ACC Conference Realignment: Shelter for Big East Defectors

Without question, the biggest beneficiary of the Big East’s instability has been the Atlantic Coast Conference.

It began back in 2003, when the ACC announced its intention to expand the conference from nine to twelve teams, allowing it split into two divisions and host a conference championship game in football. Miami (FL) and Virginia Tech joined from the Big East for the 2004 season, while Boston College followed the two out of the conference the next year.

It’s easy to see why these moves created such a ripple effect in conference realignment. At the time, Miami (FL) was arguably the most prestigious school in the nation, fresh off two straight National Championship appearances. Virginia Tech was also a few years removed from a national championship appearance. Boston College had appeared in six straight bowl games themselves at the time, under head coach Tom O’Brien.

The ACC kicked off its inaugural conference championship game in 2005, which has led to revenue increases thanks to a sponsorship deal with Dr. Pepper and a television broadcast deal with ABC.

The same twelve teams would make up the Atlantic Coast Conference for the next five seasons. While major bowl success was hard to come by, with the help of Virginia Tech and Florida State especially, the conference has had its share of schools finish in the Top 25 each season.

But when talks up major conference realignment reared its head again, the ACC looked to expand again. With the developing schism between the conference’s top basketball and football schools and the threat of losing schools, the ACC added two more schools – Syracuse and Pittsburgh – from the Big East in September 2011. While neither team is a mainstay on the gridiron, they can each consistently put forth a top-tier college basketball squad. Both schools will begin ACC play in July of this year.

The ACC would score another huge addition in September 2012, with the addition of Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish are one of the most popular college athletic teams in the nation and have a long history of football success. While they won’t be a full-time member in football or hockey, they will be scheduled to play at least five ACC schools a year in football, beginning in 2014.

The ACC won’t come away completely unscathed from conference realignment, as Maryland has decided to leave for the Big Ten Conference, starting in 2014. But with Maryland’s announced move this past November, the ACC moved quickly, adding Louisville from the Big East just a week later. The Cardinals could give the conference both a basketball and football powerhouse, as their football team is fresh off an 11-2 record and a win over Florida in the Orange Bowl. But with their currently unknown start date for ACC play, it’s too early to speculate what Louisville will bring to the field years from now.

From where they stand now, it seems like the ACC has not only survived another wave of conference realignment, but will come out of it an even stronger conference. The next conference is not so lucky…

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