Gator Bit: ACC Leadership Fumbles... Again

George BurdellCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Running back Tashard Choice #22 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets runs through nose tackle Keilen Dykes #96  of the West Virginia Mountaineers defense in the Toyota Gator Bowl at Alltel Stadium January 1, 2007 in Jacksonville, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Based on early reports from Jacksonville and Orlando the ACC is almost complete in shuffling its bowl lineup for the next four years.  Sadly, the net changes appear for the worse, and given events of the past 6 years ACC fans shouldn't be surprised.

The news broke as several outlets reported the ACC finalizing a renewal with the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando. However, the renewal will feature the ACC's No. 3 selection as opposed to the current No. 4. It coincides with the bowl changing the opponent from the Big 10 No. 5/6 selection to the Big East No. 2. The ACC would be seeing a slight increase in payouts, but this would mean the ACC would be losing it's current No. 3 tie-inthe Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.

According to the 6th oldest bowl game in the country is poised to announce a four year deal to make the game an SEC vs Big Ten matchup. Yes, that would be the third such game to take place in Florida on New Year's Day between 11 AM and 4 PM. Woe to anyone wishing for variety during this day once steeped in college football tradition.

The marketing appeal of both those conferences is well known, and despite hosting an ACC team for at least 14 years running, Jacksonville is a decidedly SEC town.

It's no secret the Gator Bowl organizers have wanted to crash the SEC bowl establishment experienced in Orlando and Tampa. The Bowl is strong enough and connected enough that they're making this change with a decent idea of what they stand to gain.

Which leaves ACC fans fearing what they stand to lose.

With various bowl contracts up for renewal this year all the big conferences made some changes. The ACC moved to drop their far western ties for bowls closer to home: The Emerald Bowl in San Francisco pairing ACC No. 5/6 against the PAC 10 and the Humanitarian Bowl in Boise against the WAC were dropped in exchange for the GMAC Bowl (Mobile/MAC), the EagleBank (DC/TBA) and the Sun Bowl (El Paso/ PAC 10).

All in all things were looking decidedly better, for while these were mostly lower tier bowls with little differences in payouts, the new lineup was far more accessible for ACC programs and their fans.

Then things looked even better when, according to, the Gator Bowl decided against renewing ties with the Big East and announced they were negotiating for the Big Ten #4 selection.

In essence the ACC would simply be seeing their opponents in Orlando and Jacksonville switch places. The appeal lay in having the Big Ten matchup in the higher profile bowl.  From the ACC's stand point it would be like a validation that this game would be on par with the national appeal of SEC/Big Ten games also being played that day. 

Amazingly the ACC leadership appears ready to let that slip away. Now the conference stands to lose their only New Year's Day exposure. It will also likely experience a drop in net bowl revenue and lose another bowl game vs a BCS conference.The only tie in with the Big Ten, to boot. Suddenly, that addition of the GMAC bowl seems less appealing...because of its increased necessity.

How did this happen? As suggested the Gator Bowl has longed to become part of the SEC family. Therefore, there may not have been much the conference could do in these negotiations.

The blame lies in letting the negotiations get to this point, a point where a national bowl game and its partners said they'd prefer the SEC No. 6 selection over the ACC No. 3. 

I don't doubt, given the City's location, there's appeal to the idea of seeing South Carolina, Kentucky, Auburn or Ole Miss come calling. (Let's be real as we know Florida, Bama and such are unlikely to drop this far.)

How many SEC vs. Big Ten matchups can one day take. Knowing additional pairings may yet be happening within the BCS bowls? Meanwhile, at ACC No. 3, the Gator stood to choose from Miami, FSU, VT, Georgia Tech and Clemson. And if the likes of UNC, NCSU or UVA did make it they've proven their fans would travel to such an event.

The problems, however, stem from everything else the conference has to offer and how the ACC has handled things during and since the expansion. 

- Without delving into the overall merits of the conference's membership, the expansion left the conference with 4 modest-to-small private schools and two others with humble enrollments compared to their average SEC and Big Ten brethren. So while the conference has some programs that travel well and strong alumni support, by comparison they are a much shallower conference in terms of nationally appealing programs.

- The ACC placed the new football championship game in Jacksonville in an effort to increase their appeal in recruit rich Florida. In doing so they failed to account for accessibility for all ACC fans. The travel woes were compounded by a bowl selection order that all but forced the championship game runnerup to return to Jacksonville 4 weeks later.

- The ACC's response to the above problem was not only to move the championship gamea good decision but handled in a way that angered the Gator Bowl officialsbut they moved it to another Floridia city (with which Jacksonville is competing for business and prestige). They then dropped the Gator Bowl in the ACC selection order to No. 3.  Not just to No. 3, but behind a bowl that matches the ACC No. 2 with the 5th selection from the SEC!

Clearly the current, weaker level of play by so many ACC programs is a factor, but this compounds the problem.  This will surely impact recruiting, influence fan support and possibly compound matters as the ACC moves towards new TV contracts next year.  How can you justify asking for money to stay within the same stratosphere as the SEC when your No. 3 bowl game is now literally the Orlando undercard to the SEC? 

This isn't to say the folks behind the Gator Bowl actually feel slighted or that the ACC hasn't been giving their best to the city and the event organizers. Since 2001 every Gator Bowl has drawn above 60,000 fans, most above 67,000—this despite participation from some non-traditional programs like UVA, NCSU and Maryland. 

Yet while it's safe to assume all parties involved understand the nature of the business the reality is ACC fans will be disappointed by the new arrangements. Perhaps the ACC could have pulled its No. 2 selection back to Jacksonville and kept both the Gator and Champs bowls. Alas, it appears the option no longer exists and now the ACC must find yet another way to prove its worth. 

And just like the bulk of its current programs, the ACC appears to lack the leadership to quickly and effectively pull this one out.