North Carolina lawmakers just can't stop themselves from introducing inane bills that could potentially hurt their largest insitutions.
Fresh off a stinging public rebuke from pretty much everyone over the state’s controversial bathroom bill, N.C. lawmakers this week introduced another bill that, if passed, would pull North Carolina and N.C. State from the ACC if the conference removed events from the state, like it did in the wake of HB2.
First off — that’s not going to happen. The bill is nothing more than a display put on by a group of lawmakers whose pride and public image has taken a serious beating in recent months.
Why won't it pass? Because both schools stand to lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars if it does.
The bill, HB728,prohibits the schools from extending grant of media rights to the ACC — which the conferencehasalready extended into the 2030s —and requires them to put aside money gained from those rightsto use in conference termination fees. The ACC divvied out $26.2 million per school from TV revenue in the 2014-15 fiscal year, more than any other conference beside the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten. Losing out on at least that much money on an annual basis should stop the bill in its tracks.
But, say it does happen: What happens to UNC and N.C. State? To the ACC? It’s an interesting thought experiment — even if neither of the North Carolina schools wants to see it come to fruition.
What happens to North Carolina?
UNC by far has the most to gain should it get pulled from the ACC. The question now facing the Tar Heels is this: Do we want to play in the SEC or Big Ten?
The Tar Heels certainly have enough power, money and prestige to go the independent route, but the money involved in joining another Power 5 conference should be too much for UNC to seriously consider it: Both the SEC ($32.7 million) and Big Ten ($32.4 million) divvied out, on average, over $6 million more per school than the ACC in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
The case for joining the SEC
The Southeastern Conference would be the most logical choice for North Carolina, in terms of earning potential, geography and maintaining already-existing rivalries. Consider this:
In football, North Carolina would likely join the SEC East Division, creating a natural divisional rivalry with South Carolina. Severalteams in the conferencealready have rivalries with teams from the ACC (Florida-Florida State, South Carolina-Clemson, Kentucky-Louisville), making it easy for UNC to maintain a permanentannual football rivalrywith N.C. State orDuke. The Heels havealso played five SEC teams six times since 2010. They alreadyknowthe territory.
Basketball prestige is what the SEC would really get from North Carolina — and if it were to join, UNC could immediately jump to the top of the conference while still maintaining excellent competition from the likes ofKentucky, Florida, Arkansas and South Carolina. And the SEC would certainly love the opportunity to add the greatest sports rivalry in America to its annual slate.
The case for joining the Big Ten
While the SEC makes the most sense for UNC in terms of geography, let’s be honest — distance isn’t a factor in conference realignment, and we know the Big Ten has no problem poaching teams in valuable TV markets (hello, Maryland and Rutgers). North Carolina would add the Raleigh and Charlotte markets, the 25th and 22nd largest in the country, according to Nielsen. It also wouldn’t hurt to add a new recruiting base and another esteemed research institution to the conference.
That was apparently the thought process of the Big Ten back in 2013, when it reportedly pursued UNC, Virginia and Georgia Tech in its conference expansion bid.
UNC would also have a great incentive to join what is arguably the second-best basketball conference in the countrybehind the ACC. The Tar Heels could face the likes of Indiana, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan and Maryland twice a year, making for some killer matchups.
Plus, the Big Ten-ACC Challenge would be even more interesting every year when not one, but two (don’t forget about Maryland) former ACC members renew old conference rivalries. The conferences could go as far as to permanently pair up Duke and UNC to maintain the best rivalry in college basketball.
In football, UNC could easily jump into the top half of the conference. The Tar Heels would play in the Big Ten East, which means games against Rutgers, Indiana and Maryland would most likely put them halfway to bowl eligibility every year.
What happens to N.C. State?
Assuming N.C. State does not partner with UNC to form some sortof package deal, the most likely move for the Wolfpack is to make the jump to the AAC, since it simply doesn’t have the same athletic pull as its North Carolina sibling to court interest from the likes of the Big Ten or SEC.
In football, the Wolfpack haven’t won a conference championship since 1979, and have only finished in the top 25 five times in the last 25 years. While UNC hasn't won a conference football championship since 1980, it makes up for it by being a blue blood among college basketball programs.
N.C. State does have 23 NCAA Tournament appearances in basketball, including two national titlesin 1974 and ‘83, but hasn’t advanced past the Sweet 16 since the 1985-86 seasonand hasn’t claimed a conference regular season or tournament title since 1989.
Joining the AAC would give it plenty of competition in football, including Houston, Navy, Temple, Memphis and EastCarolina (which the Wolfpack lost to, 33-30 last year). In basketball, it joins a conference that has sent nine of its teams to the NCAA Tournament over the last five years and includes national champion-caliber competitionin UConn and Cincinnati.
What happens to the ACC?
All is not lost for the ACC — at least, not immediately. Adding Notre Dame as a basketball-only member in 2013 suddenly looks like a stroke of genius:Even without UNC and N.C. State, the ACCwould need only minimal adjustments to its conference schedule, and would feature 11 teams that made the NCAA Tournament over the last two seasons.
Football-wise, the conference’s addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse in 2013 and Louisville in 2014 will allow the ACC to keep it’s championship game format with 12 teams. The conference won’t need to realign either, considering North Carolina and N.C. State are permanent cross-division rivals.
The immediate concern for the conference, however, will be to keep other conferences from poaching its remaining schools. Assuming the SEC or Big Ten secures UNC (but not N.C. State), it leaves open the possibility for those conferences to seek another ACC team in order to maintain the conference’s split-division format.
The most enticing option would likely be Georgia Tech. Atlanta is in the middle of SEC country, and bringing on the Yellow Jackets would renew several old rivalries in the conference. Atlanta's media market is massive (ranked ninth by Nielsen), making it a huge draw for the Big Ten, even if the school wouldn't fit geographically with its other members.
Other schools the ACC would need to protect include Virginia, Clemson and Florida State, all of which would provide untapped media markets and competitive football/basketball teams.
Colleen Thomas contributed to this report.