What is SEC's role in realignment?

Late last year, a few months after the SEC gobbled up Texas and Oklahoma, commissioner Greg Sankey was asked if he was to blame for realignment.

"No," Sankey said, grinning. "Let’s go back over the last 20 or 30 years — a lot of decisions have been made, with a lot of movement. That’s historic reality, that’s current reality and likely going to be future reality."

Bingo. And if anything, the bombshell news Thursday that the Big Ten is gobbling up USC and UCLA shows that Sankey and the SEC were not to blame. They’re vindicated because in college athletics nobody is in charge, and conference realignment, it appears, was always destined to be a messy but lucrative dash toward super-conferences.

And the SEC will be one of them.

What is the reaction in SEC territory?

People in the SEC footprint were as surprised as anybody, at least that this is happening now. Two well-connected sources in the SEC said they hadn’t heard anything until early Thursday, a few hours before the story broke. Paul Finebaum, the pre-eminent voice on the SEC Network, echoed that while using an infrared sauna,

"It’s a jaw-dropping move," Finebaum said. "Compliments to Kevin Warren for completely faking out his colleagues at the ACC and Pac-12 with this ridiculous contraption called The Alliance. While they were celebrating such future matchups like Washington State-Georgia Tech and Boston College-Cal, the Big Ten was plotting the biggest move in college football since Oklahoma and Texas to the SEC. While it moves the Big Ten closer to the SEC, it pushes the ACC closer to irrelevance.

"If you are Dabo Swinney, you are screaming at your athletic director at Clemson to get you to the SEC, regardless of the cost."

At least one SEC administrator called the USC/UCLA move "predictable" based upon the Power 5 merging into a Power 2.

"The SEC and Big Ten have separated from all the other conferences," the source said. "The schools with strong brands who are outside those two leagues will be seeking entry."

So will the SEC go after ACC schools?

Maybe eventually, but it’s not as easy as just adding them. The ACC has a grant of rights deal with each school through 2036 — the same reason Oklahoma and Texas have to wait until 2025 to leave the Big 12.

Still, if this is all accelerating the move to super-conferences, Sankey will not be standing pat, especially if the ACC truly is vulnerable. And it might be if the money ACC schools would have to forfeit can be offset by the money they would get by landing in the Big Ten or SEC.

On paper, the ACC has schools that could be divided into like-minded conferences: The Big Ten could take North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Syracuse, Boston College and Pittsburgh. The SEC would most value Clemson, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Miami, with NC State, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest as second-tier options. (Where would that leave Louisville? Maybe to join whatever is left of the Big 12?)

SEC presidents probably would prefer to go after North Carolina and Duke, for reasons of academic prestige. It might not seem like the best fit, but at this point, it’s all about the money.

This is all speculation, of course, until getting a school out of the ACC appears realistic. Those conversations are certainly happening now but probably more in a reactionary way: Where is this going and what should we do? Sankey and the SEC have shown they will act more deliberately, so don’t expect any SEC expansion news conferences tomorrow.

At minimum, Sankey and the SEC are well positioned, having been the first to get to 16 teams. They also did it in a way that makes more geographic sense: Every state in the conference’s footprint touches at least one other SEC school.

Whereas the Big 12 was viewed as the most unstable conference for the past decade, the ACC and soon-to-be Pac-10 now share that distinction. It’s feasible that the Big 12 might have enough leverage to draw Utah and an ACC member. Or will the ACC convince the Big 12’s easternmost schools to join the pack?

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