to say how much money ESPN is willing to deliver. It's already working with the SEC on a deal.

Maybe the exit fee will stave off realignment, unless Maryland can change that. It's fighting this in the courts. If the $50 million dwindles to $20 or $30 million, that changes things.

 
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