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.
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.
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):