MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

Through the turmoil and the calamity of the Summer of Huggs and with the future of football coach Neal Brown being the constant elephant in the room, one might suspect the West Virginia University athletic department would be gasping for air these days, when in truth, the Mountaineers find themselves in a very enviable position – safe and secure in the Big 12 Conference; and not long ago who would have imagined we’d be feeling this way about that?

Conference realignment is again trending and it’s about to get more chaotic than ever, as greed tends to do that in college athletics. With Oklahoma and Texas off to the SEC, the Big 12 countered by adding Brigham Young, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston, which was a start and gets at least two schools considerably closer geographically for WVU.

Next it was UCLA and USC creating the shockwaves by announcing they were leaving the Pac 12 for the Big Ten. On Thursday, Colorado followed suit by leaving the Pac 12 to return to the Big 12, leaving the Pac 12 seemingly as stable as the old AMAC area football conference, which maintained the shelf life of a banana.

The suddenly stable Big 12, now amongst the top three Power Five conferences along with the Big Ten and the SEC, also let it be known it may not be finished adding on in that ideally it would like to have 14 members, maybe more.

Meanwhile, the Pac 12 is not alone in finding itself in desperate straits, as the other conference of the Power Five, our old friends at the Atlantic Coast Conference, also finds itself drawing up Plans B, C and D for the sake of its viability and long-term survival, and doesn’t that just break your heart?

And this is where it gets good. ESPN reported the ACC has explored possible expansion options, running models on adding a number of potential targets, including West Virginia, which I find to be absolutely hilarious since whenever WVU themselves made inquiries, the haughty, taughty ACC told them they didn’t meet the conference’s lofty academic standards.

So, pardon me while I play my grand piano

ACC commissioner Jim Phillips says all is well with his conference as it has the third-highest TV revenue amongst the Power Five conferences; and maybe he’s right (and maybe he isn’t), but the big problem with that is it is a 20-year grant of rights deal with ESPN and extends until 2036. In the meantime, the Big 12 will be able to negotiate its next TV revenue deal in 2031 and, in turn, expand even further.

This has ACC administrators more than a little worried because if there is anything that grows larger and faster than television revenue, nobody knows what it is. Florida State and Clemson, though, the ACC’s meal tickets in the revenue monster of college football, would like to find out, as both schools have reportedly been playing footsie with the SEC. On top of that, North Carolina and Miami have long been objects of the Big Ten’s interest. And how funny would that be if North Carolina left the ACC?

They’ll never do it? No, and North Carolina would never have fake classes for their athletes either. Please.

Then, of course, there is Notre Dame, a member of the ACC in all sports but football, but a significant revenue source for the conference despite being the last major independent in football. If Notre Dame should ever decide to follow even more money (if that’s possible) and become a full-time member of a conference, the Big Ten has long been the ideal landing spot geographically speaking and because of the Irish’s long associations with schools such as Northwestern, Purdue, Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State.

So if you believe the ACC is not worried, tell the Easter Bunny I said hi the next time you see him; for it has become very clear that conference realignment will be even more fluid in the immediate future, and if we know anything, it’s that the rich always get richer, which makes the ACC vulnerable and has the Pac 12 on life support.

As for West Virginia, of course a move to the ACC would make sense geographically. Who hasn’t been saying that for years? But now it wouldn’t make sense financially, because the ACC is locked into that 20-year deal with ESPN, which, in the 2022 fiscal year, paid $39.4 million to each of its institutions, while the Big 12 handed out a record $44 million.

Who’s having the last laugh now, the smug ACC or “not up-to-our-standards” West Virginia?

The ACC has such high academic standards that it outsmarted itself. It played the game against itself, and won.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT