Could Florida State and Clemson be headed for the SEC, or the Big 12?

Could Florida State and Clemson be headed for the SEC, or the Big 12?

Is the ACC about to implode? Here are the answers to your questions

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Mar 26, 2024, 6:00am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Mar 26, 2024, 6:00am CDT

The Southwest Conference died. Big East football died. The Pac-12 dies this spring.

The Atlantic Coast Conference seems next on the hit list, now that Clemson has joined Florida State in filing a lawsuit against the ACC, seeking to dismantle the grant of rights clause that is keeping schools tied to Tobacco Road.

And yet the Big 12, which has been wounded more times than Virgil Earp, still stands. Maybe even prospers, with the potential demise of another competing league.

If Clemson and Florida State are successful in emancipation, where do they go? What becomes of the ACC? Will the Tigers and/or Seminoles eventually be visiting Owen Field as members of the Southeastern Conference? Will Clemson and Florida State discover there’s no room at the inn of their preferred landing spots and settle for the Big 12?

Seems like anything is possible in an era when Rutgers and UCLA are Big Ten brothers; when Cal-Berkeley is hosting Miami and Syracuse, and Stanford is hosting North Carolina State and Wake Forest, as conference games. Anything except the status quo. As they say, the more things change, the more things change.

Let’s look at the possibilities:

1. Does the SEC want Clemson and/or Florida State?

Unknown but unlikely, for now. The SEC has expanded three times in recent decades, adding six schools, and five of the six newcomers brought a new market to the conference: Oklahoma, Missouri, South Carolina, Arkansas and Texas (A&M).

The only outlier? The Longhorns. And the state of Texas is big enough to warrant a change in plans.

The SEC has preferred new markets in adjoining states to the league’s footprint.

The universities of Florida and South Carolina wouldn’t likely be happy with in-state arch-rivals joining the SEC and infringing on their territorial monopoly of the potent SEC brand. Texas A&M fought screaming and kicking to stop the Texas addition to the league.

Of course, television markets don’t pack the punch they once did. Market size no longer influences television contracts the way they did a few years ago, when the Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers based solely on eyeballs in the Baltimore/D.C. and New York/New Jersey metropolises, despite relatively little success or interest in the football programs.

Streaming is the ticket now, and size of fan bases matter. Clemson and Florida State have the fan bases to move the needle and potentially motivate ESPN to broker more SEC expansion.

Clearly, both Clemson and Florida State would prefer the SEC, for the same reasons OU and Texas jumped, from finances to recruiting.

2. Would the Big Ten want Florida State and/or Clemson?

Maybe, but it would take a fundamental philosophical change. Membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU) has been a Big Ten requirement for decades. Neither Clemson nor Florida State is in the AAU.

Would the Big Ten relax its standards to get into the southern market? Seems unlikely, but these are strange times. In the last decade, the Big Ten has expanded to the doorstep of New England, Seattle and Los Angeles. Can the final corner of America be far away?

Florida State and Clemson would prefer the SEC, but the Big Ten pays just as much, and this is mostly about money.

3. What if both the SEC and Big Ten pass on Florida State and Clemson?

The Tigers and Seminoles would have two options: the Big 12 or a new league made up of the best of the ACC.

Already, plans for a revolution had been staged. Last May, reports surfaced that seven of the 14 ACC schools met to consider exit strategies from the league and its ESPN television contract. Those seven were Florida State, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Those seven are the ACC’s best football brands and in theory were at least interested in leaving behind Wake Forest, Duke, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Boston College, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

Could the disgruntled seven scrape together a new league, with a more advantageous TV contract? Seems unlikely, but possibly. Anymore, leagues with less than 14 members are seen as vulnerable. But the model is the Mountain West Conference from 1998, after the Western Athletic Conference expanded to 16 teams. Most of the original WAC didn’t cater to the new alignment and broke away to form a new conference.

The Big 12 would seem a better option. Not ideal, of course. The networks might upgrade the television contract, but that’s nothing assured, since the market for rights fee is leveling out. But even so, Clemson and Florida State would not make what they would make in the Big Ten or SEC, and that’s the whole point of the original discontent.

If the Tigers and Seminoles came to the Big 12, it likely would have to be with a free-to-leave-at-anytime clause. If the SEC or Big Ten invite came later, FSU and Clemson would not want to be tied to the Big 12.

4. What does the Big Ten want?

North Carolina, in particular, and Virginia fit the Big Ten mold. High academic status, mostly-well-rounded athletic programs (particularly UNC). Even geographic sense, not that the Big Ten is married to such a concept anymore.

Would the Big Ten prefer Carolina and Virginia over Florida State and Clemson. My sense is yes, but that could change.

5. Is it Florida State and Clemson or bust for the Big 12?

No. If the ACC loses some combination of Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina and Virginia to the SEC and/or Big Ten, that would leave the ACC with 11 members, and some of them would be attractive to the Big 12.

Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, Louisville and Miami are solid football brands. Not difference-makers, but solid. And with the Big 12 expansion to West Virginia, Central Florida and Cincinnati, the league already is firmly in the  Eastern Time Zone.

Or commissioner Brett Yormark’s stated desire to go all in on basketball could bear fruit.

Duke, anyone? Louisville and Duke are basketball bluebloods. 

The Big 12 could get to 20 members with a combination of ACC emigres that shine in either football or basketball.

6. Would the ACC survive under such a scenario?

No reason why not. The ACC would be left with smaller-budget, higher-academic institutions like Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Boston College. Throw in Pittsburgh and Syracuse, keep Stanford, Cal and Southern Methodist. You’ve got the framework of a conference.

7. Would the Big 12 be better off being the third of three power conferences?

Yes, for this simple reason. The fewer number of relevant conferences, the more bargaining power for the leagues left behind.

Just look at the demise of the Pac-12 last year.

Yormark jumped the line and signed a Big 12 deal with ESPN and Fox. With the SEC aligned with ESPN, and the Big Ten with Fox (with NBC and CBS as partners), the tightening budgets of the networks squeezed out the Pac-12.

At the next round of contract negotiations, if the Big 12 is one of three major conferences, even if it’s the least of the three, that’s better than being one of four.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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