This is going to be a long reply, but becuase evrything is interconnected it is the only way to understand how everything might work out. All moves impact other moves.
This is all based on A&M going to the SEC and then, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and OSU going to the Pac 10. I have always thought from the original ACC expansion days, conference expansion has such a huge impact on SU athletics and is the single most important factor facing the program. It has long-term, ongoing implications.
The Pac 10 will be the first super-conference and ridiculously stable. It will sit at 16 schools with a great assortment of teams and domination of a huge geographic area (about half the country). It is in a great position to negotiate major television deals and/or start network(s). I think this becomes the gold standard of college athletic conferences.
The big question becomes what is the next step. I think to understand this, you have to determine who is in a position to make the next move (SEC and Big 10). They are the most stable and are end-game conference for any school. Any other moves could be trumped down the road if one of these conferences comes asking. I’ll give an example.
If the two moves above (A&M to SEC, and 4 schools to the Pac 10) occur, the Big 12 is done. There are five schools left (Kansas, KSU, Missouri, ISU, Baylor). The next move to actually occur may be for the BE to invite Kansas, KSU and Missouri. They may even accept. Great. The BE is at 12 football schools, thinking they can do some type of east west thing and live happy ever after. The only problem, any school (one of those three or the “original 9” would jump in a second to the Big 10, ACC so SEC. So these moves really don’t matter.
Similarly, the ACC could be “proactive” and get to 16, but it is all for nothing if one of the 16 later jumps.
So if there are only two deciders (Big 10 and SEC), what do they do? Note in no way do I think they are working together, or in conjunction, they are just the only two that can truly be proactive.
I think originally the Big 10 starts and stops with ND. That is the one they want and the one they can wait for. I think ND says 'no' again. There is no one else out there worth the Big 10 splitting the pie another way, so I think they stay put and await the SEC's repsonse.
The SEC is at 13 and they have to do something. Also, the Pac 10 is at 16. There is no way this sits well with the SEC. They have to get to 16.
One way would be to try stick to their stated (rumored??) gentlemen’s agreement of not expanding within states they already occupy. They could add Missouri to the West and then try and get VPI and NC State to the East. If one of them says no, they can go with WVU instead. As far as I can tell, those are pretty much the options and they are not sexy at all. The Pac 10 adds UT and OU, and they are going to respond with that? No way. The SEC has to go big.
I think the realistic plan would be Florida State to the East. Again, similar to Nebraska to the Big 10, you want one of the handful of marquee football programs going forward. I also think FSU is a good ‘fit’. If they do want to stick to East and West, Missouri appears to be the only option West. As far as I can tell, there are just no other options. (The SEC just added a second tier Texas school, they don’t need a third tier school. There is nothing left in Oklahoma and they don’t want Kansas anyway. Louisville doesn’t 'fit' and there really isn’t anyone else.) So they add Missouri and need one more on the East side to get to 16. The good news from their perspective is they have made two very solid moves so far. They got into Texas with A&M and they added a marquee program with FSU. I think it comes down to, in order, Miami, NC State, Virginia Tech and Clemson. I ruled out WVU due to the distance and lack of overall attractiveness. I also ruled out Georgia Tech due to the ‘fit’.
Miami was the hardest one judge. Ultimately, I put them first because they are the biggest name available. I think that is the biggest factor. I do not know how receptive they would be though. It seems as if there football program is a love/hate relationship. They love it for all the good it brings (money and exposure) but hate it for the bad (mainly exposure). I think they want to be viewed as a top academic institution first and I am not sure if a move to the SEC helps that goal, especially with all of the drama currently surrounding the program. There is also the small, private school angle. Ultimately, something tells me this doesn’t happen. Not sure if it comes from the SEC (3 schools in one state?) or Miami, but I don’t think it gets done. I also think Miami likes where it is in the ACC.
Filling-in states North Carolina is next and it is a big one. No way UNC leaves Duke and its basketball-centric conference. I really don’t know much about NC State and if they would do it. To be honest, neither answer would surprise me. They could be happy with UNC, Duke and Wake and stay put. They could also want to get out of big brother’s shadow, and all that comes with it, and jump at the money. Where have we seen this before? So no idea if they take it, but if they do, I think the SEC did just fine with A&M, Mizzou, FSU and NC State. A good mix of football programs and geographic expansion.
If NC State says no, I think VPI is next. Another large state school in an untapped market. As much as I hate to say it, what a run for this school. From the Metro Conference to partial Big East member, to left out of the ACC, to into the ACC expansion through political intervention (after suing), to potential SEC member. The crazy part is, I don’t know if they say 'yes'. They have always wanted the ACC and they have it. Would they leave? I also don’t know if they want SEC football. They have a pretty good thing going (i.e. small pond). I think they might actually decline.
Last up would be Clemson who accepts in a second. I think they view themselves as a southern football school, and if that’s what you are, you want to be on the main stage.
So now the SEC is at 16 with A&M, Mizzou, FSU and another ACC team (likely NC State or Clemson).
There are now two conferences at 16, the Big 10 is still at 12 and the ACC is at 10. The only place for both left to look is the BE and Big 12 leftovers. For those thinking the BE should raid the weakened ACC, I still do not see it. The BE is a mess of a hybrid conference of 17 teams. In my opinion, any BE football playing school(s) would leave the BE to join to 10 ACC schools in a second before the other way around. Also, regarding tv contracts, it is short-term to assume the BE will get a bigger one and the ACC is stuck with its smaller one. If everything gets blown up, won’t they all re-negotiate anyway?
One thing to note, because the SEC acted first, they got Mizzou. It seems to me Mizzou would probably rather be in the Big 10. Maybe they could work that offer to get one from Big 10 and that could blow some things up. There really isn’t anyone left West for the SEC. Do they stop at 14 with A&M and FSU? Do they give up the East/West or reshuffle (who really cares where Kentucky is for football? I think basketball is all one group anyway) and add 3 on the East? This will have a trickle effect throughout, but I do think it could be an option.
Again the conversation starts with the Big 10 and ND. Now maybe both sides are a little more inclined to make it work. If ND says yes, I think the Big 10 grabs them and at least one more.
I think the schools that are ‘fits’ are Pitt, Syracuse and Maryland. I think all three are legitimate BCS-caliber schools. Pitt and Syracuse have tradition. Syracuse brings an inroad into NYC (how much probably depends on who you ask). They also are in the State of New York (potentially in regards to the Big 10 Network and cable providers). Maryland has a prime location, new markets and potential. I think all three would be schools the Big 10 could accept. I think Pitt and Syracuse say 'yes' in a second (grab a life boat). I am not sure about Maryland. While the money and stability would be very attractive, I don’t know if they leave Duke and UNC. I also don’t know if they would want to join a Midwest conference. I think they may say no and stick it out with whatever is left of the ACC. Also, the Big 10 may not be forced to go to 16. Why not add ND + 1 and slice the pie 14 ways, especially if the 15th and 16th teams decrease the relative size of the pie. I see the Big 10 being more content to stay in a situation if they think it is good for them and not feel obligated to keep up with the Jones (i.e. having 11 teams and skipping out on a conference championship for a long time).
I think the next tier includes UConn and Rutgers. UConn is a solid athletic program as a whole, are on the rise, and do help with the whole New York market. The tradition is non-existent and I just don’t know how well it fits. I guess it depends how far forward the Big 10 wants to look and how much confidence they have in the school. (To me, losing Edsall and hiring Pasqualoni did not seem like the most forward looking move for a program trying to be on the rise…) Rutgers is just not a big-time program. They were terrible forever (on the field and as a reflection of their athletic department). A couple solid years and they became the Johnny-come-lately, but I do not know if it is built on a solid foundation and they seem below the Big 10. They may bring a nice market but that is it. They are the anti-Nebraska. I do not think West Virginia due to academics plus the poor market value. I just don’t see it. Kansas I just don’t see either. Big state school, but not much of a market and not much tradition.
So my prediction, Big 10 goes to 14 with ND and Pitt or Syracuse. If no ND, my gut tells me they stay at 12.
Either way the ACC is at 10. I think they have to get back to 12 and have to look to the northeast. I think their top two choices are Syracuse and UConn. I think it helps them solidify the northeast with BC. It adds to their basketball power, and both bring just enough football. If they have to go deeper, I think Pitt first and then Rutgers second. Even though it hasn’t been rumored a lot, I would think Pitt should be an attractive option, even if off the coast a bit (and aren’t we well past that point). I don’t think any of the other BE schools are attractive fits primarily through academics and/or location.
The Big East does what it always does and scrapes and survives. All the members that are left grab any Big 12 schools and whatever else they can find and make a conference. I think they survive but are a tier below. If it is still a BCS world, maybe they lose an automatic bid, or get one when the Big 4 each get two, or they do a head-to-head with the Mountain West. They survive, they still have some programs, but the gap has widened.
Going through the exercise, I actually don’t know if it will be 4-16 team conferences. I think conferences will only go to 16 if it adds value. I think that tends to get lost. It is easy to look at it from a high level and just divide the teams up, but there may be some teams every conference doesn’t want. Alliances will only be made if they add value for both. I also don’t think conferences will have to act. For example, if the Big 10 stays at 12, they will still have value and a seat at the table.