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TV driving force behind expansion; ACC likely to stay intact

In the irrational world of conference expansion, where the television tail routinely wags the dog straight into busy traffic, it’s usually foolish to even dabble in logic.

That said, barring a surprise reaction by the SEC, it’s still unlikely that the apparent pending collapse of the Big 12 Conference would create much of an aftershock in North Carolina and/or the Atlantic Coast Conference.

But if the Big Ten, which could soon absorb Nebraska, also takes a bite out of the Big East – thereby blowing up two leagues rather than one – there’s a chance the ACC could join the feeding frenzy.

There are only two absolutes in this strange environment. No. 1 is that television networks will make the big decisions, and No. 2 is that anyone with direct knowledge of what’s really happening isn’t going to be honest about it.

That’s simply how the most powerful college athletic administrators are allowed to operate these days.

And that being the case, it’s entirely possible the Big Ten could see a need to become the Fearless Fourteen or Seismic Sixteen and pick off a couple of Big East members, only eight of which play top-tier football.

The loss of even one football member to the Big Ten no doubt would be enough to undermine the Big East’s ability to remain stable.

At best, the Big East then likely would lose its automatic qualifying status in the most lucrative Bowl Championship Series games. At worst, the league would lose a BCS berth and too much of its clout at the negotiating table for new football television deals.

The ACC, which already raided the Big East for Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech, then might have an urge to reel in more teams from the same pool.

Although the ACC and ESPN already have agreed to a 12-year, $1.8 billion or so football and basketball rights agreement that is scheduled to begin with the 2011-12 school year, the deal could be renegotiated if the ACC took on more television inventory.

Though football TV money is instigating the conference shakeups, it’s entirely possible that the ACC could expand again and wind up enhancing only its basketball status.

That could easily be the case if the ACC picked up Connecticut and Syracuse at the end of a Big Ten raid that captured – say – Rutgers and West Virginia.

It’s difficult to imagine the college terrain without the Big 12 and/or Big East, and it’s for certain fans are being stripped of traditional rivalries and long-established conference communities.

But fans have no say-so and even less clout in these developments. The folks pulling in the big paychecks are rearranging the parts to suit their tastes.

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