Welcome to Manifest Destiny – college football style.

J. Brady McCollough

Confused? Open up your high school American History textbooks and turn to the 1830s. To sum it up, the term “Manifest Destiny” was the United States’ way of justifying its immense territorial growth during the 30 years preceding the Civil War. The U.S. flexed its imperial muscles at the expense of poor Mexico, which eventually became just the U.S.’s little friend to the South after owning most of southwestern United States.

Manifest Destiny, more than anything, offered hope for many young, adventurous American citizens, who wanted to make a name for themselves in this budding democracy.

OK, enough with the history lesson. The Atlantic Coast Conference’s recent quest to expand from nine to 12 teams by annexing Miami (Fla.), Syracuse and Boston College from the Big East Conference is just college football’s most recent version of Manifest Destiny. It’s the way the world works. Where there are “superpowers,” there are always people trying to join that elite status.

The ACC (the U.S.) is trying to establish itself as a college football superpower, just like the Southeastern Conference (Great Britain) and the Big 12 Conference (France), but this all comes at the expense of the Big East (Mexico).

This current conflict between the ACC and Big East will shakedown like the Alamo. If the ACC wins, which seems very likely now, everything will change on college football’s national landscape, and the Big East will inevitably fall apart.

But don’t believe Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese, who is making this out to be some sort of tragedy for college sports as a whole. Mike, this is a tragedy for your conference’s ability to compete on a national level in football. It’s bad for you. But boy is it a sweet deal for college football nationally.

There are obvious winners and losers here, but that’s the nature of the game. If Miami, Syracuse and Boston College join the ACC, the Big East will likely lose its automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series. How exciting is that for college football? The Big East and ACC, two weak football conferences, have been taking up two automatic BCS bids. They’ve made it tough for schools in the Big Ten, Pac-10, Big 12 and SEC, who have great seasons but aren’t conference champs, to find a way into the BCS mix.

Take last season as an example. There is no reason that an 8-4 Florida State team deserved to play 12-1 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Usually, each year, there is one team from the ACC or Big East that does not belong in the BCS.

But that wouldn’t be the case anymore. There would likely be three at-large bids to the BCS instead of two, which certainly is good for the Big Ten, as the Michigan-Ohio State loser is always a lucrative at-large choice.

The ACC becomes a very solid football competitor with the addition of Miami. The ‘Canes and ‘Noles will always be among the most talented teams in the country, and now with the emergence of new coaches Chuck Amato at North Carolina State and Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, the ACC has some up-and-coming programs waiting to strike on the national scene.

The ACC expansion simply helps the big boys get fatter. The Big East will become a conference that will have to choose an identity: Even weaker football conference or a conference that is built on basketball-only schools like Georgetown, Villanova and Seton Hall. Keep in mind that is what the Big East was before it changed its direction by adding Miami in the early ’90s. The football schools left in the Big East – Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and West Virginia – will likely scramble for new partnerships as soon as annexation is made official sometime in June.

The losers here are clearly these three schools. Frank Beamer has built Virginia Tech into one of the top 15 football programs in the nation year in and year out, but for some reason that just wasn’t enough to be included in the ACC’s invite list. Regardless, the Hokies, Panthers and Mountaineers will have some suitors to be sure.

Conference USA is licking its chops, hoping that adding one or a few of these schools will make it a candidate for an automatic BCS bid. Some believe the Big East will raid C-USA to get its automatic bid back and keep a somewhat respectable football reputation. But honestly, a Conference USA-Big East combo doesn’t come anywhere close to deserving an automatic BCS bid.

The Big Ten could possibly add one of the three castaways, most likely Pittsburgh, which holds the academic credentials for admission to the Big Ten. The Pac-10, Big 12 and SEC are in no position to add teams, and the Mountain West – always clamoring for a BCS bid and national respect – is also not likely to take action.

It has been rumored that the Big Ten is interested in expanding, just like in 1999 when it offered its 12th spot to Notre Dame. But Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi says the conference is not interested in adding a team. Pittsburgh, a school flourishing in football and basketball recently, will likely make a push to join the Big Ten.

It’s interesting that the Big Ten isn’t feeling the pressure of this period of Manifest Destiny in college football. Why not add the Panthers, give Penn State a natural rival and become the country’s fourth superpower? It’s probably because the Big Ten isn’t in a desperate mood right now. It has the finest team in the land, Ohio State, and a conference championship game would take away from the Ohio State-Michigan game at the end of the season.

The Big Ten’s football revival last season was impressive. But if it falls back to where it was the previous two seasons, and the three “superconferences” continue to increase their prestige, how long can the Big Ten sit back and watch?

Time will only tell.


J. Brady McCollough can be reached at bradymcc@umich.edu.

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