One century and 20 years ago, three forward-thinking businessmen joined together in east Texas hoping to find riches that even their wildest dreams could not understand.
George O'Brien, George Carroll and Patillo Higgins formed the Gladys City Oil, Gas and Manufacturing company with the purpose of making exploratory drilling in the depths of the Spindletop, Texas earth. It was a three-way partnership that seemed destined to change the oil drilling industry forever.
Seven years later, Pattillo was unhappy with the lack of progress the Gladys Co. drilling had made. Not wanting to be left out of the impending Oil Boom, he found Anthony Lucas, a prosperous salt dome formation expert, and the two joined forces in an effort to strike gold...er...oil.
In 1901, what became known as the Lucas Geyser blew oil over 150 feet into the Spindletop air and began producing 100,000 barrels of oil per day. It was the drilling that burst open the floodgates and gave birth to the Boom.
Today, college football is on the precipice of a boom of its own. The ever-growing popularity of the sport has forced the system to radically alter its infrastructure as an attempt to secure every last dime it can. Virginia Tech was part of the very earliest changes to the system, jumping to the ACC seven or eight years before the realignment/playoff fracas began in earnest. The Hokies are a Pattillo, of sorts.
The Hokies' partnership with the ACC has been vastly different than what anyone expected. In the eight years since joining the league, Virginia Tech has won four ACC football championships and played for two more. Yet Florida State and Miami remain the crown jewels of the league, despite a combined one conference title in the same time frame.
The conference recently renegotiated its contract with ESPN, which will run through 2027, to pay its 14 members (Syracuse/Pittsburgh included) an average of $17.1 million per year. You may have heard Florida State took issue with the deal.
Once the Big 12 and SEC are through renegotiating their respective TV deals, the average revenue produced by the ACC's contract will lag behind that of the four major conferences.
Just last week, the Big 12 and SEC agreed to pit their champions in an annual bowl game should those teams fail to qualify for the four-team national championship playoff. If either or both champions are in the playoff, the bowl bids would go to the next best available teams from the leagues. Presumably, the bowl will feature a top-10 matchup on a yearly basis.
Oh, right...the playoff. Here's what we know: it will be a four-team affair likely starting in 2014. We also know that the "Automatic Qualifier" concept is history. Every team will have an equal opportunity — from a logistical if not realistic standpoint — to qualify for the playoffs. We don't know where the games will be played or, more importantly, how the teams will be selected. The main hang-up in the process involves whether to only include conference champions or allow teams to qualify as an at-large (see: Alabama in 2012).
What the SEC and Big 12 have done is essentially lock up the marquee postseason game, along with the Rose Bowl, outside of the playoff.
The power brokers of college football have ostracized the ACC from their ranks. Florida State doesn't want to be left at the kiddie table with paper plates while the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Big Ten gather around the main table to grow ever fat and happy.
No matter what the school says publicly, it's a smoky situation. We all know what comes along with smoke.
If Florida State does in fact join the Big 12, or the SEC, or the AFC East for that matter, it will leave Virginia Tech in a precarious situation. Suddenly, the only ACC program to be even remotely competitive nationally (and even that is up for debate) since the league expanded will be in danger of being relegated to mid-major status — and that's exactly what it would be.
Before I go any further, let's make it clear that if 2011 taught us anything, it's that nothing is done until it's done in conference expansion and reports are just that. I can still vividly remember watching Joe Schad (among others) reporting live on national TV that Texas joining the soon-to-be Pac-16 was "imminent." No one can be trusted, and I don't mean the reporters. The element of secrecy, doublespeak and deception with the media during conference realignment would make the FBI blush.
However, if Florida State does indeed opt to join the Big 12 in the coming months, Virginia Tech will have a potentially volatile, but unmistakably clear decision to make. It must get out of the ACC. No, it must get the hell out of the ACC.
Charles Steger, like any other school president, will talk about the academic prowess of the ACC (which is far stronger than the Big 12). Jim Weaver, like most other athletic directors, will talk about loyalty to the conference that welcomed them into their tight-knit club just eight years ago.
I may have just graduated college a few weeks ago, but even I remember how the ACC never wanted the Hokies in the first place. Money and politics (what's the difference?) trump loyalty. There is not a more baseless word in big-time college athletics than loyalty. Programs go where the money is. It's why Texas is still in the Big 12. It's why Notre Dame has remained independent all these years. It's why Notre Dame may finally join a conference as they become a significantly more profitable option than independence.
At Virginia Tech, it could be argued that football is a priority above all else. After all, this is the school that is currently locked in a battle to build a $20 million indoor practice facility in the rarest forest on the east coast instead of erecting it in just a minute's walking distance away, on top of a few tennis courts.
Football is king in Blacksburg. Academics are more important to the school, and (hopefully) no one will argue that. However, as Bear Bryant once said, you won't ever pack 80,000 around to watch a chemistry experiment.
The amount of money that is poised to befall college football is unfathomable. This is only the beginning of such radical changes to the sport, but it's clear that the top conferences are going to take the lion's share of the wealth. It's ironic, given that much of the theatrics in college football over the last decade has been about how unfair the less powerful conferences were treated.
If Virginia Tech wants to continue to foster its prominence as a football program — and quite honestly break even on all of its departmental expansions (locker room, luxury suites, indoor practice facility) — it needs to seek out a conference that takes football as seriously as it does.
It doesn't quite matter which league it is at this point, be it the SEC or Big 12. Logistically, the SEC makes too much sense. The Hokies fit geographically, competitively and culturally. The Big 12 wouldn't be quite as taxing on the win-loss column during football season, but otherwise it makes for a more awkward fit than the SEC.
Now, if the doomsday theorists are right and "superconferences" are the next big thing, it's hard to imagine Virginia Tech getting left out in the cold. If Florida State (and even Clemson) leave the ACC, the Hokies instantly become the third most prominent football program up for bidding east of the Mississippi River; Notre Dame and Miami would still rank higher on that scale. the SEC already has the Florida market cornered, though, so adding Virginia Tech might be higher on their priority list. But before we start to spin the speculation wheel again, let's remember the point, which is that Virginia Tech will soon no longer belong in the ACC.
It's not that Tech doesn't appreciate what the league has done for the program. Athletics across the board have significantly improved as a byproduct of joining the conference. If Virginia Tech was playing in the Final Four every few years, then the ACC would be a fitting home for the Hokies. The ACC always has been, and always will be a basketball league. Adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh signified a commitment to basketball supremacy going forward. That's all well and good, but it also means that the league is no place for a school that places such a heavy emphasis on football, not basketball.
Ol' Pattillo Higgins thought he was making the deal of the century when he saddled up with Gladys Co. back in 1892. The decision he made to leave the group was undoubtedly a difficult one, but a savvy one nonetheless. It paid off for Higgins. It's almost time for Virginia Tech to follow suit.