The presidents of the remaining 15 Atlantic Coast Conference schools announced today that each school has granted their media rights for the next 14 years to the conference. It's the same deal that Nebraska has with the Big Ten, along with every other Big Ten school. The Pac-12 has this arrangement. The Big XII did this as well last year after Missouri and Texas A&M left. What does this mean?
Simply put, it's an explicit agreement that no matter what happens with conference realignment, the old conference retains the broadcasting rights to that school's games. If Nebraska wanted to return to the Big XII, Husker football would still be televised under the Big Ten's broadcasting agreements. Which pretty much eliminates any incentive for schools in the ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, and Pac-12 to change conferences.
Conventional wisdom suggests that conference realignment at the BCS conference level is now over. The Big XII and ACC have finally erected solid defenses, and acquired nearly every Big East program worth a darn. (The Big East couldn't even retain their own name, as the basketball schools who left took the name with them.)
Is that the case? Probably, but don't bet much on it. Certainly no ACC school agreed to this with any intention of switching conferences at this time, but things still could always change. Lawyers always find ways of making things work out, and if a school really wants to leave, it could still happen. It's just much more difficult now.
Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald reports that the Big Ten has taken recent looks at Oklahoma, Kansas, and Vanderbilt. That's an interesting combination of potential targets: Oklahoma in the Big Ten's West Division certainly erases any questions about the balance of power in the Big Ten's divisions. Kansas brings a tremendous basketball prestige to the Big Ten. And Vanderbilt not only brings tremendous academic credentials, but an opportunity to crack the Southeastern Conference's mindset as the premier conference.
Likely? No. But certainly not inconceivable. If anything is going to happen, it's likely to happen in a couple of years. After the 2015 football season, the Big Ten's contract with ABC/ESPN expires. Judging from what the Big XII, ACC, and SEC have received in recent years, the Big Ten has to be salivating over what might be available in the last college football agreement that's going to come to market for the next ten years.
And those discussions will also include what new members might be worth, and whether it would make financial sense to expand, even if the media rights would have to be reacquired back from another conference. That's unlikely if ESPN or Fox were the leading bidders; they already have the rights for Oklahoma, Kansas, and Vanderbilt. But if CBS or NBC were interested in making a bold move, especially to upgrade their cable networks, all bets are off.
And that's why the ACC's "Grant of Rights" doesn't necessarily mean the end of conference realignment. It's definitely less likely, but it's not over until Jim Delany says it's over.