To preview the season, I'm going to write a set of columns called "the ultimate list". Basically I pitched it to Joe as a long list of lists with everything from goofy jokes about which Virginia Tech football player you'd most want to babysit your kids to actual analysis about best case and worst case scenarios for the 2021 season.
This is a sample of the content you'll be able to read when we get going. Call it a proof of concept or maybe even a little nudge to get you to subscribe to The Key Players Club for the upcoming season's-worth of articles, breakdowns and insights.
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The 4 best conference realignment scenarios for the Hokies
4. The ACC adds Notre Dame and West Virginia
This is last because it's both least exciting and realistic. I'm not going to belabor the point, but the general sentiment is that Jim Phillips would have to pry independence from Notre Dame's cold, dead fingers. And it makes a ton of sense — in a world where owning your own rights is increasingly important, why would the Irish join a conference? And even if they were to sign up for one, why would it be the ACC?
And while this would theoretically give every team in the conference more money, I doubt that it would make the seismic change the programs are hoping for. It would more likely just make the ACC a slightly-less-distant-third behind the revenues of the SEC and the Big Ten.
3. Virginia Tech joins the Big Ten
There aren't a ton of reasons the Hokies should plant their flag in the heartland other than money, but dollars seem to be the only thing that matters at the cost of literally anything else. If joining the Big Ten meant the only way for Tech to stay alive in a power conference, then let's walk through this hypothetical.
Culturally, Tech has much more in common with schools like Tennessee, South Carolina and Auburn than Indiana, Penn State and Michigan. Leaving the ACC for a conference other than the SEC would also impact recruiting. Look at Nebraska, they left the Big 12 and suddenly found themselves unable to recruit Texas like they did when they played in the state two-to-three times a year.
Would recruiting New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania be all that bad? Maybe not. But as the Cornhuskers have shown, changing your base can be a dangerous game to play. And though many Big Ten schools recruit Florida, you see fewer dip into places like the Carolinas and Georgia (where Tech currently has six commits for the '22 class). It may not matter, but if Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech were going head-to-head on a recruit, would it be harder to sell the Lane Stadium environment against the likes of Minnesota and Rutgers?
One thing to keep an eye on here, though, is Tim Sands. Sands is a Big Ten guy who was at Purdue for 10 years prior to taking the job in Blacksburg. From an outsider's perspective it seems like he's growing the university similarly to some of the larger schools in the midwest. This is all reckless speculation, but it wouldn't seem crazy to think he sees a fit with the conference he knows best.
2. Virginia Tech joins the SEC
This makes all the sense in the world. Culturally, geographically, recruiting-footprint wise. Having a staff who can recruit the Commonwealth with the money, swagger and dick swinging that comes with SEC prestige would be essential to the growth of the program.
And after listening to former ESPN boss John Skipper give his thoughts on realignment on the Dan Le Batard Show, a quick-ish addition of Virginia Tech and one more school could be incredibly beneficial to the SEC.
While we all talk about the value of different programs in a future where the sport is less reliant on cable packages, Skipper implied that this base of realignment is (at least partially) still motivated by cable network dollars. And when things expire in the mid-2030s, schools and conferences likely won't see the explosion of money they've benefitted from over the last two decades.
To put it simply, the time to make ungodly amounts of cash is right now. And if the SEC can add two extra states worth of TV subscribers (Tech and NC State, perhaps?) they should expand as quickly as they can figure out the legal ramifications of stealing two teams from the seemingly inescapable clutches of the ACC's own cable deal. The more money the SEC can make now, the better off each of their teams will be in the future.
Why is this not number one? Well, two reasons. First, are we (and by we, I mean Virginia Tech fans) ready to be bad? We're not talking road trip Pitt losses bad, we're talking about hide your eyes, dumpster fire, Derek Dooley bad.
The leap from going 8-4 in the ACC Coastal to anywhere near average in the SEC is a big one. And while Tech is growing their staff and modernizing parts of the program that had long been overlooked, it's a whole new world down south. There's no time to figure out how to be a successful, modern day program. There aren't years of padding your win totals with games against Georgia Tech, Virginia and Syracuse (okay, maybe Syracuse was a bad example, but you get it).
Instead, the Hokies would theoretically be thrown against the best teams in the country in a sink-or-swim situation. But in this environment, if you start to sink, there's a decent chance you fall right through the bottom. (This wasn't an intentional Vanderbilt joke, but since we're here... #AnchorsDown, amirite?)
There's no promise that a leap to the SEC will deliver the kind of resurrection to national prominence that many Hokie fans want to see. Outside of one glorious run with the Ol' Ball Coach, South Carolina has bathed itself in mediocrity since joining the conference in '91. Tennessee has had six (SIX!!!) head coaches since it last won 10 games, and Mississippi State has won 10 games twice since the FDR administration.
Joining the conference would give the Hokies the resources to succeed. But getting trounced by Alabama and Florida and Oklahoma won't be easy to stomach, especially early on.
But there's a second, much more practical reason this probably won't happen — there doesn't seem to be a viable way out of the ACC's woefully meager deal.
So if Tech has to stay in the conference...
1. Jim Phillips strikes first
Right now, the SEC and the Big Ten are in position to make oodles of cash. The ACC has a long-term deal, which will theoretically keep it afloat at least until 2036. And while the Big 12 implodes, the Pac-12 needs to figure out how to keep itself relevant with a deal that's even worse than the ACC's.
So here's my question. If the ACC is simply trying to hold on, and it looks like we're headed towards the creation of 1-4 super conferences anyway, why wait for somebody else to make the first move?
In my totally-not-realistic-but-wouldn't-it-be-cool dream, Phillips and the ACC brass upend college sports by creating the Coastal Conference™, a bi-coastal super conference that would include the entirety of the ACC, Pac-12, and at least two new teams to bring the Pac-12 up to 14 schools.
It would be college football's first super conference, run similarly to the AFC and NFC. Split the Coastal Conference™ into two divisions (the Atlantic and Pacific, duh) and have the two division winners meet at the end of the season to decide the champion.
Teams would play nine games against opponents in their division (read, a schedule exactly like they have now), two games against cross-division opponents (giving each of the schools more exposure on the opposite coast) and one non-conference game (preserving rivalries like Florida-Florida State, USC-Notre Dame, Georgia-Georgia Tech, etc).
It not only gives the 28 teams an opportunity to ask for a massive amount of money, but it also allows the Pac-12 to fold their woebegone network into the ACC Network and gives ESPN a borderline-monopoly on college football.
The conference also consolidates more traditional basketball powerhouses (Duke, say hi to UCLA!) and allows the Olympic sports to continue to play their standard conference schedule, with the option to have a few cross-country trips if budgets allow.
This won't happen. They'll more than likely grit their teeth through another decade-and-a-half of mediocre TV deals.
But it would be cool, wouldn't it?