North Carolina, one of the crown jewels of the ACC, has officially been offered a spot in the Big Ten Conference.
After Boise State and San Diego State decided to stay in the Mountain West, rather than head to the Big East, the wheels of conference realignment had seemed to slow to a halt. Leagues had remained in a holding pattern — some were waiting for the next domino to fall, while others, apparently, were active behind the scenes, working to tip the dominoes themselves.
One such conference is the Big Ten. It became obvious over the course of the last few seasons that the Midwestern league had fallen behind the likes of the Big 12, Pac-12 and especially the ACC.
Now, with the country’s most lucrative TV deal in place with its own Big Ten Network, the league has brought in three more teams in order to bolster both its academics, as well as its footholds in major television markets.
The conference poached Nebraska from the Big 12 to move to 12 teams themselves and then, this year, brought in Maryland and Rutgers from the ACC and Big East, respectively. The Terps and Scarlet Knights will not be joining their new conference until 2014. However, at that point, the league that had previously held the Chicago market in an iron fist will extend its footprint to the New York, New Jersey and Washington DC areas.
After these additions, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany had repeatedly told the media that while not actively seeking to move from 14 to 16 teams, he would not close himself or his league off to the idea. Thus, North Carolina becomes far and away the most logical choice in the effort to build the nation’s first and premier “superconference”.
Academically, UNC is as competitive as any Big Ten school, including Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Northwestern. Athletically, its basketball program has been even better than Indiana’s over the generations.
The next question becomes, obviously, who would Delany go after to become the 16th member of the Big Ten should North Carolina accept his offer?
Duke and North Carolina have been rumored to be a package deal. However, bringing in Duke — while spectacular for Big Ten basketball and academics — does nothing to increase television advertising revenue. At this point, neither the Big Ten nor any other league in the nation has shown any desire to keep natural rivalries, nor for the ease of travel for fans.
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Thus, should the longstanding Duke-UNC tradition go by the wayside, Georgia Tech finds itself right in the mix. Tech, of course, has never had anything but a middle-of-the-road athletic department. But once again, it may be all about location.
And location and location.
Georgia Tech resides in the heart of Atlanta, one of the biggest cities in the South, and traditionally serving as what Chicago serves to the Big Ten. It has played host to both SEC football and basketball conference championship games and boasts a massive SEC alumni population.
If Delany can shoehorn his Big Ten into that market, then his league would presumably need a name change, and there would be very little left to conquer.
Of course, all of this hinges on whether or not North Carolina takes whatever deal the Big Ten has offered.