By David Teel
7:14 PM EDT, July 3, 2012
The ACC hasn’t won a national football championship since Florida State in 1999, the longest drought among major conferences. But the notion that a modernized postseason would marginalize the league was senseless.
Any remnants of such foolishness should vanish after Tuesday.
As expected, the ACC and Orange Bowl announced an extension of the contract that sends the conference’s champion to the Miami-based game. The 12-year deal commences with the 2014 season, and its length meshes seamlessly with the sport’s impending four-team playoff.
Not as expected: The Orange Bowl and ACC are confident enough in their product to negotiate an independent television deal, much like the Big Ten, Pacific 12 and Rose Bowl have long done, and as the Southeastern Conference and Big 12 will do with their new, so-called Champions Bowl.
The current ACC-Orange Bowl arrangement is part of the Bowl Championship Series, as is the SEC’s contract with the Sugar Bowl and the Big 12’s with the Fiesta.
“There are five conferences that separate themselves to some degree,” ACC commissioner John Swofford said.
Five, indeed. Not the four so many Chicken Littles forecasted this spring and summer in fueling chatter that Florida State and/or Clemson would bolt the ACC for the Big 12.
“I did feel confident all along,” Swofford said. “I think our league is very strong, is very, very stable, has been, is and I fully anticipate it would continue to be.
“When you look at our membership and look at both the (football) history … as well as the potential that so many of (the programs) have going forward, and you consider the marketplace and the fact that we run the entire Eastern seaboard in nine contiguous states with 14 schools … it has collectively unlimited potential in every way.”
Fulfilling promise has long been the ACC’s problem. The conference hasn’t produced a top-five team in the final Associated Press poll since Florida State in 2000 and has been AWOL from the final top 10 the last two years. In the last 12 years, the ACC champion is 1-9 in the Orange Bowl.
Meanwhile, SEC teams have won six consecutive national championships, and since the ACC’s last title, the Big 12 has scored with Oklahoma, the Pac-12 with Southern California, the Big Ten with Ohio State and the since-ravaged Big East with Miami.
Despite those setbacks, established ACC programs such as Florida State, Miami, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Georgia Tech, promising ones such as Virginia and North Carolina State, and future members Syracuse and Pittsburgh continue to have, courtesy of Tuesday’s news, one indispensable benefit.
Win enough games and play a challenging enough schedule, and you make the playoffs.
But if the ACC champion is not among the four playoff semifinalists, it heads to the Orange Bowl, now set for Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. If the Orange is a semifinal host, the ACC is guaranteed a spot in one of the other three bowls that will be part of the postseason hierarchy.
Also: If an ACC team does qualify for the semis, and the Orange is not a host, a second ACC representative heads to Miami.
Crazier still, given recent history: If two ACC teams reach the playoff, and the Orange is not a host, a third squad from the league would ring in New Year’s on South Beach.
Swofford anticipates the ACC and Orange Bowl, which likely will stage a semifinal once every three years, soon finalizing a pool from which to choose annual opponents. Candidates include non-champions from the SEC, Big Ten and Big 12, plus independent Notre Dame.
Then come television talks, with ESPN owning first negotiating rights. If Fox and NBC bid as well, the ACC and its Orange Bowl opponents could be all the richer.
“There may be other (TV) interest as well,” Swofford said, “as there were some other (networks) interested in the Rose Bowl situation that went to ESPN. … We will move right into that as soon as we are solid on the opponent in the game. There’s no reason not to move forward with it.”
In addition to the Orange Bowl’s storied tradition – the ACC didn’t seriously consider another venue -- Swofford spoke several times about the advantages of “staking a claim to New Year’s Day.”
Once college football’s signature day, Jan. 1 declined markedly as the BCS shifted games such as the Orange to later dates to create exclusive television windows. No matter that mid-week games on Jan. 2, 3, or 4 were untenable for potential spectators returning to work or school after the holidays.
“I do think we made a big mistake there,” Swofford said. “I do think we miscalculated on that. … We all within the room recognized that. That was certainly one of the goals, to correct that and take back New Year’s Day.”
Now Jan. 1’s major bowl lineup will start with the Orange at 1 p.m., followed by the Rose at 5 and the Champions at 9.
Good for college football. Good for the ACC.
“It’s a new world going forward,” Swofford said, “and I think a better world for the postseason, and hopefully one the stakeholders and fans can embrace. … I think everybody throughout our league is pleased.”
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