Friedlander: Best, most logical landing spots for the 'Magnificent 7' should they find a way out of the ACC
The big news out of the ACC spring meetings this week, at least so far, is that a group of 7 schools – led by football blue-bloods Florida State and Clemson – have banded together to explore a possible escape clause from the league’s restrictive grant of media rights.
If successful, the self-proclaimed “Magnificent 7” would be free to leave for greener (as in the color of money) pastures and put an end to the ACC as we know it.
As apocalyptic as that all sounds, it’s nothing to get worked up about.
At least for now.
While the lawyers for FSU, Clemson and the others – Miami, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech – may only have just begun working together in search of a way to void the grant of rights before its scheduled expiration date in 2036, you can bet they’ve been going through the fine print individually for much, much longer.
And if they haven’t found anything to set them free by now, it’s highly doubtful that they ever will. So it’s pointless to even speculate on where the 7 breakaway programs might end up should the elusive needle in the haystack somehow get found.
But what fun is that?
Just for kicks and giggles, let’s take a stab at determining the best, most logical fit for each.
Virginia: Big Ten
Football is the driving force behind the current conference realignment chaos, which makes the Cavaliers the kale salad of the Magnificent 7 compared to the filet mignon of Clemson and FSU.
But the Big Ten can’t keep counting on Northwestern, Nebraska and Rutgers to prop up the rest of its league every year. Adding UVA would give it another layer of fodder to help Ohio State and Michigan stay in the Playoff conversation every year. UVA’s academic bona fides are a bonus.
Besides, coach Tony Bennett’s basketball program will be a perfect fit, both because of its proximity to Maryland and its penchant for 1st round NCAA Tournament exits.
Virginia Tech: Big 12
The Hokies aren’t nearly as marketable a commodity as they were when Frank Beamer was cranking out 10-plus wins and going to bowl games every year. Still, there’s still enough value in their name and location – not to mention the electricity created when Enter Sandman is played at Lane Stadium – for them to be an interesting pickup for the suddenly resurgent Big 12.
While that would be the logical fit for Tech both competitively and as an Eastern Time Zone partner for current Big 12 member West Virginia, the chances of it actually happening are slim even if the grant of rights is broken. Virginia’s General Assembly fought too hard to pair the Hokies with rival Virginia in the ACC in 2003 to allow them to be separated in 2 different conferences again.
NC State: Big 12
Wolfpack fans dream of hitting the big-time by becoming a member of the SEC. And in some ways, that would make sense. In terms of its performance on the field and support in the stands, State is similar to current conference members Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State.
The problem is that its brand simply doesn’t move the needle enough nationally for the SEC to be interested. Unless of course, in a move similar to the one that would keep Virginia and Virginia Tech together, politicians in North Carolina pass legislation that would require the Wolfpack to go as a package deal to whatever conference wants rival UNC.
The biggest thing the Hurricanes have going for them, other than the fact that their campus is located in South Florida, is their name. They remain a marketable brand in college football, even though they haven’t been relevant since joining the ACC in 2004.
It has become something of an annual ritual for them to be ranked in the preseason polls amid proclamations that their “swagger” is back, only for them to end up falling short of those lofty expectations. As they did by going 5-7 in Mario Cristobal’s 1st season last year.
Maybe the ACC has been Miami’s problem. Perhaps getting out and moving up a notch in competition to the SEC would be the stimulus that actually does bring its old swagger back. Even if it’s not, The U still carries a lot of weight. And with Jim Larrañaga’s basketball program coming off a Final Four appearance, the brand could be even more valuable than ever.
These days, that’s all that really matters.
North Carolina: Big Ten
If basketball doesn’t matter (much) and the Tar Heels haven’t won anything in football since before Mack Brown’s first tenure in Chapel Hill, why then are they such a desirable commodity in college athletics?
In a word: Jumpman.
The brand and its accompanying Alexander Julian argyle have become so universally recognizable that you’ll see it being worn everywhere from the New York City subway to the Great Wall of China.
It doesn’t hurt that UNC’s football program has raised its national profile recently through some modest success on the field and the development of NFL-caliber quarterbacks Sam Howell and Drake Maye. Or that its basketball program is a blue-blood among bluebloods while its Olympic sports teams regularly win national championships.
While the SEC would love to have the Tar Heels, the Big Ten would be a better fit both competitively and academically.
Florida State: SEC
The Seminoles have made no secret of their desire to join the SEC. It’s an ambition that has only intensified as the revenue gap between it and the ACC has widened.
In February, athletic director Michael Alford told FSU’s Board of Trustees that “we can not compete nationally being $30 million behind every year,” adding that “something has to change” for it to be financially feasible to remain in the ACC.
While it’s true that the windfall associated with membership in the SEC would help the Seminoles compete on a more level playing field financially with bitter in-state rival Florida, blaming the football program’s recent drop-off solely on money matters is somewhat disingenuous.
It didn’t help matters that Jimbo Fisher’s recruiting dropped off considerably in the year or 2 before he left for Texas A&M and his replacement Willie Taggart was a disastrously bad hire. That notwithstanding, FSU’s recent resurgence under current coach Mike Norvell, its history and its location make the Seminoles just as desirable to the SEC as the SEC is to them.
The Tigers are the pick of the litter among ACC programs and would be gobbled up quickly by the SEC if they ever became available.
It makes sense.
Clemson has the facilities, the culture, the fan base and the pedigree to fit right in with the SEC. It would be reunited with Palmetto State rival South Carolina and the significant bump in revenue would allow coach Dabo Swinney to become even more competitive than he already is for the nation’s best recruits.
All that being said, it’s something of a mystery why the Tigers would be so eager to leave the ACC under the current circumstances.
Yes, the disparity in TV money is significant. But with the new 12-team College Football Playoff on its way, their path to a national championship would be much less demanding in a league with – at the most – 1 other title contender each year than having to beat out the likes of Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Tennessee on an annual basis.