Hey Hurricanes! Hokies, Hi!

The ACC welcomes The University of Miami and Virginia Tech into the conference today. The much debated conference expansion is now official, with the conference now having eleven teams. Next summer, Boston College will also join, bringing the number to twelve.
I haven’t written much about the expansion here, mostly because it’s a sore subject for me. I wasn’t for expansion, and I’m still not. I understand the arguments of the proponents, but I just don’t agree. Unfortunately, those disagreements are all moot now. The deed is done.
That said, I’ll run down my reasons for not supporting expansion.
Culture, Geography and Rivalries
What makes a truly good conference is not just competitive teams, but rivalries. Fans need to teams to hate. Rivalries come about because of a combination of geography, culture and history.
Teams that are near each other make natural rivals. You love to beat the team from just down the road or from you neighboring state. Nearby teams have alumni who mingle. Your neighbor or coworker went there and they’re obnoxious about cheering, so you’d like nothing better than for your team to crush their team. Who gets fired up to play a team from a state 800 miles away with alumni you’ve never met?
Along with geography comes culture. Schools that are just alike tend to be rivals. Think Army-Navy, Harvard-Yale, UNC-Virginia and NC State-Clemson. Similarly, schools that are cultural opposites love to hate each other. Clemson fans absolutely hate Duke and its elitist, intellectual, yankee students.
So where do Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College fit in? The Hokies are a geographic and cultural match. They also bring an existing rivalry with UVA. Miami has a bitter rivalry with Florida State, but what about anyone else? They aren’t near anyone or like anyone else. Sure, everyone loves to hate them, but there’s no basis for a mutual rivalry. Boston College, a northern Catholic school, brings no rivalries and little potential to build them.
The Hurricanes and Hokies are both recent football powerhouses. Miami has won five national championships; they are blue bloods of the sport. Tech has been very successful in the past ten years, playing for the national championship behind Michael Vick in 2000. Unlike Miami though, Tech isn’t a consistent power. They have had a great ten year run, but their history pretty much begins there. It’s certainly possible that Tech will slide back to being an average college football program, much like Clemson and Georgia Tech.
Boston College has some football history, but it’s mostly an average program. Their only real contribution to football is that they are the twelfth team, so the ACC can field a conference championship game and, more importantly, collect a big TV payout.
With the additions of Miami and Virginia Tech, the ACC, a conference built mainly on basketball is adding two football schools. Neither school fields terribly competitive basketball teams and neither seems inclined to change that.
By adding two weak programs, and third average one in BC, the ACC is diluting their product. Worse, having eleven or twelve teams makes it no longer feasible to play a full round-robin schedule. Each ACC team can’t play each other team twice a year. That means that fans at each school won’t get see some teams come and play on their floor. Some fans won’t get to yell at Duke; others won’t get to yell at UNC. The regular season champion might win that title by playing an easier schedule than the school that comes in second.
The ACC Tournament, the granddaddy of all conference tournaments will also undergo a face-lift. Instead of having just the one Thursday night game, the Les Robinson Invitational, there will need to be four Thursday games. That’s not so bad, I suppose, although I wonder how many fans will decide to skip those games and wait for Friday. And what fans will get tickets? Instead of slicing the arena nine ways, it’ll need to be sliced twelve ways. That’s significantly fewer tickets for each school, making the toughest ticket in sports even harder to get.
It seems that part of the package of being a football power is controversy – arrests, fights, NCAA investigations. Virginia Tech and Miami bring all of that. Miami is one one of the most famous “bad boy” image programs around. They revel in their gangsta attitude and reputation. The Hokies may not have the same national rep as outlaws, but they too have had an alarming number of players arrested in recent years.
By embracing the idea of being a football conference, the ACC seems to be taking the chance of more scandal, not just by the new schools, but by the current members. If the existing nine want to keep up, they’ll need to continue to focus their efforts on building stronger football programs. Strong football programs tend to end up in trouble.
I’ll be the first to admit that the ACC is not an academic conference. It was put together for sports. The schools it includes though, happen to be very good academic institutions. Duke, Virginia, Georgia Tech, UNC and Wake Forest are all considered top national universities. Second to the ACC’s rep as a basketball conference is it’s rep as an egghead conference.
The new schools being added do little to help that reputation. Tech is a solid engineering school and Miami is a small, private school, but neither is a top 50 school. US News & World Report does rank Boston College at #40, so it has some merit. Overall, the three schools do more to water down the ACC’s academic reputation than enhance it.
Yeah, but…
Now in fairness, there are some positives to bringing in the new schools. The ACC is a much stronger football conference now and will get more national coverage. Miami and Florida State are nearly always in the national title hunt, and Virginia Tech has been in the hunt recently as well.
More than a grab for better football, the expansion was about money. The powers-that-be were looking to make more and avoid the risk of collecting less. That plan seems to have worked so far. Despite having to split the earnings twelve ways, it appears that conference will make more money off of its TV contracts. The new football contract will give each team roughly $700K more per year than the previous one.
I have many misgivings about the additions of the two and eventually three teams to the conference. They change the focus from basketball to football, they stretch the geographic boundaries, they don’t fit culturally and they make the league too big to continue to have a full round-robin schedule. To me, it’s a case of fixing something that wasn’t broken. By making such a monumental to change to a conference that has been so strong for so long, John Swofford and the university presidents are taking a great risk. Will the new superconference be as strong overall as the smaller conference was? It will make more money, but will it be as cohesive? Will fans continue to care as much as they have?
We’ll see.
For now though, I send a hearty welcome to the ACC’s newest members, Miami and Virginia Tech.

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