With all eyes in the ACC on Charlotte last week, this is the perfect time to talk about Syracuse football. Specifically, the future of Syracuse football. As college football continues to undergo massive changes essentially every summer, talk of super conferences, NIL and realignment intensifies. It raises the question: what is next?
No one obviously knows the answer for sure, but I have to say, the outlook seems fairly bleak. Despite ACC Commissioner Jim Phillip’s warning shot from last Wednesday, the likelihood is that not every team is going to be included in the vision of college football’s future. Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders said it best: “Call it chasing the bag.” These conferences and schools are going to do whatever makes them the most money.
Talks of a 40-team breakaway league certainly do not include the Orange. Expand that out to 50 or even 60 teams and I don’t know if ‘Cuse finds itself earning an invite. In truth, Syracuse has not brought much to the college football table. It has won six games just once in the past eight seasons. That magical 2018 season simply stands out as an outlier at this stage. Outside of that 10-3 campaign, Syracuse is 26-57.
Then there is the market. I love Central New York. I really enjoyed my four years at Syracuse. However, the Big Ten and SEC are not lining up to corner the CNY market. The schools that are moving right now are either well-established powers or play in massive media markets. Syracuse ranks as the 87th media market in the nation, firmly between Shreveport, Louisiana and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
On top of that, there is not a ton of value in adding Syracuse for recruiting purposes. The Orange have been regularly beaten to the top recruits in New York City and New Jersey by Big Ten schools for at least a decade. There is no need to add Syracuse to get into that part of the country if you are the Big Ten. For the SEC, they don’t even care about the region. They are happy to recruit Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, California and Alabama.
So, the question remains: what is next for the Orange? The truth is, nothing is imminent. The ACC grant of rights runs through 2036. In theory, the conference could stick together and continue operating as it has been. However, there are several appealing schools in the ACC to poach.
Duke and UNC bring the extensive basketball pedigree and one the best rivalries in all of sports. Florida State, Miami, Louisville, Clemson and Georgia Tech all have natural rivals in the SEC. Clemson obviously is the crown jewel in any expansion attempt because of the Tigers’ recent success on the national stage and Dabo Sweeny’s ability to recruit top talent.
All of this could change if Notre Dame decides to join the ACC for football. There is a clause in the Irish’s deal with the ACC that stipulates that if they are ever to give up independence in football, it would have to be to join the ACC. Notre Dame already competes in the conference for all Olympic sports with the exception of hockey. The Irish compete in the Big Ten because the ACC does not sponsor the sport.
Ideally, Notre Dame could join the conference along with another school to keep the even number. Perhaps West Virginia would make sense, restoring rivalries with Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Virginia Tech. If that does not come to fruition, Syracuse could be in trouble.
If the southern ACC schools make the jump to the SEC, Big Ten or even the Big 12, the path forward for Syracuse football is very unclear. Perhaps the ACC could pick up a few schools from the AAC, MAC or Conference USA, but that would clearly be an inferior league that no longer factors into the national picture. Joining the Big East again would always be an option, much like UConn has in every sport except football. At which point, the Orange would be an afterthought in college football.
In short, this really ratchets up the pressure for Dino Babers to turn this team back in to at least a consistently bowl-eligible program. Unfortunately, it might already be too late. John Wildhack should be pressuring Phillips to do whatever he can to secure the ACC’s future because no one is coming to lure Syracuse to the big kid’s table.