TAMPA — After a few months of relative stability, thinking that the ACC's $50 million exit fee would curb additional conference realignment, college athletics' dominos are falling once more, and again, the moves are coming at the Big East's expense.
ACC charter member Maryland announced Monday it is leaving to join the Big Ten, and Rutgers reportedly will announce today that it is leaving the Big East for the Big Ten. That isn't likely the end of it, as the ACC's source for a replacement 14th school likely will be the Big East, most likely Connecticut or Louisville.
CBSsports.com's Jeremy Fowler reported Monday that USF is one of four Big East schools — with UConn, Louisville and Cincinnati — that the ACC will talk to, but the Bulls are generally seen as a long shot within the group because the ACC already has a strong Florida presence in Florida State and Miami.
Maryland president Wallace D. Loh said the move was driven by budget problems.
"I am very aware that for many of our Terps fans and alumni, their reaction is stunned and disappointed. But we will always cherish the memories, the rivalries, the tradition of the ACC," Loh said. "For those alumni and Terp fans, I will now say this: I made this decision as best as I could … to do what is best for the University of Maryland for the long haul."
Academics was another factor for Maryland, which as a Big Ten member can join the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a consortium of world-class research institutions.
The realignment carousel isn't likely done with the ACC getting back to 14: The Big 12 would then have four fewer teams than the SEC, Big Ten and ACC and may seek additional teams as a result. It's unknown what impact the new changes would have on the balance of power for automatic bowl contracts in the new top-six bowl structure that will begin with the 2014 season.
The most plausible scenario that would have USF involved in upgrading conferences would be if the Big 12 grabs FSU from the ACC, which would then have less of a Florida presence and could look to USF.
This turmoil comes as the Big East was close to the long-term stability that would come with a new TV rights deal. The conference last week announced its divisions for football in 2013, when it was to expand to 12 football teams. The Big East requires 27 months' notice to leave the conference, but there's ample precedent in the past year for schools buying their way into a quicker exit, as West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh have done.
The Big East would likely require its existing members to remain for the 2013-14 season, as anything less than 12 football schools would keep the league from debuting its conference championship game next season; replacement schools could be found to join the league in 2014. In the past year, the Big East has lost West Virginia and TCU to the Big 12, and Pitt and Syracuse are in their final seasons, joining the ACC next summer; Notre Dame will soon be taking all of its non-football teams to the ACC as well.
The Big East could also have problems with new arrivals Boise State and San Diego State, who along with BYU reportedly have talked with the Mountain West about possibly returning to their old league.
FSU's Eric Barron, one of two ACC presidents to vote against the increase to a $50 million exit fee (Loh was the other), told the Tallahassee Democrat he would keep an eye out for potential legal action to attempt to lower the cost of leaving the conference.
"The ACC lawyers are absolutely convinced it's binding," Barron told the newspaper. "If Maryland challenges it, I'll be watching closely to see if that works."