ACC Realignment Politics

Posted by mpatton on October 10th, 2011

The Boston Globe‘s recent article “Expansion Was Power Move by the ACC” stirred a minor uproar on Twitter over the weekend largely for two reasons:

  1. Boston College changed the course of conference realignment by vetoing Connecticut as the second addition (which led to Pittsburgh‘s invitation), much like Virginia did with Syracuse in 2003.
  2. Boston College Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo stated, “TV – ESPN – is the one who told us what to do.”

The first point is huge. If true, Boston College, one of the most recent additions to the ACC that also sports a lukewarm fanbase in both basketball and football, managed to affect which schools received an ACC invitation. This is eerily similar to Virginia’s power play in 2003 when the Cavaliers threatened to pull out of the conference if it wouldn’t add Virginia Tech instead of Syracuse. The only differences: Virginia is a founding member, and (by DeFilippo’s account) the Eagles didn’t threaten to leave the conference. For the record, I still think Pittsburgh is a better fit for the ACC as I worry about Connecticut’s long term relevance once Jim Calhoun retires.

Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo

Credit: Wendy Maeda/Boston Globe staff

DeFilippo denied rumors that Duke shouted the loudest during expansion meetings and instead cited recent massive TV deals and an interest in increasing the conference’s “footprint” in the Northeast. This statement subtly implies that Boston College had more of an influence on conference realignment than Duke, which would be surprising to say the least. I do agree that TV contracts are at the center of everything, but the Northeast brings far more basketball fans than football fans (regardless of school). More interesting is the claim that the shift had more to do with football than basketball, as neither Pitt or Syracuse offers much consistency on the gridiron, but both are national basketball powers. All of these factors lead me to question DeFilippo’s recount of the events. That is not to say that he is lying, just exaggerating a little around the edges.

A quick aside is that Dan Wolken speculated on Twitter a few weeks ago that he thinks basketball television contracts should start to see an increase in value, which makes perfect sense. Building a basketball powerhouse conference may not draw the viewers per game as football, but there are more games.

Now onto the second point, which received far too much traction on twitter and the blogosphere because of the implications that ESPN drives conference realignment. I think an interpretation like that is taking the quote out of context. From reading the article, DeFilippo claimed that television revenue drove realignment. Extrapolating that further, it makes perfect sense that the conference would keep its primary network partner, ESPN, in mind when choosing where to send invitations. That doesn’t mean that John Swofford called ESPN and said, “Hey, we’re looking to expand to 14 teams…who should we invite?” The most likely scenario is that the ACC expansion committee confirmed (either directly or indirectly) that Syracuse and Pitt would add more value to the conference’s product.

Regardless, the piece stands as an interesting look at Boston College’s Athletic Director, and his view behind the curtain.

mpatton (576 Posts)

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