Wiedmer: SEC could lose big in realignment

Wiedmer: SEC could lose big in realignment

September 19th, 2011 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

When it comes to college athletics hypocrisy, it doesn't get much worse than Pitt and Syracuse basically blowing up the Big East by jumping to the Atlantic Coast Conference this past weekend.

After all, it was just eight years ago -- with Boston College announcing it would leave the Big East for the ACC -- that Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg entered into a lawsuit with four other Big East schools in an attempt to hold BC hostage.

According to ESPN writer Dana O'Neil, Nordenberg said at that time, "This is a case that involves broken commitments, secret dealings, breaches of fiduciary responsibility, the misappropriations of conference opportunities and predatory attempts to eliminate competition."

So what does Nordenberg say now that he's helped drop the first wrecking ball on the Big East on the same weekend that its first commissioner, the incomparable Dave Gavitt, died?

What explanation does Nordenberg give for breaking commitments, secret dealings and succumbing to predatory attempts to eliminate competition?

Said Pitt's paper panther, "We made it very clear [to the Big East] that if other opportunities did arise, we would feel obligated to seriously assess them and look at the long-term future of the University of Pittsburgh."

In other words, there may be no I in team, but there are three of them in the University of Pittsburgh -- or me, myself and I, if you wish to look at it that way -- and we're looking out for all three of them.

Yet the biggest irony in all of this isn't Nordenberg erasing the integrity of his word with this brash move, since no branch of college athletics rules with a forked tongue more than university presidents.

The irony is that the conference that started the super league -- our dearly beloved Southeastern Conference -- may be the one left with the least if it's not careful.

After all, the biggest news out of the ACC isn't necessarily that it's adding the Orangemen and Panthers, but that defending men's national basketball champ Connecticut is lobbying hard to join America's Cockiest Conference.

Add UConn to Pitt and the 'Cuse and the ACC will have earned its arrogance.

Or don't you think a league that would contain nine of the last 13 NCAA's men's hoops champs would be appealing to CBS, ESPN, TBS, and the local cable access channel on Mars?

Moreover, let UConn join and it's pretty easy to see the ACC grabbing either Notre Dame or West Virginia for its 16th member.

Yes, the only thing the Mountaineers and Fighting Irish have in common is that their official school colors are dark blue and gold, but both currently reside in the Big East in basketball and both will almost certainly be looking to leave if UConn joins Syracuse and Pitt.

Heck, Notre Dame's basketball gym -- the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center -- is even known around campus as the ACC.

Of course, only the Irish or the Mountaineers can go to the ACC if UConn gets there first, but if the ACC's smart, it will make the Irish the same kind of sweetheart deal that the Pac 12 is using to lure Texas.

The Longhorns are being told they can keep some of their own private TV network money -- just not all of it. Expected to join Texas in what will presumably become the Pac 16 are Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech ... unless, of course, Texas A&M double-crosses the SEC and goes west, bumping aside the Red Raiders.

Let the ACC do the smart thing and allow Notre Dame a bigger share of football revenue and suddenly all of college sports television would be clamoring for that package, given the allure of Florida State, Miami (in whatever decade the Hurricanes finally escape probation), Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in football, and the preposterously enticing quartet of Duke, North Carolina, UConn and Syracuse in basketball.

Beyond that, NBC might suddenly decide to throw billions at the ACC to keep its Notre Dame ties and suddenly own the world's best basketball league, which would instantly elevate the Peacock's Versus network.

Suddenly, the SEC would be squeezed from the west by the Pac 16 and from the east by the ACC and the highest rated television market it would control outright would be Nashville at No. 29.

To put that in perspective, should Notre Dame and UConn go to the ACC and Texas, OU, Okie State and Texas A&M flee to the Pac 12, the ACC would control or share 11 of the top 30 TV markets nationally, with the Pac 12 controlling or sharing 10. The Big Ten owns or shares nine of the top 35.

The SEC, by contrast, would own or share four of the top 30, its highest shared city being Atlanta at No. 8.

All of this is speculation at this point. The smart money probably has A&M and West Virginia joining the SEC, a move likely to maintain the league's rep as the nation's top football league.

But with all these broken commitments, secret dealings and predatory attempts to eliminate competition floating around, the wrong chip falling here or there just might leave the conference once thought SECond to none suddenly SECond to everyone.