Suddenly, leaving ACC might not be such a bad idea

Perhaps I spoke too soon about the future of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

In a week when speculation about Florida State and Clemson possibly abandoning the ACC for the football-first Big 12 seemed far-fetched, suddenly it might make sense for Virginia Tech and Miami to join them in jumping ship.

Well, at least if football relevance is the driving financial force (which it is).

Despite all of its efforts to build a broader football footprint with three waves of expansion starting with the Seminoles joining the league in 1992, the ACC is on the brink of getting shut out in college football’s new world order.

As the game is hurtling towards the implementation of a four-team playoff system, the usual marquee suspects are aligning to close ranks rather than expand opportunities for anyone outside the big four power conferences – the Southeastern, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12.

The ACC and Big East appear to be the odd conferences out along with the associations formerly known as non-AQ (not automatic BCS qualifiers). The big guys are taking their ball and running away with it. The ACC’s biggest hope might be a desperation phone call to Notre Dame.

Friday’s announcement of a new New Year’s Day bowl game pitting the heavyweight champions of the SEC and Big 12 at a site to be determined by bid starting on 2014 was a significant blow to the marginal ACC and diminishing Big East. Coming just days after the Big Ten pledged its undying devotion to its beloved Rose Bowl matchup with the Pac-12, the new SEC/Big 12 pact is a case of the rich and powerful getting richer and more powerful.

“A new January bowl tradition is born,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said Friday. “This new game will provide a great matchup between the two most successful conferences in the BCS era and will complement the exciting postseason atmosphere created by the new four-team model.

“Most importantly, it will provide our student-athletes, coaches and fans with an outstanding bowl experience.”

Well that must leave some egg on the face of ACC commissioner John Swofford, who earlier in the week reiterated his union’s devotion to the bowl system. It now appears the ACC champ will join the Big East and the former non-AQs as relative outsiders in the four-team playoff being drafted. Because the four most powerful conferences seem to be creating their own bracket and backups at the exclusion of everybody else. Perfect. Just when it looked like all the idiots in the room were on the same page, they’ve thrown a grenade on the table and blown it all up.

The SEC and Big 12 have an out clause in the new bowl contract. If one or both of their league champions are selected to play in the playoff, “another deserving team” from the conferences would be selected for the Big 12-SEC bowl showdown.

In other words, this new bowl is never likely going to pit the actual conference champs unless it is incorporated into the playoff format. SEC teams have won the past six BCS national titles. The Big 12 and/or SEC each have had a top-four team in the final standings in 11 of the 14 seasons since the BCS was created.

“This game is intended to work successfully within the new postseason structure,” Slive told CBSSports.com. “Once we understand what the structure is, we’ll figure out exactly how our game fits.”

Said acting Big 12 commish Chuck Neinas: “The creation of this game featuring the champions of the Big 12 and SEC will have tremendous resonance in college football.”

It will certainly resonate. I guess that means there are no hard feelings after the SEC pilfered Texas A&M and Missouri from the Big 12’s ranks last year, destroying two premiere rivalries between the Aggies and Texas and the Tigers and Kansas in the process.

The power play also adds credence behind the complaint of Florida State that its relationship with the ACC is holding the Seminoles back. With the big four power conferences beefing up their postseason stakes, it could be the catalyst in another wave of conference realignment with the strongest ACC and Big East teams (as well as Notre Dame) eying moves into the waiting arms of the 10-team Big 12. It’s not far-fetched to think that football-oriented Florida State, Clemson, Virginia Tech and Miami might all abandon the ACC.

And who’s to say the SEC will stop at 14 or the Big Ten and Pac-12 will hold to a dozen? Super-conferences with all the vested power are on the way – and unless the Fighting Irish shed independence it doesn’t look like the ACC will be one of them.

Soon there will be three tiers of Division I college football – I-AA, I-A and the I-A+ encompassing the 48 or so teams that matter in the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12.

Rest assured, the phone lines to the Big 12 office are already buzzing with eager defectors seeking amnesty in the new world.

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