Expansion has been a vehicle for conferences to renegotiate their television packages with networks and cable companies. Everyone realizes this.
The SEC expanded to 14 teams solely for the purpose of expanding their footprint into other media markets. This allowed them the opportunity to redo their contracts with ESPN and CBS for higher annual payouts per team. They certainly didn’t expand because Missouri and Texas A&M would increase their on-the-field football cache.
The Pac-12 expanded and re-branded in order to increase their take-home pay, as did the Big Ten and the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Big 12 retracted and then expanded mainly for TV contract purposes, but also due to the need for survival.
Now the ACC is under scrutiny from all directions for a myriad of reasons, ranging from play-off inclusion to third tier television rights. Of the power conferences—nobody considers the Big East a power conference—the ACC is the lowest paid in terms of their TV contracts.
Remember West Virginia University, the school the ACC could have certainly used on the field but chose to snub? Well, the Mountaineers will make more per year in the Big 12 than any team in the ACC from television rights.
You think that doesn’t bother the football-first schools in the conference?
Trust me. It does.
Rumors of defections by multiple ACC teams sent shock waves throughout the college football community recently, and the reason behind the rumors was the lack of financial prowess included in the recent contract terms announced by the ACC.
Why a school like Florida State or Clemson would decide to abandon the ACC is anyone’s guess, but the threat is certainly one that shouldn’t be ignored by ACC President John Swofford.
There is however, something the ACC could do to change the face of the game as it has played out thus far. And it treads into territory the conference is already quite familiar with. What is that “something?”
A third raid of the Big East.
Put aside thoughts of the ACC luring Notre Dame into joining the conference as a full-fledged member. That is not going to happen. It won’t happen for any other conference either.
What the ACC can do is become the first “power conference” to grow to 16 teams in all sports.
Considering all the expansion-induced contract wrangling that has gone on, there isn’t any reason why the ACC shouldn’t consider making another move to increase its payout once again.
Think about this: By adding the lowly Pittsburgh and Syracuse football programs, the ACC effectively gave each member (including those two new members) an extra couple of million dollars per year over the life of their updated contracts.
And seeing as how the ACC prides itself on being a basketball-first organization that loves to flaunt its U.S. News rankings for each member institution, the additions of “Pitt and Cuse,” certainly didn’t hurt the league any.
To get directly to the point, the ACC needs to consider the additions of Connecticut (UConn) and Rutgers to their arsenal of teams. Both programs bring on board top 50 television markets. Both are top 100 schools, according to the over-hyped, over-cited U.S. News rankings.
Neither are considered football powerhouses, but no one would deny UConn’s Men’s and Women’s basketball programs are among the nation’s elite. UConn has also won two Big East co-championships and appeared in a BCS Bowl (although they were destroyed by the Big 12’s Oklahoma).
As far as the rumored block of Connecticut from joining the ACC by Boston College—which apparently led to the ACC falling back on their third option of Pittsburgh—it is doubtful that a school that seems to be fading more and more into the background of the conference would have the kind of clout needed now to block such a move again.
And never mind about UConn’s APR induced postseason ban. It would be over well before UConn became a competing member of the ACC family.
Particularly when you consider the much publicized money issues from schools like Maryland and Florida State which would stand to benefit financially from such a move by the league.
Rutgers has become a solidly consistent football program over the last 10 years, and their fans are hungry for more. An improving Men’s basketball program, as well as a traditionally stout Women’s program, help make Rutgers an attractive addition to any league’s overall profile.
And when you consider that Pitt and Syracuse increased the overall take for the ACC’s television contracts by a couple of million each, it is not that far of a stretch to imagine UConn and Rutgers doing the same, bringing the annual per team payout to as much as 20 million dollars per team.
How well would the increased revenue go over in Clemson or Tallahassee? One can easily imagine such a move leading to the creation of an ACC Network, much the same as what the Big Ten or Pac-12 have created.
Scheduling could be an issue for some, but depending on how the conference decided to divide teams among divisions, most issues could be avoided, such as travel time and distance.
An example of a strictly geographic line up for conference divisions might look something like this:
NORTH: Boston College, Connecticut, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Virginia, and Virginia Tech
SOUTH: Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, North Carolina State, and Wake Forest
Or, since the ACC previously refrained from going the geographically friendly route, the existing Atlantic and Coastal Divisions could get an overhaul and resemble something like this that would even out the power teams in football a bit:
ATLANTIC: Boston College, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, North Carolina State, Rutgers, and Virginia
COASTAL: Clemson, Connecticut, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest
One can envision anywhere from eight to 10 conference games per season. Designated and mandated annual geographic rivalry games could be enacted to empower continuity among fan bases:
NC State/Wake Forest
No structure will be universally approved by all, but most issues can be danced around for the overall good of the conference.
So at the end of the day, if the ACC wants to solidify itself as a power broker among the nation’s elite conferences and prevent possible defections in the near future, it needs to consider taking the first step in the direction everyone feels college football is headed, and that is to become the first 16-team power league.
And the added money that will help put the conference’s members on par with the others won’t hurt either.
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