The landscape of college athletics is ever shifting. It changed again Monday when Maryland jumped from the ACC to the Big Ten. These things never happen in a vacuum. Multiple reports have Rutgers leaving the Big East on Tuesday for the Big Ten, too. The question? Where does all of this leave the ACC?
Despite losing a founding member, the conference still appears in good shape on the surface. The key will be keeping the remaining members happy -- something the league office, based in Greensboro, N.C., and often accused of catering to the big four schools in North Carolina (Duke, Wake Forest, North Carolina and N.C. State), struggles with at times.
But Connecticut, one of the last remaining vestiges of the Big East, is a logical candidate to take Maryland's place. It has an even better recent basketball history and beat the Terrapins this year in football. The loss of the Washington and Baltimore television markets hurts the conference. But at least the Huskies are a big deal in their home state, have some presence in the New York and Boston media markets and have the football facilities in place to compete right away. Remember, Connecticut played in the Fiesta Bowl in 2011.
This goes beyond finding a solid replacement for Maryland. The ACC added Syracuse and Pittsburgh last year, and those schools begin conference play in 2013. It recently added Notre Dame as a member in all sports except football. It has signed a television contract extension through 2027 with ESPN worth $17 million per season for each school and a lucrative 12-year deal with the Orange Bowl starting in 2015 that will pay the conference $27.5 million per year.
But can commissioner John Swofford keep his southern wing -- Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami and Clemson -- on board? Or will those schools look toward the Big 12? And while the SEC has long resisted luring those particular schools, what happens if that league changes its mind? In a world where there are four 16-team mega-conferences, both North Carolina and Virginia -- among the best public universities in the country -- are almost perfect fits for the Big Ten. For better or worse, the dominoes keep falling.
- Brian McNally