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Big Ten or ACC? Which is the better home for Penn State?

There are a lot of Penn State fans out there — maybe you’re one of them — who have always felt a certain way about the Big Ten. It goes like this:

“Penn State has been treated like a red-headed stepchild by the Big Ten since joining in 1993.”

Is that true?

Ehhhh, I don’t know. My feeling is no, not really. Sure, there have been big calls that have gone against the football team, leading fans to think Big Ten officials have some agenda against PSU. And yes, the Nittany Lions pretty much always start conference play on the road in football, which rubs a lot of folks at PSU the wrong way, whether they fully come out and say so or not.

If you only want to wear blue-tinted glasses, you’ll always find some little slight here or there that makes you think the big, bad Big Ten doesn’t really like Penn State all that much. Or at least that the Big Ten doesn’t treat PSU as fairly as its two star pupils, Ohio State and Michigan.

If you truly feel that the Big Ten has it out for Penn State in some way, there’s probably nothing I can write or say that would change your mind.

Many PSU fans would rather the university be a member of the ACC, either because of their disdain for the Big Ten or a more logical reason — that the ACC is actually a better fit geographically for the Lions.

I ran a Twitter poll on the subject this week, and as you can see, the results are pretty close.

Personally, I can see a lot of reasons why the ACC would be a better fit for Penn State. These are my top three:

1: An easier path to a conference championship game — and berth in a 4-team playoff — without having to be in the same division as Ohio State and Michigan. Yes, it would mean having to beat Clemson in the ACC title game, but PSU already has a similar challenge against the Buckeyes in the division. Now, when the CFP inevitably goes to 12 teams, it really won’t matter which league PSU is in because it should always have a good shot to be in the top 12.

2: Lions could play historical rivals Pitt and Syracuse every year. This would be fantastic for a lot of longtime PSU fans, and obviously having Pitt on the schedule every year would be terrific for those of us in PA.

3: Probably a better chance for the men’s basketball program to have a little more success. The Big Ten is always tough top to bottom. The top of the ACC is always great, but the bottom of the league often is not.

A lot of Penn State fans will agree with my reasoning above about the ACC. And they also probably would agree with this: None of that matters.

We all know — or should know — what really matters.

It’s what makes the world go round.

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With news breaking Wednesday that Texas and Oklahoma are interested in leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, it once again brings the gigantic discussion of conference realignment back into the spotlight. We go through this every handful of years, and will continue to do so probably forever — or at least until (and if) we ever see 16-team superconferences actually come about.

When we have these discussions, Penn State’s place in the landscape of college sports is certainly an important issue. And it allows us to revisit the topic of whether or not the Lions should be in the Big Ten for the long haul, or if they’d be better suited calling the ACC home.

Just so we’re clear here, any Penn State fans who would like to move to the ACC need to understand that the Big Ten is a giant freaking cash cow, especially compared to the ACC. Just how big?

Here are the numbers, from this excellent recap story by Sports Illustrated:

** The Big Ten paid its members $54.3 million last year from its sports revenue, which led the nation at $768.9 million. (Note: newer members Rutgers and Maryland still received less money, but will get a full share starting in 2021.)

** By comparison, the ACC paid its members $37 million from its sports revenue total of $496.7 million.

So, as you can see, those numbers aren’t even close. Penn State received $17 million more as a member of the Big Ten than it would in the ACC, and unless that figure is ever able to drop dramatically, one thing is crystal clear: PSU won’t be leaving the Big Ten for the ACC.

Because it can’t.

Penn State has 31 varsity sports to pay for — plus lots of other huge bills such as renovations — and the school just can’t walk away from an extra $17 million a year. Now, if Big Ten money dries up for some reason and the ACC can sweeten its pot substantially, then yeah, maybe there could be a discussion.

Also, Penn State University is a tremendous academic institution and feels like it fits in well with other similar universities in the Big Ten.

The bottom line is, no matter what happens with Texas and Oklahoma, the SEC or anybody else, there’s probably only one reality for the long haul — Penn State is a member of the Big Ten, and that won’t be changing.

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Written By

Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. tvax1

    July 23, 2021 at 8:58 am

    a big domino for ACC will be IF ND becomes a permanent member

    revenues immediately go up and ACC becomes far more attractive to others including PSU

    decent article up to the 2nd paragraph from the end when I laughed and spit coffee all over my laptop – LOL!
    as if the ACC doesn’t make the same academic claim,,,, while Louisville 🙂

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