The ACC is an interesting spot with conference expansion and realignment back in the spotlight, as Oklahoma and Texas are likely to depart the Big 12 in favor of the SEC. Improving the football product is a priority for new commissioner Jim Phillips, and the revenue generated from the conference’s television deal could get a bump if the ACC can find the right additions. But finding teams that can fit both of those priorities isn’t going to be easy. Notre Dame doesn't appear interested in giving up its football independence, and it’s not clear adding one or two other programs will be enough to move the needle financially.
Realignment and expansion are hot topics once again in college football. Athlon Sports’ writers and editors debate whether or not the ACC should expand to 16 teams:
ACC Football: With the SEC Adding Teams, Should the Conference Expand?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
It’s no secret the ACC would like to add Notre Dame as a full-time member, but it’s hard to envision the Fighting Irish leaving football independence anytime soon. Even if the outcome is guaranteed, commissioner Jim Phillips has to at least attempt to convince Notre Dame it’s time to become a full member. Phillips indicated the conference will emphasize and do more to promote its football product in the future, which is why the addition of West Virginia makes sense. The Mountaineers have a solid athletic department, have improved facilities in recent years, and would reunite with old Big East foes Pitt and Virginia Tech to renew intriguing rivalry games, which are certainly good for television. Does a move to just add West Virginia make sense? My guess is probably no. If the ACC can’t convince Notre Dame to give up independence, then staying at 14 full-time members might be the right call for now.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
I don't think the ACC needs to expand right now but also can understand if the conference is concerned it could get left behind should the Big Ten or Pac-12 decided to follow in the SEC's aggressive footsteps. So if the ACC decided to add to its ranks, I think the first two calls are pretty obvious. Notre Dame may not be ready to give up its independence but after a successful "audition" last season as an ACC member why not make it official?
From the soon-to-be-pilfered Big 12, West Virginia is the no-brainer because of geography and the previous Big East ties the Mountaineers share with Virginia Tech, Miami, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Syracuse. Now in the spirit of keeping things even and assuming Notre Dame will probably want to maintain its independence, the only other Big 12 team that makes some sense to me is Kansas and that's more from a basketball standpoint. And if there's anything I'm warming up to more and more given what's happening right now it's the need for football-only conferences.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
Unless the ACC can manage to convince Notre Dame to join as a full-time member with football conference affiliation, I don’t see much reason for the ACC to expand. But if the ACC can manage to pull in West Virginia, it may be worth considering. I’m not sure an uneven conference membership is the worst thing in the world, and West Virginia being able to revive series with their former Big East rivals, especially the Backyard Brawl with Pitt, would be fun to see.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
Yes. I think we are headed down a road where you'll need to have 16 teams to survive and truly be a part of any College Football Playoff scenario. With that said, the ACC can add Notre Dame to football with ease. The Irish are already ACC members for all sports outside of ice hockey. That gives the conference a permanent foothold in the Chicagoland market, and national network exposure for the rest of their teams when they play Notre Dame on NBC.
After that, the ACC needs to bring in West Virginia. Logistically and geographically it makes sense, even if it does nothing from a financial or market standpoint. It also revives some classic regional rivalries that were lost when the Big East football conference disbanded. The Mountaineers can pick up against Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Boston College, right where they left off.
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
With the SEC looking to grab the biggest and baddest teams in college football, the ACC's first move should be to lock down the teams currently in the conference. With rumblings that SEC commissioner Greg Sankey may be eyeing Clemson and Florida State (along with Michigan and Ohio State), new ACC boss Jim Phillips has to make sure that the big dogs in his league remain where they are.
Assuming Clemson and Florida State stay put, the league should look to expand... but only for the right teams. The obvious first choice is Notre Dame. The ACC's quasi-member may be questioning its independence at this point and Phillips has to be in regular contact with Irish AD Jack Swarbrick. With the Big 12 apparently crumbling, West Virginia would also make sense. They are a school with built-in ACC rivalries and though they are not in a huge television market, the Mountaineers carry a brand that has some cache.
Beyond ND and WVU, I'm not sure there's another program that makes logistical sense and raises the profile of the league at the same time. So at this time, it may be wise to have patience while making sure the current ACC members are still one big, happy family.
Juan Jose Rodriguez (@JuanJoseRG02)
Should the ACC aim to expand? Absolutely. With the SEC already the dominant power nationally and only getting stronger with the additions of Texas and Oklahoma, any effort to maintain relevance — especially in the eastern third of the country — should definitely be considered. The true issue in my view, aside from the obvious of keeping the teams currently in the ACC from bolting to go elsewhere, isn’t really if the conference should add teams, but which schools would be the top targets.
Simply put, a primary consideration is to examine which teams would benefit most from joining the conference. Higher TV revenue represents an intriguing financial promise, while one of the primary positive on-field impacts would stand to be higher-profile games, in which a win — or perhaps even a narrow loss — could boost a team’s chances of reaching an expanded CFB Playoff. Many will call for partial member Notre Dame to be added fully (ND is part of the ACC in all sports except football), but the Fighting Irish’s inclination to remain independent suggests that the conference should look elsewhere, namely towards AAC schools like UCF, Memphis and Cincinnati as well as Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky from Conference USA. West Virginia would also present an intriguing option as its move from the Big 12 would offer a fantastic opportunity to set up high-stakes showdowns with some old foes (i.e., Miami, Florida State) and the conference front-runner in Clemson. From the ACC’s side, a beneficial outcome could also come in the way of recruiting, as the addition of UCF and/or FAU would bolster the conference’s position in the state of Florida, while West Virginia, Memphis, Cincinnati and Western Kentucky would help stretch the ACC’s exposure westward.
Aaron Tallent (@AaronTallent)
The ACC will likely pursue West Virginia and may also try to convince Notre Dame to be a full member, but will be unsuccessful.