Several factors will forever keep the ACC from matching its SEC and Big Ten peers in terms of fan support and revenue. However, there are many simple steps the conference could still take to improve its appeal.
Winning games goes a long way, but that's not entirely under the control of the conference or the individual teams, and for now we'll also reserve Utopian thoughts on realignment for another day.
Here, though, are nine things I found that the ACC can control and take action on that would likely make ACC football a better product, increase exposure, and strengthen fan support.
1) Make Miami-BC an annual rivalry.
Hampered by smaller enrollments and distant locations in pro sports towns, one thing these programs do have going for each other is a modest rivalry punctuated by an unforgettable moment familiar to all true college football fans, and especially to each school's fanbase.
Renewing this rivalry would give the ACC another decent, marquee game on name recognition alone. This would involve some divisional realignment, but they should find a way to make this happen.
2) Kill the Miami-USF series.
Or at least move it to before conference play. Regrettably the ACC and Miami have allowed DisneyTV to force this upon fans as an end-of-year rivalry game, when in fact that rivalry should be the matchup listed above.
The problem is Miami and the ACC have nothing to gain here and a whole lot to lose. USF would love nothing more than to use this as a platform for solidifying a "big four" in Florida, or better still, supplant Miami as the No. 3 in state.
For this reason USF refuses to treat UCF as a rival, and in that same vein, there's no reason Miami should respect USF's calls. Miami does need to increase attendance, but this is one instance where the risks aren't worth the rewards.
3) No more conference games in the first three weeks.
Unless scheduling conflicts really demand this, please stop putting conference games so early in the season. The benefits of any TV exposure don't outweigh the crude play we've seen in recent examples, and this reduces the chances of creating quality conference games later in the season.
So while something like Miami vs. FSU on Labor Day sounds attractive, true fans know the game would be more intense and better played after each side has a few wins under its belt.
4) Play more games with Army and Navy.
It seems to match what the ACC both wants and needs: more Northeastern exposure without overdosing on the BE and respected opponents that aren't also a real threat to your standing. Plus they're easily accessible for several ACC schools.
If the conference seriously wants to increase their familiarity among Northeastern recruits and fans, this is a good way to go.
5) Awaken the Maryland program and fanbase.
The Terrapins have two national championships (as those things go) and several conference titles.
They have some 35,000 students and are in the DC/Baltimore metro area amidst a strong college football area with VT, WVU, and PSU...and yet continue to struggle on the field and at the gate (comparably speaking).
They could use a marquee rival. A series with PSU or Rutgers might help stir the souls, as Maryland fans seem less enamored with WVU (who'd prefer a series with VT anyway).
Seeing the improvements at UNC is great for the league, but seeing a sustained run and possible stadium expansion at College Park would do wonders.
6) Keep the ACC Championship Game in Carolina.
The folks at the Gator Bowl and Tampa have been very kind to the ACC, and the conference really wanted to bolster their exposure in Florida, but having this event in the Sunshine State is a bad move for right now.
The size of the event mandates accessibility from the casual ACC fan, and that fanbase resides primarily in the mid-Atlantic states.
Staying in NC also removes the possibility of duplicate travel for fans, as both participants are likely headed for bowl games south of Charlotte anyway.
Smaller championships can be more mobile, but for football the ACC lacks the volume of alumni to simply place it anywhere and assume it will prosper.
7) Schedule more games with the Big Ten.
The ACC is already inundated with games against their SEC and BE brethren, but as academic institutions, the conference they've most in common with is the Big Ten. This remains the last big unexplored territory for increasing exposure.
Especially now that the BTN assures every Big Ten game will be on "national" TV, seeing more games against the likes of Michigan State, Wisconsin, Purdue, and others would delight fans and keep perception of the ACC high.
8) Improve support of fan involvement.
Several schools could do more to bolster fan support and encourage fan buy-in: Making tailgating easier, offering better support for travel to away games, and having seating sections for die-hards wanting to be as raucous as the students come to mind.
We also need to see an end to goofy in-game promotions and anything else that distracts from the actual event, and fans should be encouraged to wear school colors EVERY game and not fall victim to one-time White/Black -outs.
If you want to be received as a real major program, it helps to behave like one.
9) Stay with the Kickoff Classic.
Clemson's loss in this event was a blow to the league last year, but not being involved at all would be far worse.
The game is now slated to be an annual national TV event, is in the ACC footprint, and provides the caliber of opponents needed to garner respect and attention.
Failing to support this event would be tantamount to surrendering support for college football in general, and that cannot be allowed to happen.
The ACC is already a better conference than it often gets credit for, but in the game and business of collegiate athletics, the goalposts are constantly being moved further out.
Moves such as these could make the ACC better still, and their fans deserve such an effort.
(One Yellow Jacket's opinion, anyway.)