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Realignment over?

SportsNation
IT'S DONE FOR NOW
IT'S NOT OVER YET

More realignment on hold

Maisel By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com
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Realignment is done for a while because the money says it is.

Realignment ran roughshod over tradition, frayed long-standing ties and thumbed its nose at math. (True or false: The Big 12 has 12 teams.) Realignment achieved all of that in the pursuit of money. Some schools framed it as a search for security or stability or like-mindedness. Yeah, whatever. They moved for money.

Or in the case of Texas, didn't move. The Longhorns kept the Big 12 intact once they figured out the Longhorn Network (in partnership with ESPN) could provide the significant financial boost the then-Pac-10 promised.

But Texas also proves a larger point: The rash of activity that took place in the past few years happened at roughly the same time as the major Football Bowl Subdivision conferences negotiated new TV deals with the networks. The leagues needed the best possible group of members to bring the biggest possible payouts.

You can argue whether or not the conferences and the schools they lured made good decisions or bad. But the reason realignment will pause for a while is simple. The TV contracts are pretty well done. The deals carry into the next decade. The conferences have drawn from the network well. They have the long-term stability they sought.

It is true that the SEC expanded and is now renegotiating its TV contracts. But the SEC, as the most powerful of the leagues, can do whatever it wants whenever it wants. The SEC has said it is in no hurry to expand again. If the league is not going to take ACC teams, it is hard to imagine which schools it might pursue. Not to mention that the ACC, newly expanded to include Notre Dame (sort of in football), is a more stable place than it used to be.

The ACC, by taking what it could get of Notre Dame, made adding a 16th team more difficult. Add UConn or Rutgers, and you have 16 teams in basketball but 15 in football. It's hard enough scheduling 14 teams.

The Big Ten, the Pac-12 and the Big 12 all say they aren't interested in expanding anytime soon. The Big 12 is the least stable of the three, given the historical lack of trust among its members. But with new TV deals and newly pledged fealty, let's take the Big 12 and the others at their word. Realignment is on hold for the next few years. In intercollegiate athletics, a few years is a very long time.

More movement to come

Schlabach By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com
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While I agree with Ivan in that college football is going to avoid another seismic shift in conference realignment, I think there's still a chance we could see some slight movement in the not-so-distant future.

It might not happen this season or next, but what happens when Notre Dame decides to become a full-fledged conference member? The Fighting Irish undoubtedly will jump neck deep into the ACC, which might then grab Connecticut as its 16th member (to shore up its basketball roster if nothing else). Notre Dame was the remaining prize left in conference realignment, and ACC commissioner John Swofford won the final battle by getting the Irish to join his league in name, if nothing else.

And who's to say the Big 12 won't eventually go to 12 teams so it can again reap millions of more dollars in revenue from a Big 12 championship game. After losing Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC in July, the Big 12 added West Virginia and TCU to replace them. It still seems silly that the Big 12 has only 10 teams (while the Big Ten has 12), so maybe schools such as Boise State and BYU could become Nos. 11 and 12.

Of course, the downtrodden Big East was the biggest loser in conference realignment. Along with losing TCU (which never even played a game as a Big East member) and West Virginia to the Big 12, it will see Pittsburgh and Syracuse bolt for the ACC next year. Beginning in 2013, the Big East's borders will stretch from Connecticut to Central Florida to SMU to San Diego State. There's always plenty of room -- geographically if nothing else -- to add a couple more members.

We know one thing: Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech, which have long been considered potential targets for the Big 12 and SEC, aren't going anywhere. Before the ACC announced its new partnership with Notre Dame, its members approved a $50 million exit fee for any school wanting to leave. So it's safe to say the ACC is set for a while.

If only the Big East were as stable. If any of the big five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) wants to expand in the future, Big East schools such as Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville and South Florida would be the most attractive candidates on the board. And, of course, those schools wouldn't blink before leaving for greener pastures.