Photo courtesy of Notre Dame athletics

The biggest conference realignment in the history of college athletics is seemingly upon us, and it seems like we’re just getting started. 

With Texas and Oklahoma set to reportedly make the move from the Big 12 to the SEC, it’s created this eerie domino effect that has fans all over the country speculating on what’s to become of collegiate athletics. 

Will TCU, Baylor, and Texas Tech be creating a Lonestar State footprint in the Pac-12? Could Kansas and Iowa State be hightailing it to the Big Ten? Ohio State, Michigan, Clemson, and Florida State heading south to the SEC to create a “super conference?” The possibilities seem endless at this point. 

The question is for the ACC: does new commissioner Jim Phillips cash in on a potential Big 12 destruction? Does he feel the need to expand with each competing league all of a sudden growing rapidly? Or does he feel firm on the 14 schools the league currently possesses?

It’s going to come up a lot for years to come after chaos has ensued throughout the Power 5 over the last couple of days. In fact, it already did at last week’s ACC Kickoff during Phillips’ inaugural address at the Westin Charlotte on Wednesday morning. 

The big market teams in the American Athletic Conference such as UCF, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Houston have always seemed next in line for their turn at a Power 5 opportunity. But the ACC may have some better alternatives, with one school a mere must for the conference to expand. 

Here’s a look at some new potential members for the ACC:

Notre Dame 

The future of expansion in the ACC may very well fall into the hands of Notre Dame football. The Fighting Irish are an independent through and through, and although each of their other sports that are sponsored by the ACC fall under the conference regime, they’ve stood firm on their football affiliation. 

Why is that? Like all things in collegiate athletics these days, cash speaks volumes. 

Notre Dame’s multi-million dollar deal with NBC that allows the network to broadcast all the Irish home games is the driving force behind refusing to find a conference home. 

Now to play football in 2020 due to most leagues going to a conference-only schedule, Notre Dame relied on the ACC to bail it out. The ACC made it a part-time member, and willed the Irish to a College Football Playoff appearance. 


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The one-year experiment didn’t seem to entice the Irish enough to stick around. They speed-dated their way through last season before they entered back into the independent ranks. They sure didn’t seem to want to share anymore of that TV money with the other 14 schools as they did in 2020. 

Here’s the interesting part: Notre Dame’s current NBC contract runs out in 2025 – the same year Texas and Oklahoma’s lease runs out with the Big 12. Could Phillips’ see this as an opportunity to help out with a new TV deal that could make the Irish a full-time member and keep the dollar amount where school officials would be happy?

We still say it’s doubtful but it’s worth a try. Notre Dame being added to the league seems pivotal to its future in expansion. 

Not only does the brand name help out immensely when it comes to showing the ACC off, but it allows for Phillips to search for a 16th member. We’ll go through some options here. 

It still is going to be a tough task. Getting Notre Dame President John Jenkins and Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick to sign on as a full-timer would be Phillips’ biggest win as ACC commissioner. 

West Virginia

Speaking of the Big 12 possibly disbanding…

Where does that leave the West Virginia Mountaineers?

Could the ACC knock on their door and potentially add them as a 15th or 16th member? It could be a possibility. 

The first thing that pops out to a lot of ACC fans about bringing the Mountaineers into the league, is the amount of rivalries quite possibly no other school can renew when it comes to expansion. 

Think about this: “The Backyard Brawl” — one of the nastier rivalries in college history between Pittsburgh and West Virginia — would now be able to be played year in and year out. The battle for the Black Diamond Trophy between the Mountaineers and Virginia Tech could once again become a regular fixture. It would also reunite the folks from Morgantown with three other former Big East foes. 

Not only would West Virginia bring two intense rivalries into the league in an instant. It would also give longtime college football fans deja vu by watching the Mountaineers and Miami battle it out on the gridiron just as they did in the 1990’s and early-2000’s. 

That’s just on the football side of things. 

From a basketball standpoint, it makes the league that already should be extremely deep for years to come that much deeper. The Mountaineers are a consistent Sweet 16-caliber program. 

Not only that, but ACC would bring in a passionate fan base, a school with Power 5 experience, and a flagship school in the state of West Virginia. 

On the downside, they wouldn’t exactly help the league out on the academic side. They don’t exactly stand out in any other sport. But we still expect the Mountaineers to be on Phillips’ radar if the ACC were to again expand.

Cincinnati

Here’s a school we actually think could be a sneaky nice fit for the ACC. 

The Cincinnati Bearcats have long had a history in winning when it comes to the money makers with football and men’s basketball. The hoops program seems to always see its name called on Selection Sunday, and Luke Fickell’s football squad has come closer than any other Group of 5 program toward reaching the College Football Playoff. 

The momentum is real in the Queen City. 

Not only that: the league, out of nowhere, adds a major market in the Cincinnati metropolitan area. Under these circumstances, the ACC also adds the entire state of Ohio to somewhat rival the Big Ten with Ohio State. 

We’ve seen the league add some major markets more recently with schools like Miami, Boston College, Pittsburgh, and Louisville. Cincinnati would be the latest. 

When reviewing which schools Phillips’ may want to add, he’ll want to find one who puts in the money to run successful athletic programs. Cincinnati certainly fits that bill. 

A recent renovation of historic Nippert Stadium as well as a sparkling new version of Fifth Third Arena has positioned Cincinnati for a move to the Power 5. 

Many may not turn their attention towards Southwest Ohio, but the ACC absolutely should. Cincinnati is there waiting. 

We didn’t give them their own column because of similar reasons and a less likely chance, but Memphis shares a lot of those same qualities. It could also create another in-state ACC-SEC rivalry between the Tigers and Tennessee. 

UCF

This is the one many fans have been waiting for. We had to include this one, right?

The UCF Knights have been waiting for a Power 5 opportunity for a long time. Whether or not it’s with the ACC, they may have finally found one. 

The passion is hard to match with the fan base, and the momentum is undoubtedly high throughout the athletic department. That’s especially true on the football side with the recent hire of former Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. 

We have no doubt that the Knights could certainly do some good for the ACC. The problem is, they really don’t give the league anything it doesn’t already have compared to these other four schools. 

The ACC already has the Orlando market with Florida State and Miami neighboring somewhat close by. There isn’t really a need to add a third Florida school when it could add one from Ohio, or Tennessee, or West Virginia. 

It may not be what the fans want to hear, but we doubt UCF will be atop the ACC’s wish list. 

Now if he’s in dire need of a Disney World visit, Phillips could always revisit later. While we won’t count UCF out, the commissioner’s first call may go elsewhere before it reaches Orlando.