For three plus years the specter of imminent realignment loomed large over college athletics. One night you go to bed with Louisville in the Big East and then it's in the ACC. That happened because The Big10 raided Maryland and Rutgers. The fallout has reshaped the Power Five and flattened some of the Mid Majors.
But these have all been proxy wars of sorts. Nothing completely Earth Shattering save maybe the demotion of the Big East to a non power conference role. The big worry is that a series of actions by the G5 Conference would force the ACC into a position where it had to reload from the Big East, and there are not a lot of power teams left there from which to rearm.
In particular the rumors were that Florida State or Georgia tech would be plucked away. That might have gotten UConn and Cincinnati into the club and set off year another series of raids among the "Group of Five" conferences. Surprisingly the ACC managed to put the breaks on the whole thing.
The ACC announced a 15-school grant of media rights deal through 2027 as confirmed by ESPN's Brett McMurphy have since confirmed. This would essentially curb speculation of schools leaving the conference for the immediate future.
What is a grant of rights you ask oh lowly mid-major fan?
In layman's terms is means that conference members granting their current conference (In this case the ACC) the revenue their broadcast rights. Even if a school were to leave, its TV money would stay with the ACC until the end of the 2027.
So if an ACC school were to go to the Big Ten or SEC neither the school nor its new league would make TV money. In effect jumping out of the ACC, today, would cost the school about 300 Million dollars over the next 14 years and would bring no TV revenue into the new conference.
Grant of rights are basically prenuptial agreements signed well into the marriage (any lawyers who read this tell me what such an arrangement is called). It's not meant to give anyone anything, only to lessen the impact of a divorce on one or more parties.
So why is this relevant to UB? Well it seems the MAC is talking about a Grant of Rights:
ACC isn't only conference recently on grant of rights trip. #MAC currently looking into it.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) April 24, 2013
So with a TV contract aimed at exposure more than money why would the MAC schools consider this? There are three reasons I can see.
Well just as with the ACC this is about protecting the schools left behind if, say, Northern Illinois was picked up by the AAC conference. NIU's home games would still be owned by the MAC. NIU and the ACC would, in effect, get no TV money out of the deal until the GOR expires.
There is the UMass question and there have been rumors that the MAC is close to forcing the Minutemen to make a decision about joining the MAC or getting out. (These are pretty wild rumors so take them with a giant grain of salt)
If the ACC is safe than the AAC is safe, and if the AAC is safe then CUSA is safe. Combine this with the fact that the new playoff payout formula maximizes per team revenue at 12 teams. If UMass wants to be an FBS program it's looking more and more like they can choose between the MAC and being an Independent.
UMass is a great program and a team that fits well with Buffalo in the MAC but their football only status puts the conferences road map in question. As we found with Temple adding a team to balance out the divisions at 14 does not guarantee they will stay that way, especially in a football only relationship without a GOR.
If UMass football has to sign the GOR it might either secure their football only membership or give the MAC a tool to "convince" them to come all in. If they are in than the MAC can start looking for number 14, if they are out then the conference can settle in at 12.
I've seen from some of the ACC bloggers that they believe the GOR is a precursor to an ACC Network. It could be that the MAC is also considering starting up their own Network. It would be nothing as grand as a power five network but might start to move the conferences TV revenue into the neighborhood of the AAC.
There may be push back by schools that perceive themselves as having a chance to "move up" but with the doors closing on the Power Five moving up is not what it once was. Even without resistance a GOR is not going to happen overnight and won't really make much of a difference until the conference is set to renew it's TV contract with ESPN which does not expire until the 2016-2017 season (thank you Rick Chryst)