Crazy Talk: The ACC Should Focus Expansion on Basketball, Not Football

Posted by rtmsf on May 25th, 2010

Gerry Floyd is a longtime ACC fan and guest poster who feels strongly that the conference needs to get back to its roots in the next wave of expansion mania. 

With the seemingly constant banter about the Big 10’s imminent conference expansion, Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford has said that he will not be `the aggressor’ during a summer in which potential moves will forever change the landscape of college athletics.  This is a big mistake.  Swofford needs to step up and take expansion by the horns.  With the potential of conference realignment looming from coast to coast, it only makes sense for the ACC to be proactive with these changes.  But instead of letting football dollars guide the decision-making, Swofford has a golden opportunity to come at the inevitable from a different perspective and instead alter the college basketball landscape for the better.

Commissioner Swofford Should Be Proactive Here

It is understandable that the driving force behind every conference expansion is football, and rightfully so.  College football brings in huge amounts of revenue that are not only used for athletic purposes but also for academic research opportunities at those universities.  This is very important for every ACC member institution and it makes sense that they should try to harness as much revenue as they can so their institutions can flourish.  But instead of focusing on expanding (or not expanding) for college football why not take a different approach to the usual football expansion?  To do this, the ACC must step back and take a look at the ACC’s overall product.  The conference’s primary business advantage over every other conference in America is its rich basketball tradition that includes a high level of competitiveness, passionate basketball fanbases and a strong presence in the national media regarding the sport.  Ask anyone in California or Michigan the first thing they think of when hearing “ACC,” and the immediate response will be “basketball.”   Therefore, instead of scouring for leftover football revenue in an oversaturated football market, the ACC should stay true to its roots and take a stranglehold on the college basketball market.

Every conference wants to be considered foremost a ‘football conference’ because of the amount of money that the sport brings in, and the expansion of the ACC in 2003 to include Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami (FL) was a brilliant maneuver that brought the ACC a football conference championship and all the revenue that goes with it.  But the truth is the ACC is in its best year the fourth or fifth strongest BCS football conference in America and expansion isn’t likely to change that fact (the Big Ten, SEC and Big 12/Pac-10 hybrids would likely get stronger).  Since 2003, the league has only won one of its BCS bowls (Virginia Tech over Cincinnati in 2008), and the last four BCS bowls with the lowest television ratings all featured an ACC team.   On the other hand, in the seven years since expansion the ACC has had three national basketball championships and six Final Four appearances.  Business as usual on the hardwood.

The ACC has long represented the essence of college basketball; it is the conference filled with thoroughbred athletes and teams that every other league still measures itself by annually.  But since the latest football expansion the league has lost some of that advantage.  The ACC Tournament was once the “hottest ticket” in the country, but now the tournament is just another ticket before the NCAA Tournament begins a week later.  This could be due to Duke’s tournament dominance over the past decade, or (more likely) the front office in Greensboro turning its back on the one sport that makes the ACC marketable.  The goal of the ACC should not be to pressure football into a basketball-rich conference but to expand on its quality attributes in college basketball.  Any expansion should be done to enhance the ACC’s overall television market, seeking to improve its college basketball image and competitiveness without losing any revenue or market share in college football.

See, There's a Divison Right There

Please understand that the next proposal is not suggesting that the ACC should expand before the Big 10, but the league should be open to expansion ideas and proactive in considering conference realignments.  By sitting back and waiting, the ACC as we know it runs the risk of either become irrelevant or extinct.  Assuming the Big Ten doesn’t, the ACC should therefore extend invitations to West Virginia, Syracuse, Connecticut and Pittsburgh (Louisville would also be another viable candidate).  By adding these four teams the ACC will finally gain much of the New England television market that Boston College was unsuccessful in delivering.  With a sixteen-team league that stretches up and down the entire eastern seaboard (and the tens of millions of people living in that footprint), an opportunity would arise for the ACC to pursue a television network much like the Big Ten Network.  Most importantly from a brand perspective, this type of expansion would provide growth in the level of basketball competition while suffering little to no decline in football competition.

After expansion the sixteen institutions should be separated into two divisions (North & South) and four subdivisions (for example:  North Atlantic, North Coastal, South Atlantic, and South Coastal):

North Atlantic

  • Maryland
  • Virginia
  • Virginia Tech
  • West Virginia

North Coastal

  • Boston College
  • Connecticut
  • Pittsburgh
  • Syracuse

South Atlantic

  • Duke
  • North Carolina
  • North Carolina State
  • Wake Forest

South Coastal

  • Clemson
  • Florida State
  • Georgia Tech
  • Miami (FL)

In football, all division opponents must play each other once per season with one game coming from a team from the opposing division (traditional rival or a rotation), thus creating an eight-game conference schedule.  Division winners will play for ACC title in the ACC Football Championship.  In basketball, all subdivision opponents must play home/away series.  All other opponents will be played once a year in a home and away rotation, creating an eighteen-game conference schedule.  Schedules would still be unbalanced by weight, but at least the league would still have every team playing each other once a season.

This can work.  The ACC should enhance the competitive advantage it already has in college basketball by expanding with basketball supremacy in mind – not football.  The football revenue with expansion would still be sufficient through its current television contracts and the ACC championship game, but by adding four schools with a rich basketball history and tradition the added value of ACC basketball as a brand would significantly trump any other conference in America in that regard.  Can you imagine the general revenue and national spotlight that would be produced from a semifinal Saturday in Madison Square Garden that hosts possible ACC Tourney matchups of Duke/UConn & UNC/Syracuse?  From a conference health perspective, is it better to be fourth-best in football or by far the best in basketball?  Let’s hope John Swofford is carefully considering that question this summer. 

rtmsf (3998 Posts)

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6 responses to “Crazy Talk: The ACC Should Focus Expansion on Basketball, Not Football”

  1. matt patton says:

    It never hurts to dream, but that leaves one division super-stacked in football. It’s no secret the ACC has Miami and Florida St currently in separate divisions to make sure that the two most powerful football teams in the conference can meet for the championship (historically speaking this hasn’t happened, but that was the purpose of the divisions). Ignoring this (taking the pure basketball perspective), I think the ACC would also look for a team swap with another conference (i.e., Kentucky is a basketball school…they don’t fit in the SEC; FSU or Georgia Tech probably wouldn’t mind the extra revenue coming from the SEC, and the ACC replaces a middling program with one of the strongest–and best selling–in the country). The most unfortunate part of the plan currently is losing a Duke/Maryland game: while a young rivalry, the past decade has showcased Duke and Maryland as legitimate foes, who play some of their best games against each other. While Wake Forest is in NC, I would much rather see the Terps travel to Tobacco Road as much as possible.

  2. DMoore says:

    “that leaves one division super-stacked in football”

    I agree. I would not want to have to play against both Virginia Tech and West Virginia every year. Face it, college football has changed. FSU and the U don’t measure up compared to Virginia Tech lately.

  3. rtmsf says:

    For now, but these things are cyclical in nature. With all the recruiting talent in the state of Florida, it’s not reasonable to think that FSU/Miami will never be any good again. And what happens to VT after Beamer retires?

  4. G. Floyd says:

    Thanks for the comments. With the placement of the teams above, the divisions should be pretty equal. Both division have “power” schools in each sport. North division has West Virginia & Virginia Tech (football) and UCONN & Syracuse (basketball). South division has FSU & Miami (football) and UNC & Duke (basketball). You could argue that Clemson and GT give the South a more dominant football program but Pitt, BC (recent years), and Maryland (past years) have been strong.

  5. Chad says:

    Best column I have read yet on the ACC’s future. I think you are dead on. How can we ensure that the ACC brass is thinking along these lines?

  6. […] wrote last year that the ACC might best situate itself among conference masters of the universe by again connecting with its basketball roots.  The league was built on the shoulders of bloody Tobacco Road battles among Frank McGuire at […]

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