The ACC soon could be under siege. If Big 12 officials meeting this week decide to expand, Florida State and Clemson are potential targets, and if the Seminoles and Tigers exit, others could follow.
Their motivation? Money, of course, real or imagined, from media rights, and potential access to the four-team national football playoff expected in 2014.
As this drama has unfolded, volumes have been spoken and written about the ACC, much of it misleading or false and ignorant of the conference’s history.
MYTH: Long a basketball power, the ACC is not committed to football.
FACTS: Early in his tenure as commissioner, Gene Corrigan made football his top priority, and in 1990 he convinced the league’s eight members to add Florida State and Bobby Bowden’s renowned football program.
This at a time when ACC basketball ruled. Duke was in the midst of a nine-year run that included seven Final Fours and two national championships (1991 and ’92). North Carolina wasn’t far behind – the Tar Heels won Dean Smith’s second national title in 1993 – and Georgia Tech joined Duke in the 1990 Final Four.
How proud was the ACC of its football upgrade? Well, during the conference’s annual preseason media barnstorming bus tour in 1991, it arranged for us to jet west for the Pigskin Classic between Florida State and Brigham Young in Anaheim, Calif.
Never mind that the Seminoles weren’t scheduled to compete in the ACC until 1992. They were preseason No. 1, and the conference wanted to introduce them to league reporters, and vice-versa.
Florida State rolled BYU and returning Heisman Trophy quarterback Ty Detmer 44-28.
John Swofford succeeded Corrigan as commissioner, and in 2003 and ’04 he shepherded an expansion that no matter how awkward and political had one goal: upgrade football and grow membership to 12, the minimum required by the NCAA to stage a conference championship game.
Hello, Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College. Hello, title game.
MYTH: Charter members and basketball icons Duke and North Carolina exert undue influence over ACC policy.
FACTS: Were this true, Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College would not be in the conference.
League bylaws required at least seven of nine votes for expansion approval. The tally was 7-2, with Duke and North Carolina opposed.
The expansion ringleaders were then-Florida State athletic director Dave Hart, now at Tennessee, and then-Georgia Tech AD Dave Braine, now retired. The Seminoles and Yellow Jackets were the ACC’s most junior members, further debunking the notion of an old guard keeping the conference in the dark ages.
Duke, by the way, also voted against expansion in 1990, along with Maryland. But when the “concept” measure passed 6-2, a separate ballot was conducted on Florida State. That vote was unanimous.
One final note on the Duke-UNC axis: Time was when ACC basketball earned far more than football from television rights fees, and the conference’s best programs received the most money.
Corrigan rightfully thought the ACC needed equitable revenue sharing, but you-know-who had to agree first. Sure enough, Duke athletic director Tom Butters and his North Carolina counterpart, Swofford, signed off on the deal.
MYTH: Last fall’s vote to add Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC was a concession to basketball when better football options were available.
FACTS: Yes, officials from Texas and the ACC spoke informally. But their talks never were serious. Just as it was with the Pacific 12, the Longhorn Network was an issue, and the school opted to remain in the Big 12.
The lone football program superior to Pitt and Syracuse, and truly available to the ACC, was West Virginia. But the Mountaineers aren’t good enough to have been a game-changer competitively, financially or culturally for ACC football.
In fact, were the decision purely about basketball, West Virginia and its 2010 Final Four might have prevailed. Instead, the ACC opted for the better overall athletic and academic fit.
Long story short: Had the ACC chose West Virginia rather than Pitt or Syracuse, the new TV deal with ESPN wouldn't be worth significantly more, and the Florida State-Clemson-Big 12 rumblings still would be out there.
MYTH: ACC schools don’t support football enough.
FACTS: The collective ACC will never match its Southeastern Conference neighbors’ passion/obsession for football. But ACC schools have hardly neglected the sport.
Florida State, Virginia Tech and reigning champion Clemson clearly qualify as football-first athletic departments -- the Hokies rarely stop improving facilities -- and fan bases. Moreover, Virginia expanded and renovated its football stadium before building a new basketball arena and plans an indoor practice complex.
I’m old enough to remember games at North Carolina’s Kenan Stadium where we had to wipe condensation off the press box windows and conduct home-team interviews in virtual closets. The Tar Heels have since spent tens of millions on football facilities. Ditto North Carolina State.
Neither school has reaped extraordinary dividends, but the Wolfpack (2002) and Tar Heels (1997) have cracked the Associated Press’ final top 15 more recently than Clemson (1990).
Even Wake Forest, which no one will confuse with a football school, has upped the ante, in not only facilities but also salary. When Arkansas courted Deacons coach Jim Grobe in 2007 – yes, an accomplished SEC program tried to pilfer a coach from an ACC school that in 2006 won its first conference championship in 36 years – athletic director Ron Wellman raised Grobe’s annual salary to more than $2 million.
MYTH: Florida State bears most of the blame for the ACC’s recent football decline.
FACTS: Since Florida State Board of Regents chairman Andy Haggard’s whiny, inaccurate portrayal of the ACC’s new media contract with ESPN, the Seminoles have been an inviting target. They last finished among the top 10 in 2000, the most recent season in which they defeated a top-10 non-conference opponent (No. 4 Florida).
But Florida State carried ACC football for a decade, winning two national titles in the process. From 1987 to 2000, the Seminoles never finished outside the top five, sustained excellence that may never be matched.
Besides, Florida State has beaucoup company among ACC disappointments.
Miami was 46-4 in the four seasons before its 2004 ACC debut. The Hurricanes are 59-41 since, 33-31 in conference play, and have yet to reach the league championship game.
Clemson hasn’t posted consecutive top-25 seasons since 1990 and ’91. Georgia Tech has lost seven bowls in the last seven years. Four-time ACC champion Virginia Tech is 1-6 against non-conference top-10 opponents since joining the ACC, the lone victory over No. 6 West Virginia in 2004.
And those are the ACC’s football powers. Suffice to say the league’s other programs aren’t keeping Nick Saban, Les Miles and Urban Meyer awake at night.
The morals of the story:
* The ACC’s football shortcomings aren’t for lack of effort.
* Before blaming conference affiliation, those unhappy with their place on football’s food chain need to look in the mirror and win more games.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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