By David Teel
10:04 AM EST, November 20, 2012
For someone who grew up watching Howard White, Randy White and Lefty Driesell compete in the ACC, seeing the University of Maryland leave the conference for the Big Ten is illogical if not blasphemous. But realignment scoffs at tradition, projected television revenue turns heads and we move on.
The Terps were charter members of the ACC and the only league school to win national championships in football (1953) and men’s basketball (2002). Their Olympic sports are first-rate and suburban D.C. setting ideal.
But university president Wallace Loh, who served as provost at Big Ten member Iowa and earned his doctorate from Big Ten stalwart Michigan, believes the move will solve Maryland’s self-inflicted financial mess. Fine. Good luck with that.
Truth is, losing the Terps hurts the ACC’s image more than its pocketbook or product. Basketball has dipped since its back-to-back Final Fours in 2001 and ’02, and football has one ACC title in the last 25 years.
The question now becomes: How does the ACC respond?
Quickly would be a start. Not rashly, mind you, but months of uncertainty would risk additional poaching.
And since football is every major conference’s most valuable commodity, it is powerful football schools such as Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech that need reassuring most.
ACC commissioner John Swofford understands this, and Sunday he convened league presidents via conference call to discuss Maryland’s impending move. In his 15 years as commissioner, Swofford has added six schools to the ACC, all from the Big East, and now it’s his turn to be raided.
Suffice to say, the role-reversal is not pleasant. Especially since Swofford recently spent considerable time with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany negotiating an Orange Bowl partnership that also includes the Southeastern Conference and Notre Dame. Especially since Delany and Swofford were classmates at the University of North Carolina.
Gee, how awkward might their next encounter be? And how good must Delany’s poker face be?
Delany, by the way, alluded to the ACC’s recent move into the Midwest with Notre Dame as a reason for the Big Ten’s Eastern Seaboard grab. If such pettiness truly motivated Delany, he’s not as sage a businessman as advertised.
Naturally, the parlor game du jour is speculating on where the ACC will search for Maryland’s replacement.
Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino says look no further than the home of the Kentucky Derby.
In quotes tweeted by Eric Crawford, a sports columnist for WDRB in Louisville, Pitino said: “If I'm the ACC, I'd want (Louisville), the first school I'd even think about.”
Though the Cardinals deserve a long look, first is a stretch.
Swofford’s initial call will be (was?) to Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who coordinated the school’s recent move to the ACC for sports other than football. If the Irish joined in full, the ACC would essentially be trading Maryland for Notre Dame, a swap of Imhoff-for-Chamberlain proportions.
But the Irish, who have agreed to play five football games per year against ACC teams, are unlikely to bite. In fact, at No. 1 in the Bowl Championship Series standings and a victory over Southern California away from the national title game, they’re probably more entrenched in football independence than three months ago.
Might there be a way to include Notre Dame’s five ACC games in the standings that would allow the conference to remain at 13 full-time members and play football in unbalanced divisions? I can’t fathom one, but I skipped math in college.
Twitter followers suggested targeting academic/athletic powers such as the Big Ten’s Penn State or Big 12’s Texas. And while darn near anything is possible in realignment, either would surprise.
Yes, the Longhorns and ACC have flirted, but they would be geographically isolated. Besides, the Big 12’s grant-of-rights clause binds each school’s media revenue, approximately $20 million annually, to the conference for the next 13 years, virtually precluding any defections.
Penn State absolutely merits exploration. The Nittany Lions fit the ACC’s geographic footprint and have long football histories with current/future league members Pittsburgh, Boston College and Syracuse.
Moreover, Penn State surely resents the Big Ten fining the institution more than $50 million in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal. But given the NCAA’s $100-million fine in the same case, would Penn State walk away from the Big Ten’s unsurpassed television revenue, not to mention annual football games against Ohio State? Hard to imagine.
Still others have floated the SEC’s Kentucky or Vanderbilt. Though the Commodores are 7-4 this season, neither has football appeal, and neither would appease the ACC’s football wing.
Besides, hacking off SEC commissioner Mike Slive is probably not the way for the ACC to assure its stability. This because you just know Slive would counter, perhaps by courting ACC schools such as North Carolina State and/or Virginia Tech.With 10 national basketball championships, three men and seven women, strong Olympic sports and a top-flight academic reputation (63rd in U.S News and World Report rankings), Connecticut clearly fits the ACC profile and would bail the Big East in a blink. There’s also a certain television network based in Bristol, Conn., that would approve of the Huskies.
But aside from a Fiesta Bowl appearance two years ago, after which coach Randy Edsall bolted for Maryland, UConn has little football cache. It’s also fair to wonder how far Huskies basketball will decline now that Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun has retired.
Which brings us to UConn’s Big East rival Louisville. South Florida and Cincinnati, also of the Big East, are getting some media run, but neither has the Cardinals' depth of assets.
Louisville offers national-championship pedigree in basketball and has finished no lower than 41st in the Directors’ Cup all-sports standings each of the last five years. The Cardinals have rabid support and cutting-edge facilities.
Football? Bobby Petrino coached Louisville to top-10 seasons in 2004 and ’06, and Charlie Strong has the Cardinals 9-1 and ranked 19th entering Saturday's game against UConn. The only ACC teams that have finished among the Associated Press top 10 in the last decade were Virginia Tech’s in 2004, ’05, ’07 and ’09.
Louisville also would solidify the ACC’s southern flank and bring the conference fiscal strength. The Cardinals reported $87.8 million in 2011-12 athletics revenue to the U.S. Department of Education, more than any ACC school – Florida State reported $81.4 million – and cleared $3.5 million in profit.
The issue with Louisville is academics. The ACC often boasts of its U.S. News rankings, and at No. 160, Louisville is far below No. 106 North Carolina State, the ACC’s lowest-rated school.
The Cardinals’ latest Graduation Success Rate for athletes is a solid 80 percent but lags behind all but three of the 12 current ACC members: Georgia Tech (76), N.C. State (77) and Florida State (78). The NCAA docked Louisville’s football program three scholarships last year for sub-par Academic Progress Rates, though that said, low APRs rendered UConn ineligible for this season’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Reader’s Digest version: There is no perfect candidate.
After the 2012 campaigns, we’re used to it.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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