With Notre Dame-to-the-ACC rumors cranking up this week (and then brought back to earth in The Insider Report) a classic offseason discussion has been raised to life. What happens when (not “if”) the Fighting Irish join the ACC?
It seems like only a matter of time until this happens, probably later rather than sooner because Notre Dame still has a sweet deal with NBC and the brand equity to be able to pull off independent status. When it does, though, the ACC likely won’t stay at 15 teams. It would go all the way to 16, creating a super-conference.
So where would the ACC turn for its newest member? Here are my top 10 candidates for ACC expansion once Notre Dame comes calling:
- West Virginia
The ACC used to be overly concerned with academic reputation, but John Swofford bucked that trend when he added Louisville. Adding the Mountaineers would revive the Backyard Brawl with Pittsburgh and give the Panthers a more natural rival within the league. Plus, West Virginia might be waiting around for some other league to rescue it from the Big 12, where it is a square peg in a round hole. This is a balanced athletic department that would benefit most sports while filling a gap in the ACC’s map.
Adding Cincy would accomplish many of the same things as adding West Virginia, and it might be easier. The Bearcats have slipped in football, but the men’s basketball program may be ready to put its premium product on display in a premium league once again. Plus, it allows Notre Dame and Louisville to have another regional partner to bridge the gap between them and the northern part of the conference.
- Penn State
From a branding perspective, this might be the best potential addition. The ill effects of the Jerry Sandusky scandal have largely worn off, and the Nittany Lions still boast an elite football program with a massive, rabid fan base and all the potential in the world. Men’s basketball would take a hit, but women’s basketball would be a strong addition to the ACC.
Who wouldn’t want to become the best conference in a televised sport by adding a trump card to the mix? That’s what Geno Auriemma’s women’s basketball program is. Putting UConn men’s hoops into the league could revive old Big East rivalries with Syracuse and Pittsburgh that we all miss. Football wouldn’t provide much, but it’s worth the sacrifice.
Be honest: If it meant Maryland would get on its proverbial knees and publicly apologize to the ACC for its behavior, this would be totally worth it, right? After all, it appears miscast in the Big Ten, and Louisville has proved an upgrade in every conceivable fashion. The Terps would still be in the middle of the pack in most things, and it just seems right for them to be in the ACC.
- East Carolina
There are already four North Carolina schools. Why not reward East Carolina for years of admirably making the uphill climb with little to show for it? Academics are a problem, and it wouldn’t be super beneficial, but it would further centralize the core of the ACC in the Tar Heel State. Plus, they would jump in a heartbeat. I see a bunch of pros to this move.
Perhaps the most intriguing of all the options introduced so far. With recent scuttlebutt suggesting that the Sooners may not be all that happy with the state or direction of the Big 12, they may be willing to make a move within a few years. Geographically, this hurts my heart, because conferences are great when they have regional identities. With that being said, you can’t turn down Oklahoma.
- South Carolina
South Carolina football still has more ACC titles than it does in the SEC. The ACC could help the Gamecocks find success again. It also frees Clemson up to schedule a more worthy adversary during the season in nonconference play while not depriving fans of the rivalry contest they all want to see. Can you imagine the snickers from Tigertown if the Gamecocks came crawling back to the ACC?
- South Florida
It seems odd to only put one Florida school on this list, but that’s where we are. South Florida has lots of upward mobility and appears to be a school on the rise, but I don’t really see a great fit in the ACC. The Bulls still seem to lack overall seriousness about athletics, or maybe we just don’t take them very seriously. Either way, that perception bumps them down a peg.
Vanderbilt is basically Duke/Wake Forest 2.0, isn’t it? It seems like the Commodores play either of the ACC’s most elite private institutions every football season. Vandy’s basketball pedigree is worthy of inclusion, and it’s far from the football doormat it once was. The reason it’s this low on my list is that it’s not a sexy addition that would appear on many radars, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to explore it.