It’s that time again. The whispers are starting up and everyone’s favorite offseason storyline from last year is back again: Realignment. The focus is on Florida State and its potential move to the Big 12 and the possibility of other teams making the jump along with the ‘Noles. One of those rumored partners is the Clemson Tigers and their rowdy, orange-wearing, cadence-cheering fanatical program. It won’t happen in time for any significant changes this year, but we could be looking at a possible change of scenery in the next few years.
If the opportunity presents itself for Clemson to go to the Big 12 as Florida State’s partner, they have to accept.
Despite that, here are a couple of reasons why the Tigers won’t have such an easy decision if they are given a chance to jump to the ACC:
1) The ACC is a stronger academic conference
Despite having to account for me, the ACC can still lay claim to being a better academic conference than the Big 12. While that may not mean a lot to everyone, it does mean something to universities. I won’t pretend to lump academic and athletic decisions into one for schools who often separate them. In fact, have we not learned through NCAA athletics that student-athletes will be given chance after chance to meet their academic standards? However, this move wouldn’t be about the homework students have to turn in. We’re talking about a drop in the level of the university reputations. The ACC has many strong academic institutions among top athletic programs with North Carolina, Duke, Boston College, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and yes, even Clemson being considered very strong by most national ranking systems. Without begrudging the academic policies of the Big 12, they don’t match that.
2) The ACC is simply a better overall major sports conference
This is a football decision. These decisions almost always are, but is leaving for football a better overall decision for these programs? The ACC goes and forth with the Big East historically for the title as best basketball conference in the country. While in the last couple years the ACC has been very top heavy, the Big 12 has rarely ever lived up to the caliber of the ACC. In baseball, that edge is even more dramatic. The ACC may have the best conference in America for baseball with the latest poll showing sox ACC teams ranked in the top 25 to the Big 12′s two. While the ACC has been the butt end of jokes for a while for their shortcomings in the College World Series, that tidbit has held true for a while now. The ACC has long been an elite conference in baseball. When talking about the sports that factor the most into the athletic department decisions, you’re looking at that triumvirate of sports.
However, as I said already, this is a football decision. For my money, Clemson would be making the best decision if they chose to go to the Big 12. Clemson is a football school. Despite being in the ACC for decades, the legacy of the basketball conference has never done anything for Clemson basketball. It has been a happy-go-lucky basketball program for years now, never truly fielding a contender and generally being satisfied if it makes the NCAA tourney. The attitude toward the program has been a shade above lukewarm for quite some time. The baseball team is better supported and is beloved, especially in the late part of the semester and early part of summer break when it is the lone act in town.
The Big 12 is simply a more attractive football conference. It offers the top 10 programs, national television exposure each week, and passionate fanbases that often are missing in the ACC. I’ve said it a few times now that Florida State, Clemson and Miami are SEC/Big 12 fanbases trapped in a conference full of mildly passionate fanbases. There’s a reason FSU and Clemson are 80,000+ seat stadiums (and Miami 76K) in a league where most other schools are only holding 60K with some as low as 30-35K. The ACC is not a great football conference. Other schools in the league pride themselves on other sports and it shows. Clemson will never benefit as a football school playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference. When the 4-team playoff format starts in 2014, what leagues do you think will have a leg up on the rest? That would be the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and PAC-12.
The ACC is already considered a tier-2 football conference and has close to no national respect. If Clemson decided to stay in the ACC (or if they don’t have the choice to leave for the Big 12), there’s a lot worse positions they could be in. However, we’ve seen teams move around a bit in recent years and it leads me to believe that at some point in the near future we’re going to see a major shift in the collegiate athletic landscape with the emergence of “super conferences”. If the opportunity presents itself for Clemson and Florida State to get a piece of the cake when it’s sliced, they should grab their slice. I’d hate to look around in 10 years and be surrounded by Wake Forest and Boston College.
So say yes Clemson. If the Big 12 gets down on one knee with a ring, say yes.