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Syracuse Orange: Conference realignment is ‘madness,’ per Jim Boeheim

Syracuse Orange, Jim Boeheim (Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)
Syracuse Orange, Jim Boeheim (Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports) /

Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim, who retired as the long-time head coach of Syracuse Orange basketball this past March, says he understands why Atlantic Coast Conference leaders have elected to expand the league, giving SU and its ACC peers a couple of new members on the west coast.

Boeheim, never shy to voice his opinion on a range of issues in collegiate athletics, was at the helm of Syracuse Orange hoops when the ‘Cuse moved from the Big East Conference to the ACC in the 2013-14 season.

In his nearly 50 years running Syracuse basketball, he saw plenty of conference shuffling, and he gets why the ACC has gotten bigger. Whether the ACC – whose board recently voted to add Pac-12 Conference members California and Stanford, as well as SMU out of the American Athletic Conference – has gotten “better” remains to be seen.

"“I think the ACC is doing what they have to do based on the expansion, otherwise you could have no league in two, three years,” Jim Boeheim, who these days is a special assistant to Syracuse University athletic director John Wildhack, recently told Donna Ditota of Syracuse.com. Boeheim added, “I think it’s the best the ACC could do in a difficult situation.”"

Former Syracuse Orange basketball head coach Jim Boeheim discusses conference realignment.

I totally agree with Jim Boeheim here. The Pac-12 is down to two teams – Oregon State and Washington State – after other member schools bolted for the ACC, the Big Ten Conference and the Big 12 Conference.

The Big Ten and the Southeastern Conference, if we’re talking about big-time football and television contracts, are the crème de la crème in college sports. The Big 12 and the ACC are both trying to reside in the No. 3 spot. Each of those conferences has gotten bigger; but have they gotten better? We’ll see.

At issue in the ACC is the conference’s media rights deal with ESPN that runs through 2036. Florida State has been the most vocal of late in lamenting the league’s revenue distribution model, but the ACC’s reportedly air-tight media rights deal with ESPN would make it difficult for any ACC schools to depart, including the Syracuse Orange.

As ACC leaders discussed a possible expansion in recent weeks, initially there weren’t enough votes to admit Cal, Stanford and SMU. But that all changed last Friday, as word broke that the ACC had the 12 votes needed to expand to the west coast.

So now the Atlantic Coast Conference is, I guess, perhaps the All-Coast Conference? From a geographic standpoint, this expansion makes no sense, but the same can be said about the recent additions made by other power leagues as well.

"The ACC has grown to 18 members, including 17 in football, since Notre Dame is an independent in that sport. Per ESPN’s Pete Thamel, citing sources, “the financial package for Stanford and Cal to join the ACC will include taking just 30% of a full league share for the next seven years. That number will jump to 70% in Year 8 and 75% in Year 9 before the schools receive full shares in the 10th year and beyond, per sources. SMU will not take any television revenue for the first nine years, per sources.”"

That’s a whole lot of concessions from those three new ACC members, and they will begin competing in the league in 2024-25. I assume those types of concessions were necessary to get the required 12 votes for the conference to expand.

In adding SMU, the ACC will have the massive Dallas market. Cal and Stanford bring the San Francisco metropolitan area. Those two schools are also excellent academic institutions whose athletic departments shine in Olympic sports, something that Wildhack alluded to in his own statement on September 1.

Is the ACC adding SMU, Cal and Stanford in part because that expansion could act as a buffer of sorts if other league members ultimately head to greener pastures? Perhaps.

Is it weird that the ACC has expanded to the west coast? Absolutely. Was this expansion necessary for the league to remain intact for the foreseeable future? Maybe.

I attended Syracuse University in the late 1990s, graduating in 2000. I’m old school. I want the Syracuse Orange back in the Big East, but that’s not realistic due to the importance of football and TV money to help fund Olympic sports.

I get it. So does Jim Boeheim. That doesn’t mean we have to like it. I feel bad for student-athletes in Olympic sports who will likely have to spend a lot of time in airports and on commercial planes – not chartered ones – as they suit up in league games that stretch across the country.

I’ve seen many reports that speak to the travel logistics issue, and that is something that ACC leaders will have to iron out as best they can.

Jim Boeheim said to Ditota that the way the latest round of conference realignment commenced, with Pac-12 members UCLA and Southern California heading to the Big Ten, and then a whole lot of other shuffling around since then, “I think it’s all madness. … To me, the geography is important. It’s the travel for student-athletes that is just absolutely crazy.”

He noted that from his perspective, when teams have to endure a lot of traveling, they “very rarely play well and mostly lose.”

Jim Boeheim continued by saying, “I could see four conferences in a couple years with all the teams in a breakaway. That’s all very possible. It’s just a matter of time.”

Like I said earlier, I yearn for the old days, when the Syracuse Orange was in the Big East, and collegiate athletics wasn’t primarily focused on NIL, the transfer portal and the like.

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