The era of the "superconference" might be over before it even started. CBS reported on Monday that the ACC is eyeing a "Grant of Rights" deal that would keep the conference together until at least the 2026-2027 season, which is the length of the league's contract with ESPN.
Currently, the ACC has a $50 million exit fee, which is a large sum, but not a deal-breaker for teams that can make more money by hopping conferences. Take Maryland, for example, which is in the process of paying the exit fee to ACC before it jumps to the Big Ten. It's no surprise that the ACC went to these lengths to keep the conference together, because there was talk of other conferences — particularly the Big Ten — poaching even more teams.
After the last phase of realignment, in which the Big Ten took Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East, there was talk that the conference would inevitably expand to 16 teams. The schools that garnered the most attention as possible future Big Ten schools were all in the ACC — North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia Tech and, to an extent, Duke. Had the Big Ten taken North Carolina, in particular, it would have significantly hurt the ACC's brand and money-making possibilities. There was also talk that Virginia Tech — the ACC's prize for football — could jump to the SEC. Had those two schools jumped, the ACC would have been worth significantly less to its television partners, and it likely would have killed the possibility of a viable ACC television network.
All in all, this adds security to the ACC and means it will continue to be a strong conference — athletically and monetarily. However, the move also has considerable implications for the rest of college football, particularly the Big Ten and the SEC.
Originally, most people assumed that college football would eventually move to a four-league, 16-team "superconference" model, where the champion of each conference would earn a spot in a playoff. The Big Ten and the SEC — the two most powerful conferences — would presumably raid the ACC and the Big 12, respectively, to get to 16 teams. The Pac-12 would have also likely raided the Big 12. In that case, the ACC would be left to fill itself in with Big East schools, and the Big 12 would have been on the verge of complete collapse. However, now that the ACC has a Grant of Rights, in addition to the Big 12, it's likely that college football will continue to have five true power conferences.
Legally, there's nothing stopping the Big Ten from expanding to 16 teams. However, the ACC Grant of Rights is a de facto way of doing so, since it takes away the remaining viable Big Ten expansion options. Who's left? UConn? Temple? The Big Ten won't be adding either of those schools, and they're about the best options left.
Most people assumed that the Big Ten's 14-team model and new division setup would be temporary, as commissioner Jim Delany and the rest of the conferences continued to explore other options, presumably hoping to expand the conference into the coastal South. However, after a few years of turmoil, it looks like college football's power conferences will be set in their current form for awhile. That may not be music to the ears of the Big Ten's presidents, whose schools could have cashed in big by getting some "splash" schools from the ACC, but it brings a stability to college football that hasn't been present for quite some time.