By David Teel
4:02 PM EDT, May 21, 2012
Another weekend, another PR crisis for the ACC. Another weekend, another chorus of tweets, blogs and columns forecasting the conference’s demise.
All of which bring to mind the following lines.
“Lighten up, Francis,” Sergeant Hulka said to Psycho in the movie “Stripes.”
“‘I don’t know’ is one of the most exciting sentences in the English language,” writer Anna Quindlen told Bucknell’s graduates Sunday.
Alas, lightening up and conceding the unknown don’t play in the Twitterverse.
So “Florida State might consider leaving the ACC for the Big 12” becomes “Florida State is leaving, according to my sources.”
And if FSU is bailing, then by God, Clemson must be, too. And if the Seminoles and Tigers are out, then the ACC loses all national football relevance, which will force Virginia Tech, Miami and perhaps others to exit as well.
Could any or all of that happen? Absolutely. Nothing short of Virginia Tech and Virginia in the Pacific 12 seems off the table in a realignment circus driven by fear and ambition.
Has anyone in charge at Florida State or Clemson agreed to leave the ACC? I don’t believe so for a second, but I certainly don’t know.
Igniting the latest tempest was Friday’s agreement between the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference to pit their football champions in a new postseason game. If one or both of those champs is otherwise preoccupied in the four-team national playoff expected to emerge in 2014, then others from those leagues will participate.
Combine the SEC-Big 12 hook-up with the Big Ten-Pacific 12 marriage in the Rose Bowl, and you have the ACC and Big East appearing to lag far behind. On-the-field performance says that’s where they belong, but the reality is unpleasant nonetheless.
The SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 could go nuclear by attempting to make the Rose Bowl and the new SEC-Big 12 bowl the de facto national semifinals, but such a move almost certainly would prompt anti-trust claims by those excluded.
Naturally, the Big 12 and SEC plan to award their event to the highest-bidding venue and television network, widening the money gap between the ACC and the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12.
The ACC’s new, 15-year media rights contract with ESPN is worth approximately $17 million annually per school, a 30-percent increase. By summer’s end, the Big Four conferences all figure to have arrangements worth $20 million-plus per school. USA Today reports that the Pac-12 could approach $30 million.
The Big 12-SEC partnership comes a week after Florida State’s Board of Trustees chairman ridiculed the ACC-ESPN deal and said the Seminoles need to look elsewhere. No matter that the basis of his rant, third-tier rights, was incorrect. In the Twitterverse, facts are for chumps and perception becomes reality frighteningly fast.
And the perception right now among many media and fans is that ACC football programs can’t compete nationally because of the financial disparity.
Is money the reason Florida State has won as many ACC championships (one) as Wake Forest in the last eight years? Is money the reason Clemson went 20 years (1991-2011) between conference titles?
I don’t think so. Moreover, this incessant money chatter strikes me as a lame excuse for programs that haven’t coached and/or recruited well enough.
But Florida State and Clemson, and Georgia Tech for that matter, also compete against in-state rivals from the SEC. Will long-term ACC membership relegate the Seminoles, Tigers and Yellow Jackets to permanent second-class status within their own borders?
It’s a question the schools have every obligation to analyze. This they should do soberly, away from the cyberspace hysteria.
Meanwhile, commissioner John Swofford and the ACC’s leadership have questions to ponder.
Can the conference afford to lose Florida State and/or Clemson? If not, how to ease their apparent angst?
Abandoning the ACC’s equal division of revenue from media rights, bowls and NCAA tournaments would risk the resentment that helped cause the Big 12, where Texas ruled with an iron fist, to splinter. The Big 12 has since returned to equal revenue sharing, excepting the Tier 3 rights Texas monetized with the Longhorn Network.
The SEC, by the way, also distributes revenue equally. So yes, 2-10 Mississippi cashed in handsomely on Alabama’s national-title conquest of SEC West rival LSU.
Would reversing the decision to play a nine-game ACC schedule once Pittsburgh and Syracuse bring membership to 14 help? That would make it easier for schools to play seven home dates every season.
The difference between six and seven home games helped increase Virginia Tech’s ticket revenue $2.24 million from 2009-10 to 2010-11 -- those numbers courtesy of a USA Today data base.
The Pac-12 and Big 12 play nine-game league schedules. The Big Ten and SEC play eight, the latter even with Missouri and Texas A&M bringing membership to 14.
How about tweaking the ACC divisions and/or crossover partners to create more attractive matchups for not only fans but also TV? Or is that like prescribing two aspirin for a torn ACL?
The ACC’s cure-all would be luring Notre Dame to join the conference. Absent that, an Orange Bowl tie-in with the Irish would help. But given the ACC’s current uncertainty, those options may not be viable.
No matter, Swofford and the ACC can’t risk inertia. The stakes are too high.
How will the ACC play its weakened hand? How will others respond?
My hunch is that Swofford will not be idle and that any malcontents will conclude that the ACC remains the best avenue for their football programs and athletic departments.
The truth is, I don’t know.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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