I realize people are really having fun today, greening posts at an alarming rate and deservedly so. I'm writing this as a fanpost, because as much as I love celebration gifs of people humping donkeys, I'm not going to the trouble of writing a serious post only to get lost in a sea of "F#*$ Yeah" gifs. So if you are ready to stop goofing off and get back to Louisville sports discussion, read on. Be warned, it's going to be a classic 1500+ word Remote Cardinal post. As usual, if you don't like my walls-of-text, skip toward the end and you'll find an executive summary.
The purpose of this post will be to discuss Louisville's long-term stability in a "major conference", either ACC or otherwise. Since I'm excited about the ACC as the "perfect fit" for Louisville in terms of all-sports and academic trajectory, I'm going to start there.
Steps for ACC Stability:
The ACC has work to do to ensure long-term stability of the league. It's no secret that Louisville got into the ACC as a reflection of our on-the-field product in all-sports and particularly by being the best football school available to add that met the geography and commitment to football (facilities, coaches, budget, etc) desires of the true football schools in the ACC. We were an appeasement to attempt to stabilize those football schools from having a wandering eye. Did it work? Only time will tell. If you ask me, we served as the pipe wrench that stopped the leak that was caused by an intense overpressure. We did not fix the source of the problem, but stopped the impending catastrophe long enough to have a shot at fixing the problem long term.
The steps to ensure long-term stability of the ACC start with holding Maryland's feet to the fire on the $50M exit fee. There are a lot of variables here, but the ACC is off to a solid beginning by having the 11 current members be unanimous in their desire to sue Maryland and by choosing the court of record to be in the state of North Carolina, the heart of ACC-country. The ACC will settle this suit with Maryland and it's important to not let Maryland loose without paying less than $35M. The floor here is $20M (the previous exit fee that Maryland voted for). This dollar amount is important because it will set the minimum precedence for any other school that leaves the ACC to pay.
The next step in a stable ACC would be securing Notre Dame long-term. While it's unlikely that ND football will join the ACC outright in the near-term, there is an essential way in which the ACC can get the Irish closer than anyone else. TV. It has driven the bulk of realignment to date and will continue to be the driver as long as it is where the money is made. The ACC is currently in negotiations with ESPN to create an ACC Network, sponsored by ESPN through Raycom. ND's NBC contract is up next year and according to the NBC reports, the Irish are poised to command approximately $20M per year all by their lonesome with NBC. If the ESPN/ACC Network can steal away ND from NBC with a sweetheart deal where ND gets paid at least $25M/year (rest of the ACC maintaining their current ~$19M/team). Getting ND to agree to a contract with ESPN wouldn't be easy and it would be essential that ND enjoy the same prominence as they do on NBC currently. All the while, the ACC would still allow ND to maintain it's football independence, collect all bowl payouts in full, etc. This network would also need to be offered on all satellite providers and regional coverage offered on pretty much every major network east of the Mississippi. All this just to get ND on the ESPN/ACC&ND Network.
The last option is to get the existing ACC schools to sign Grant of Rights (GoR), basically signing over their TV money for a defined period of time to the conference and then letting the conference distribute them active members. This is what the Big10 and Big12 have done and if done properly, makes it impossible to poach teams without collecting a MAJOR ($100+M) payday. Unfortunately, there was very little support for such a proposal in the ACC before and I do not believe there would be support today. But I did want to mention it for knowledge's sake.
If these steps don't happen, I feel the ACC is at risk of being poached by other conferences. What I'm going to discuss next is my thoughts on how if either the Big 12 or ACC implode, how Louisville should be okay in the aftermath.
Navigating an ACC-pocolypse:
The death bell of the ACC will only happen if the ultimate end of realignment is the dreaded 4x16 superconferences. In order for the 4x16 superconferences to happen, either the Big 12 or ACC will die. If the Big-12 doesn't survive, it will be because UT and OK are elsewhere. That isn't going to happen in the next 12 years unless the GoR is satisfied in some fashion. In this case, we are already in the ACC and sitting pretty.
In a 4x16 superconference scenario where the ACC doesn't survive, the Big 12 will still need 6 teams. The PAC-12 will still need 4. The Big 10 will need 2. The SEC will need 2. The PAC-12 doesn't have any quality teams out west to add other that Texas and Oklahoma. Those guys are pinned until the GoR is payed out, ran its course or dissolved. I do not see the PAC-12 picking up Boise State, SDSU and other "available teams" just for the sake of getting to 16. They will not expand to 16 unless they can land the big 2 from the BigXII and their partners (OSU and TT). Why does this matter?
Let's say for the sake of argument, the worst-case in the immediate for the ACC happens and the SEC, Big10 and Big12 all take teams from the ACC. The SEC and Big 10 easily get first pick and there are 10 teams from the ACC remaining. The Big 12 would have the option of taking 2, 4, or 6 teams from the remaining 10. Louisville would be near assured to be in the top 6 (thus we would be covered), possibly in the top 4 and definitely not in the top 2. If only 2 or 4 teams are taken, the ACC would just pick up more BE schools and we move on with life in the Orange Bowl and top notch basketball, just like the BE of 2005-2012. If you are questioning why I'm confident that Louisville would be in the top 6, I'll say that for once, geography would play a positive role for us here. We have been the hypothetical #11 for the Big 12 for a year and I don't see 10 current ACC teams (4 to SEC/Big10, 6 to Big12) that would be ahead of us. It would be some unsteady times over the next 10-12 years, but ultimately I think we would come out okay, especially if the ACC is as kind to us as the BE was in terms of our athletics flourishing.
Once the Big12 GoR either runs its course, is paid out, or otherwise dissolved in some way, the PAC-12 will be targeting 4 schools from the Big 12 (UT, TT, OK, OSU). In ANY scenario above, an additional 4 openings in the Big-12 (if it's one of the mystical 4x16s) would create slots and we WILL be a part of that additional 4.
I personally think the 4x16 isn't going to happen anytime soon and that the most likely is 5x14 for the next decade or so at least. It's simply too costly for the PAC-12 to buy out Texas and Oklahoma for the next decade. Even if the ACC is poached in the near-term, it will survive well enough to ensure that UofL isn't locked out of the football playoffs and we are in no worse shape than we were in 2005.
The ACC has a shot at ensuring they are stable long-term. They need to make sure Maryland pays big to leave to minimize or eliminate future near-term defections. They can also dig their claws into Notre Dame much deeper if they make some concessions and get ND's next TV contract with ESPN and a showcase ND on an ESPN-sponsored ACC Network.
With regards to future movement, I view Louisville as almost bulletproof now in terms of being left out of a 4x16 superconference. If the ACC survives, we are already in. If the Big 12 survives the superconferences will not happen until their GoR is expired and there are 6 slots open now and in 12 years or less, there could be 4 more slots in the Big 12. Louisville is currently a top 6 expansion candidate for the Big12 when viewing the entire ACC (after what would be the initial 4 defections to the SEC and Big10) and if not, would have about 10 more years of football access to polish the resume to be set for a slot in the next wave of expansion.