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REPORT: Realignment cold war looming between Big Ten, SEC for two ACC schools

A new report indicates that the Big and SEC are both vying for the same two ACC schools in conference realignment. How could this impact Penn State football?



Big Ten, SEC, two ACC schools, Penn State Football
Sep 4, 2021; Charlottesville, Virginia, USA; A detailed view of the ACC logo on the down marker used during the game between William & Mary Tribe and the Virginia Cavaliers at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

A realignment cold war looms between the “Power Two” in college football. Although it may take years to play out, a growing contingent expects the Big Ten and SEC to raid the remaining Power Five conferences for their most prominent brands. A recent report from ESPN’s Pete Thamel indicates that the two conferences are ready to wage war over the rights of two ACC schools. And while the consequences of this conference expansion would impact Penn State football and the larger college athletics landscape for decades to come, the two schools may not be who you’d expect.

Big Ten and SEC both want to add these two ACC schools

This week, Pete Thamel of ESPN wrote a piece covering the latest developments in conference realignment. After discussing the latest happenings with realignment issues with Colorado, the Big 12, and the PAC 12, the piece moved on to the impending turf war between the SEC and the Big Ten.

Thamel reports that the Big Ten and SEC are both eyeing the same two ACC schools – North Carolina and Virginia. “Outside of Notre Dame, there are no programs that will be as coveted by the SEC and Big Ten thanks to both geography and market,” Thamel writes.

Thamel explains that the appeal of North Carolina and Virginia is not directly tied to football success. The schools are in contiguous states for both the SEC and the Big Ten, allowing the conferences to expand their geographic footprints without too much extension (not that it matters as much with the new coast-to-coast Big Ten). In addition, both North Carolina and Virginia are among the most populous states in the union, which can help with student recruiting for the entire conference.

However, Thamel notes that with the ACC grant of rights running through 2036, a power grab from the Big Ten or SEC may not happen for some time. “Both leagues are peering at each other from their respective league headquarters,” Thamel writes. “Neither wants to be overtly destructive or accused of tortious interference…But neither league wants to be a step behind the other. So they watch and wait.”

What would this mean for Penn State football?

While the prospect of landing North Carolina or Virginia may not be as appealing as adding Clemson, Florida State, or Miami, it would be significant for Penn State football nonetheless.

Much has been made over Penn State’s lack of permanent rivalry games in the new Big Ten scheduling format. While the Nittany Lions will get to rotate through new conference opponents like USC and UCLA, the thought of losing annual games against Ohio State and Michigan has been frustrating to some. But if the Big Ten added schools like North Carolina and Virginia, it could create more opportunities for budding rivalries to form.

In addition, along with Rutgers and Maryland, adding Virginia and North Carolina would create an interesting dynamic of teams along the I-95 corridor. In this new East Coast wing of teams, Penn State would most likely be near the top in terms of football prowess.

There’s also the dynamic of recruiting. Penn State has long been able to recruit the state of Virginia and has had recent success in North Carolina as well. Adding schools in these states would undoubtedly help the Nittany Lions on the recruiting trail. Further, creating more games within driving distance would likely aid Penn State in recruiting in many southern states.

While this is not the first – or the last – news on the conference realignment front, drastic changes like this may not happen for years. The college football landscape is moving towards one that would be unrecognizable to many of us a few years ago. However, until the next shoe drops, all we can do is wait.

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Matt is a co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


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