In light of the announcement that the University of Maryland's Board of Trustees had unanimously approved the school's move to the Big Ten Conference for all sports, it's time to once again parse the possible scenarios related to national conference realignment. This time, though, things could actually work out favorably for Georgetown, something that hasn't seemed very likely the last couple of years.
Why is the Big Ten adding Maryland (and, presumably, Rutgers)? In short, it's all about the money. The Big Ten Network is looking to expand its footprint to major TV markets so that it can charge cable providers more money per subscriber to carry their product. If the only way for people in the Baltimore-DC corridor to watch their Terps play Duke at Cameron in February is for Comcast, Verizon, and DirecTV to carry the Big Ten network in those markets, then the BTN will be able to negotiate a higher per-subscriber fee, which translates to a more lucrative deal that then gets split up among the member institutions.
Why it's a huge gamble... For two major reasons: the first is that the targeted markets of Baltimore, DC, and New York City are overwhelmingly apathetic towards college football, the driving force behind these television mega-deals. New Yorkers don't schedule their Saturdays around Rutgers football, and Maryland can't even fill up its stadium for homecoming, despite having less than the seating capacity of soon-to-be conference foes Michigan and Penn State. Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC... the East Coast metropolitan areas are professional sports cities. In Tuscaloosa and Tallahassee, it matters immensely whether you're for 'Bama or Auburn, the Gators or 'Noles. But in NYC, it's Giants and Jets, not Rutgers and... ummm... UConn? (Sure, we'll go with that.)
The second major reason is obvious: the Big Ten has been steadily declining for the last couple decades as demographic shifts have depleted the Midwest states of elite recruits. The overwhelming majority of top prep players hail from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and California. Ohio and Pennsylvania still produce a ton of talent, but not enough to stock all the Big Ten programs. In light of that, adding two more historically mediocre (and that's being kind) programs in Maryland and Rutgers is likely to dilute the on-field product of Big Ten football even more, without adding any real new recruiting territory. Maryland, New York, and New Jersey are already recruited by Penn State, Ohio State, and other Big Ten programs. So what does adding a team that's currently sitting at 5th place in the abysmal ACC Atlantic Division add?
It's why Big Ten fanbases are going apoplectic. The hilariously pretentious "Leaders" and "Legends" nomenclature is ridicule-inviting enough without slapping those labels on historically irrelevant programs like Maryland and Rutgers. And, really, is there anyone on earth, besides the parents of a player, who would buy tickets to watch Maryland play Indiana in football?
It's not unlike what's happening to Budweiser, Beck's, and other once-proud beer labels. The quality of their product is declining due to inferior ingredients, even as their distribution broadens and revenue increases, as chronicled by this outstanding piece.
So what's next? Presuming Rutgers follows Maryland into the Big Ten, it only makes sense for the ACC to begin searching for replacement members. Atop the list has to be UConn, which boasts: (1) a solid football program that would fit right into the current ACC lineup; (2) historical ties with Syracuse, Boston College, and the other former Big East schools that have already left for the ACC; and (3) access to the coveted NYC market and recruiting territory. Really, it's a no-brainer.
Beyond that, the ACC could make a play for Louisville and/or Cincinnati, both of whom are eager to bolt the obviously imperiled Big East, and whom would both fit seamlessly into the ACC as basketball-first institutions that have cultivated high level football programs in the past decade. Louisville might be in a position to leverage its desirability, however, as the Big 12 is going to be forced to take action to secure its own future with neighboring Big Ten continuing to expand, so it's entirely possible that the Big 12 goes after Louisville as well.
Beyond the Big Ten swiping Rutgers and the ACC grabbing UConn, it's hard to know where the dominoes will fall, but this much is clear: Georgetown moving to the ACC for all sports but football makes enormous sense for both parties.
Georgetown to the ACC The ACC, like the Big East, is a basketball-first conference that has had to begrudgingly accept the new era of college athletics, i.e. one dominated by the lucrative television deals that come with big-time college football success. They were one of the first leagues to instigate the current realignment madness when they poached Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College from rival league Big East back in 2003. But that deal has probably failed to live up to anyone's hopes, as all three of those programs have seen a steady decline from their football apex in the early 2000s. Miami, in particular, has been a disappointment on the gridiron, and it's hard to see how Boston College has added to the brand beyond providing another television market.
So with football driving all of these moves, why would a school playing FCS ball (and until very recently, not doing even that terribly well), be a desirable target for the ACC?
(1) Geography - It may seem like an afterthought, but it's not, particularly in this case. For as much money as television deals bring to member institutions, they still have to off-set the cost of busing the women's volleyball team and men's golf halfway across the country. Georgetown is firmly within the ACC's existing footprint, and it's in the same vicinity as departing Maryland, so the cost of travel would be unaffected for ACC member schools.
(2) Television Markets - With Maryland leaving, Georgetown provides an attractive anchor in the Washington, DC market. Maryland only put the market in play for basketball, anyway, so this is a one-for-one swap. In fact, the case could be made that Georgetown playing Duke, UNC, Pitt, Notre Dame, Syracuse and UConn in basketball is actually a more appealing prospect for TV execs than Maryland facing those same teams. The ACC stands to gain, here, or, even at the very least break even.
(3) Football - Georgetown joining for all sports but football is basically the same deal Notre Dame has received, so there's precedent. In fact, Georgetown's FCS program would provide a nice cupcake for early season scheduling if Clemson, Boston College, or Duke would like to add a near-guaranteed "W" to help get them bowl eligible. And as the SEC just re-emphasized this weekend... scheduling FCS schools is a necessity in the current college football landscape. Bringing Georgetown on board for all sports but football would allow the league to keep an even number of teams (presuming it's already replaced Maryland with UConn), balancing out the odd number created when the Irish were brought on board earlier this year.
(4) Academics - It might elicit a laugh, but academics do play at least some part in the conference realignment. Being an AAU member is a big deal for the Big Ten, and the ACC likes to consider itself an academically superior conference as well. Georgetown adds another elite academic institution that reinforces the ACC's self-understanding as being about more than just sports.
(5) Conference Tournament - The Verizon Center -- the Hoyas' home court -- has already announced its intention to try and convince the ACC to move its Conference Championship Tournament up here, and having the Hoyas in the league seems to make this a no-brainer. With the addition of UConn, Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh, the ACC really does stretch the entire Atlantic Coast, and DC is a lot more attractive destination for traveling alums than Greensboro or Charlotte.
So what should Georgetown do? Jack DeGioia should be on the phone with every University President, particularly his colleagues at Duke, UNC, UVA, and other top-tier academic institutions. (Dispatch a Jesuit up to BC.) And Georgetown's Athletic Director should be banging down the doors of his peers in the ACC making the case I just made above.
Meanwhile, Georgetown football should stay right where it is, in the Patriot League, but should open itself up to being added as a cupcake on ACC foes like Duke and Boston College, much the same way that Notre Dame will play 5 ACC opponents per year.