The annual bowl rota of the ACC took a major nosedive this week when the conference refused to give the Gator Bowl flexibility in selecting an ACC team to play in their annual game. In place of the Gator Bowl, the Independence Bowl now takes its place. The Independence is in Shreveport, Louisiana, deep in the heart of SEC country, far from the footprint of the ACC, and in a city that would never rank in any sane person’s list of great American tourist destinations.
So basically in simple terms, the ACC gave up the Gator Bowl — a convenient trip for fans of most ACC members — for the sake of Boston College.
That’s because the ACC’s within-one-win selection rule is for BC. You could argue Wake Forest too, but Wake has had decent representation when they go to bowl games, given their size and home market. You cannot say either for BC.
Tell me again why the ACC allowed BC to join. As I recall:
1. It is in Boston, and has a huge TV market. Which is funny. Did the ACC even complete cursory due diligence prior to issuing an invitation? Boston is all about The Sawks, The Patriots, The Celtics, the Bruins and then maybe, just maybe, BC. In other words, they have as much impact in that market as Manchester United does in the Raleigh-Cary MSA. Not much. If any.
2. Getting the magical 12th member to create a conference championship game for football. So far, that conference title game has been a disaster. It is so popular that a few Texas HIGH SCHOOLS regularly have more fans at its games than does the ACC Title Game. Think about that – the ACCT game for football is such a failure it is smaller than a Texas high school game. That’s a REAL big time sporting even you created there, Mr. Swofford.
3. The ACC tournament in Fenway Park. To which I say “so what?” Yes, Fenway is historic and home to a major league baseball team. It is also a long way away from the center of the base of the conference and would not draw throngs locally. Did I mention the Red Sox? And even though college baseball is gaining in popularity, it is nevertheless a non-revenue sport that should never have much consideration where weighty matters like conference expansion is concerned.
4. The ACC Basketball Tournament in Boston. Well, that would draw the usual high-value donors, but the bulk of the fans watch the tourney on TV and don’t give a damn where it is played. Unless it is in NC, DC or the ATL, where they can go and buy ducats from the first and second round losers to see “their” teams. I know plenty of NC and Duke fans that make plans to do that every year. Boston is a pretty expensive trip to go scalp tickets.
None of those drivers has worked out for the ACC. BC is a drain on the other eleven teams. Its continued presence is effectively punishing the fans of the other teams. Call it what it is…a boat anchor that’s starting to drag the ship to the bottom with it.
I think that the conference should quietly invite a team closer to the rest of the league that would bring some interest. West Virginia maybe, if you could talk them into jumping ship out of the Big East. WVU and Virginia Tech are blood rivals non-pareil, and their annual football game ranks just below the much-more-hyped classics such as Ohio State-Michigan or Alabama-Auburn. They take it seriously, and it is the sort of game – given the proper promotion – that can become a signature matchup for the league, one that is at least the match of Miami-FSU. As for the rest of the ACC, it would not take long to develop strong rivalries. WVU fans would see to that. Rivalries drive conference interest, and when a Clemson-WVU or an NC State – WVU game becomes a huge deal, you know you have achieved success.
In a dream world, if Swofford could sell ice cubes to Eskimoes (err, Inuit).. he could successfully recruit Penn State. Penn State would come with their huge football program and its national credibility. Anyone who has ever spent much time in eastern Pennsylvania or gone to Happy Valley for a game can tell you how big football is there. Penn State steats 107,282 fans in Beaver Stadium…which ought to give you an idea of how big football is up there. And did you know that one in one hundred living alumni of any university holds a degree from Penn State? You could say that PSU would be a drain on hoops and have a good point, but that’s something that would cure itself, and quite quickly. That’s because within the penumbra of Penn State is the Philadelphia market. There are plenty of great hoops players there, and given the exposure of the ACC, Penn State could build a competitive hoops program within five years.
Unfortunately, the ACC missed out on getting Penn State in the 80′s when they wanted to join the conference. Now they are locked into the Big Ten, and it would almost be a miracle to get them to change affiliations. But unless one tries, how can they know for sure.
Notre Dame will eventually have to join a conference in order to continue being a real force in college sports. If it is academics, tradition, fanbase and reach that you want, Notre Dame fits the bill and then some. Problem is, Notre Dame is far outside the geographic footprint of the ACC and since they already have a national TV contract all to themselves, coupled with a Big East affiliation, the Fighting Irish have no urgent desire to do anything. They don’t have to share their revenue and as such don’t really need a major conference…yet. Times are changing, however, and it may come to pass one day that the Irish will need a full ACC, Big Ten or Big East affiliation. That will come sometime after NBC and Notre Dame part ways, and that’s a long time coming.
Then there’s the easy fit, but one that will raise the hackles on the back of most ACC fans’ necks. ECU. Yes, ECU. Our little brother institution down east.
As easy as it would be to make a case against ECU, what with its small TV market and relatively small alumni base, one could also say that ECU would be a better fit in the ACC than is Boston College. Then again, being in a tiny TV market has yet to hurt Auburn or LSU. For another thing, ECU considers itself a rival of the Big Four schools now. I know, stop laughing. Go and ask an ECU fan who they would want to beat the most in football in a given year, and they would almost certainly say NC State or UNC. Ask them what program they would like to see their school build up into a competitive one, and they would say hoops.
A number of State fans would like to say that ECU’s academics are no match for NC State or UNC’s, but I have yet to see a football or basketball game where the fans cheer the SAT of their given teams. Besides, ECU’s academics have steadily increased for a couple of decades now, to the point where their nursing and medical schools are well respected. That joins other colleges at ECU that already had a decent amount of respect. Yes, ECU would have to change their athlete admission standards. They could no longer be the safety school of failed recruits from ACC schools. But to be honest, the catcalls of “ECTC” are as outdated as UNC fans calling NC State “Moo U” — as if there were something bad about agriculture in the first place.
But to be honest, ECU is as much a pipe dream as Penn State for anyone in support of it happening. And there’s not really a lot of support amongst current ACC teams’ fans for ECU. It’s almost inconceivable that other members of the league would approve membership for the Pirates, not for the above reasons, but for the simple reason that they would fear additional NC-based influence on the conference. As it is now, there is a feeling that the Big Four “owns” the ACC and adding a fifth team from North Carolina has little chance. But that doesn’t mean that ECU wouldn’t be a better fit in the conference than BC, despite its weaknesses. Truth it, BC is just that bad.
Bottom line is that it is time for the ACC to vote BC off of the island, they’ve done enough damage to this conference already. This is a college with a smaller fanbase than a lot of Texas high schools, after all. Truth is, BC will forever be the albatross around John Swofford’s neck so long as they are a member of the ACC. Swofford’s number one mission at the moment should be trying to find an effective replacement for a failed member that doesn’t fit, one that is perhaps the weakest and worst member of any BCS school. If he doesn’t, he may allow the ACC to cease being considered a major conference. After all, major conferences don’t have major bowls in Shreveport. Leave that to the also-ran conferences.