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Conference realignment will seem normal to college sports fans of the future

Picture this: The year is 2033, and the SMU Mustangs are at the Carrier Dome to take on the Syracuse Orange in a huge men’s college basketball game that could ultimately determine the regular-season ACC champion.

That very same night, all the way over on the Left Coast, the Maryland Terrapins are at the Hec Edmundson Pavilion to take on the Washington Huskies with first place in the Big Ten hanging in the balance.

This would all have seemed totally surreal as recently as a year ago, but both scenarios could soon become a reality now that SMU and Washington have been accepted as new members of the ACC and Big Ten, respectively.

I don’t even know why I used a word like surreal to describe the ongoing conference realignment in big-time college athletics. After all, who knows what normal will be when all is said and done?

Notice how I began this article with hypotheticals involving men’s college basketball. I did that to prove a point; while everyone knows that FBS football is what drives the revenue bus when it comes to college athletics, realignment affects every aspect of a school’s athletic department. Fortunately, men’s college basketball doesn’t have much to worry about; it may not generate revenue on the level of FBS college football, but it’s still a huge moneymaker in its own right.

But what about the Maryland bowling team? It will also have to bowl matches at the Hec. What about UCLA’s women’s volleyball team? Starting in 2024, it will regularly have to travel to Rec Hall in State College, Pennsylvania, to take on the powerful Nittany Lions program.

That will cost money, and those sports and programs don’t generate nearly the same kind of revenue that football and men’s basketball do.

Oh, that’s right, I forgot to mention that UCLA, along with USC and Oregon, are also joining Washington in defecting from the Pac-12 to become the newest members of the Big Ten, starting next summer. That news is actually rather old compared to the Friday announcement that Cal and Stanford will also be defecting from the Pac-12 and joining SMU in the ACC by August of next year.

What do we call the future Atlantic Coast Conference? I’m not the first to come up with this, but it makes perfect sense to rename it the All Coasts Conference. Whether that becomes a reality or not remains to be seen, but at least the acronym would stay the same.

Everything else is changing in college athletics, however, and, to reiterate, it’s all being done at the behest of college football and the enormous network contracts that are at the heart of this continuous conference realignment and expansion.

This has actually been going on for quite a while.

It wasn’t long ago that Maryland was a member of the ACC. SMU used to be a member of the SWC (Southwest Conference) and a top-five powerhouse in college football. Then, in 1987, the Mustangs were hit with the death penalty for major NCAA violations. The Mustangs haven’t been able to regain their national prominence and have toiled in several “lesser” conferences–including the WAC, C-USA and American Athletic Conference–since the SWC ceased in 1996.

While the Pac-12 schools are defecting for the sake of survival–Colorado, once a prominent member of the old Big 8, will be re-joining the new Big 12 in time for the 2024-2025 season–SMU is looking for a chance to be a part of a big-time conference again.

Some say the ACC isn’t exactly big-time, but it’s certainly one of the Power 5 Conferences (or Power 4 unless the Pac-12 can figure something out). The ACC accepted three new schools in an effort to ward off becoming small potatoes in light of the ongoing grousing of members such as Florida State and Clemson, who want to defect the conference for the greener (green as in money) pastures of the powerful SEC.

Or maybe the Seminoles and Tigers want to join the growing Big Ten, a conference that was once a proud representative of the Midwest.

That hasn’t been the case for a while. Yo, just ask Rutgers in the New York market, over here!

It’s all about the money, capisce?

Back to that future SMU/Syracuse men’s basketball clash.

I can just picture an old man (maybe even me) sitting in the stands and whining to some kid about the days when the Orange (they were called the Orangemen back then before society got too soft) played in the Big East.

“Now, that was good basketball, kid. Syracuse, Georgetown, Villanova, Pitt, St. Johns, Connecticut…”

That kid probably won’t care all that much. To him, a Mustangs vs. Orange ACC basketball game will seem familiar and maybe even traditional.

That kid might actually be a Mustang student-athlete and just killing time before heading home after his volleyball game vs. Syracuse earlier in the day.

He probably won’t be worried about his school’s expenses, and traveling to places like California and Syracuse for volleyball matches will likely seem totally normal to him.

I remember growing up in the 1980s and thinking that it was perfectly acceptable that the number-one-ranked college football team from the Pac-10 (that’s what it was called in those days) could defeat a totally inferior Big 10 champion in the Rose Bowl (the conferences have been tied to the Rose Bowl for decades) and still not be voted national champions. Why? Because the third-ranked team defeated the second-ranked team in the Orange Bowl that same day.

What logic were the AP voters using in making their decision? Who knows? But it sure seems wild now that a Division I college football champion was once decided by the votes of sportswriters.

I recently wrote about the tragedy of Pitt and Penn State, two college football rivals located just 136 miles apart, not playing each other on an annual basis. It is a damn shame, and even the younger people who don’t think they are missing out, are missing out.

But they don’t know any better. They don’t know what they’re missing.

They’ll be fine.

There may be a time, 30 years down the road, when Pitt fans storm Acrisure Stadium (or whatever it’s called then) after an upset victory over the Stanford Cardinal.

How about the Stanford Cardinal vs. the Louisville Cardinals for the right to play in the ACC Championship Game?

It all seems surreal now, but it will be perfectly normal in the future.

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