Realignment and the inevitable reality of superconferences came roaring back in full force this weekend with the announcement that both Pittsburgh and Syracuse will be departing the Big East to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. This was a bit of a surprise as the vast majority of realignment talk these last few months has centered around the Big XII, and the epicenter that is Austin, Texas.
Talk of the Big XII folding even had assorted Big East talking heads starting to discuss what Big XII castoffs they might be able to snag to bolster a new and improved version of the Big East. In an environment where everyone is looking out for their own best interests it would appear that the ACC swooped in and beat them to the punch. This obviously puts the Big East in a very precarious position and the end result could mean that Notre Dame could face some very difficult decisions in the coming months.
So what do we know right now?
Texas A&M has applied to the SEC and that application will be approved as soon as Baylor stops wanking about it. In Baylor's defense all of the "have nots" that are currently surviving off of BCS conference affiliation have a lot to lose in this realignment scenario and will fight like hell to survive.
The rumor mill points at current Big East member West Virginia as being targeted to join the SEC next. The addition of the Mountaineers will take the SEC to 14 teams and deliver another stunning blow to the Big East.
As I mentioned up top Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who are founding members of the Big East, are bolting for the ACC, which will take that conference to 14 teams as well.
Hot on the trails of that announcement it now appears that Texas and Oklahoma will be taking their little brothers Texas Tech and Oklahoma State with them to what will become the Pac 16.
The University of Texas and the Longhorn network have been right in the middle of all these realignment discussions for the last couple of years. Fellow Big XII members like Nebraska and Texas A&M appeared to want to get away from Texas specifically and frankly Texas hasn't seemed to really care. Texas is truly one of the "haves" and a conference needs Texas significantly more than Texas needs a conference.
After Notre Dame and Texas announced their upcoming series last year some people on both sides seemed to think that it was just the tip of the iceberg and that a powerful alliance might be forming between South Bend and Austin. While Jack Swarbrick has discussed his relationship with Texas Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds, and the close connection between the two institutions, none of us really know the specifics of what they have been discussing.
From the outside looking in I have maintained the theory that Texas was setting itself up to go independent in similar fashion to Notre Dame rather than attempting to woo Notre Dame to join them in the Big XII. With the launch of the Longhorn network that started to look even more feasible. It is possible that Texas and Dodds do maintain such a vision but can't make it happen in the immediate future. A crumbling Big XII could be forcing the Longhorns into some short term decisions that they aren't crazy about either.
Further conspiracy theorists have taken the notion a step further and discussed the possibility that not only might Texas be setting themselves up for football independence but Notre Dame and Texas might be on the brink of leading other 'haves" to follow suit. This could ultimately lead to the formation of an alliance of independents or conference of independents for lack of a better way to put it.
In such an arrangement the schools would support one another in most of the ways that a conference does minus the revenue sharing. If the right players were brought into that mix such an arrangement could actually form an alliance with a national footprint that has the potential to trump the superconferences. At a minimum it would maintain enough leverage to retain seats at the post season table. While ambitious, I personally don't think this is outside the realm of possibility but I do think it is less likely now that the formation of the 16 team superconferences appears to be on an accelerated timeline.
Outside the small circle of people who see the scenario above as an option most seem to be theorizing that we are strictly heading towards four superconferences of 16 teams each. Once formed those four conferences will absolutely hold all the cards in shaping the future of the football post season, and more specifically morphing the BCS into a playoff format where they hold the vast majority, if not all of the automatic qualification slots. These four conferences could also theoretically break off from the FBS and form their own new superior subdivision.
All of this leaves Notre Dame Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick with a lot to think about. Swarbrick has stated repeatedly that the goal is to remain independent in football but this rapid movement towards 16 team superconferences and the inevitable re-working of the post season that will surely follow will definitely create some pressure to join a conference in the near term.
This is especially true if there is actually any merit to the fact that Notre Dame and Texas had been discussing a potential alliance of some kind. If Texas actually jumps to the Pac 16 the Irish will definitely be fending for themselves without their most powerful ally. The Big East being able to survive in some fashion will also be a huge factor that could give Swarbrick one more major consideration as all of the Notre Dame programs that compete in the Big East would be without a home.
A scenario where four 16 team superconferences are born and the Big East disbands entirely could prove to be the perfect storm that Swarbrick himself has alluded to in the past.
How do you see this playing out?