ACC Commissioner John Swofford has been a power broker in the changing conference memberships in college sports
He says it's time for things to settle down.
Duke's Kevin White is an athletics director in the league Swofford oversees.
He isn't sure it will happen.
Realignment's pace has quickened in the past three years as the highest-dollar athletics programs try to maintain access to expanding television revenue streams that more clearly demarcate them from midlevel programs.
The ACC announced in fall 2011 that it was adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh. It decided a year later to add Notre Dame in all sports but football. Then, it came to terms with Louisville in November, a little more than a week after charter member Maryland said it would leave for the Big Ten Conference.
Notre Dame, with the Big East Conference's disintegration, will now join the ACC with Syracuse and Pittsburgh in July.
Swofford did his part to initiate this era of constant movement, inviting Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC in 2003, then inviting Boston College to reach the NCAA's minimum of 12 schools required to stage a conference championship game in football.
Nobody knows when the next move will come or what commotion it will create.
"We're to a point where college athletics really needs a period of stability," Swofford said. "There has been a lot talked about that has not happened, and probably will not happen.
"There are a lot of us in college athletics, as well as fans, that would welcome a period of stability where things can just settle down and people can adjust to the new conference affiliations, develop those rivalries and fans can readily figure out who's in what conference."
White likes to bring up James Michener when discussing college sports
. Michener, in his 1976 book "Sports in America," saw a future in which fewer schools would have access to the revenue that would allow them to keep competing at the highest level.
The theory, White said, is called "compression-state economics."
Banks have consolidated. So have the airline, telecommunications and automobile industries.
Why would college athletics be different?
"What is college athletics at the highest level?" White asked. "It's a wannabe profit center encapsulated within a large nonprofit called the academy or university. Why wouldn't a wannabe profit center subscribe to the free-market game? These things can continue to recalibrate themselves, and I'm not sure there's ever a finite endpoint."
Dealing with change
Swofford grew up on the ACC's original lineup.
His older brother, Jim, was a tackle on Duke's football team in the late 1950s, and Swofford said he learned to love college sports
by watching Duke's battles with North Carolina, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Virginia, Maryland, Clemson and South Carolina.
"College athletics was the Atlantic Coast Conference," Swofford said.
So, he understands the alienation that ACC fans, especially those who have followed the conference since its early days, may feel at a collection of schools that will have more former Big East members than original ACC members by 2014.
"Human nature is, to some degree, to resist change," Swofford said. "And yet, there's a saying that the only constant in life is change. When you really think about that, we'd all have to agree that's true, but it doesn't mean change is always comfortable.
"There's a longing for tradition and history, but an excitement about the newness of the makeup of the league and the new rivalries that are going to evolve, inevitably, out of those games."
Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski has bemoaned the loss of traditional rivalries multiple times since Maryland announced its exit.
That extends to the nonrevenue sports as well. The ACC has proven to be an elite lacrosse conference, with Maryland a big part of that success.
Lacrosse is not a sanctioned sport in the Big Ten, though schools like Northwestern, Ohio State and Penn State have built strong programs.
"If I was an ACC (lacrosse team) - Virginia, North Carolina, all those historic rivalries - I would probably say to Maryland, 'Thanks, but no thanks,' " said Robert Malekoff, chairman of the department of sport studies at Guilford College of ACC schools' willingness to schedule games against Maryland.
"It'll be interesting to see if there's any concentrated discussion about that within the conference. To say, 'These guys left us? Let's see how they like it.' "
Of course, maintaining traditional rivalries is not as persuasive an argument when decisions come down to dollars and cents.
At this moment, the SEC and the Big Ten are in a more lucrative place than are the ACC, Big 12 and Pac-12.
That could change. As could the membership of the five major conferences.
Everyone wants to keep their place at the table.
"I know that all the universities that are current members of the ACC have every intention of the universities remaining a part of that conference," N.C. State Chancellor Randy Woodson said. "My guess is a lot of fans spend a lot more time worried about this because they don't know what's happening than my hope and feel is that they should be.
"I don't think they should be worried about it. We're all working hard to keep the conference together."
Where we're headed
The inception of the Bowl Championship Series in 1998 helped put the top six football-playing conferences in a different revenue bracket from the rest of Division I.
The new iteration of the BCS, which goes into effect next year, excised the Big East and further separated the top five conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC) from the second-tier "Group of Five" by paying them each a reported $75 million more a year than the next five through its TV deal with ESPN.
That could settle things for now, but further consolidation could mean another conference gets left out of the top group.
And that could lead to a mad rush of schools trying to get into whichever conferences are left standing.
"The rich get richer and the poor get poorer," Vermont Law School professor Brian Porto said. "The schools that are lucky enough to be in one of those power conferences, unless there's some sort of catastrophe, will continue to do very well. But more and more schools really are going to have to ask themselves if this whole Division I thing is really worthwhile, or if they should scale down."
Whenever the next step comes and whatever that next step is, conference commissioners will continue to maneuver to make sure their coalition can survive.
Athletics directors, presidents and boards of trustees will continue to survey the showroom and decide whether their current conference vehicle is adequate, or if they need to trade it in for a sleeker model.
And the coaches, athletes, fans, students and other interested parties who have a stake - but little say - will just have to keep up as best they can.
"I don't think anybody knows what the endgame is," Swofford said. "People have their opinions, but there's no collegiate czar sitting in a room somewhere, or even a group of czars saying, 'Let's manipulate this, that and the other and end up at this point.' That just doesn't happen.
"It's a continual evolution. Always has been, probably always will be."
Contact David Morrison at 373-7008, and follow @DavidCMorrison on Twitter.
nPressure to get a larger share of TV money creates conference instability, critics say.