Tampa — The ACC tried Jacksonville. Didn’t work. Then it tried here. Hasn’t worked. Next year it tries Charlotte. Probably won’t work.
The ACC has this problem. It wants to be seen as a big-time football conference but lives cheek-by-jowl with the big-time football conference. The SEC championship game — the granddaddy of such events, at least in the upper tier of college football — dwarfs all else. Best teams, loudest fans, nicest setting. (Atlanta, Ga., thank you very much.)
The ACC expanded to 12 teams in 2005. Its first title game — between Florida State and Virginia Tech — drew 72,749. Last year’s title game — staged here, in the stadium rigged out with the pirate ship — drew an actual crowd of 27,360. (Nearly twice that many tickets were sold.) Tonight’s game between Georgia Tech and Clemson will do better than that because these schools are much closer to Florida than were Boston College and Virginia Tech, but nobody is predicting a sellout.
Raymond James Stadium has a pirate ship — and it’s a cool pirate ship, I must say — but it also has an inherent drawback: It lacks a roof. And if you’re going to play a football game outdoors in December, even on the Gulf Coast of F-L-A, it would behoove you to control the climate. Especially if your target audience is a conference that isn’t exactly the essence of football fandom. (Basketball is another matter, but the ACC has long been really good in basketball. And most basketball games are staged indoors.)
Just for fun, I checked the weather in Charlotte as of 5 p.m. Saturday — 42 degrees with a 70 percent chance of rain. Bank of America Stadium, the next home for this wayfaring event, is likewise open-air. Ouch, babe.
It had rained for several days here, but the rain ceased this morning. Now it’s just gray and windy. (The Dunedin boat parade was canceled today because of the wind, FYI.) Temperature was 57 degrees at 5 p.m. and was expected to drop into the 40s by the time the ACC anoints its champ. Mercifully, there was only a 10 percent chance of rain.
OK, you’re saying: “This is football, dude, and football is supposed to be played outdoors come Hades or high water!” My reply: The ACC is largely a Southern-based conference. We Southerners aren’t used to sitting and shivering. And if you’re neutral wondering if you should pay money to go watch Tech and Clemson play in Tampa — heck, even if you’re a Tech or Clemson fan — you might feel more inclined to trot out the credit card if you knew you weren’t going to be miserable throughout.
And there’s the ACC’s biggest problem: The only real alternative stadium from Boston to Miami that bears a roof is the one already booked this weekend. The Georgia Dome is exactly what the league needs, but the SEC got there first. And the SEC loves the Dome. And the feeling is mutual.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney suggested Friday that the ACC might pair its title game with the SEC championship in Atlanta, which would make great good sense. Reps from the conferences already oppose one another in both the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic and the bowl formerly known as the Peach, and those games do sellout business. (And Atlanta is, by dint of Tech’s location, technically an ACC city.)
But would the ACC ever want to play alongside Big Brother? Would it want its status as the JV league underscored with a side-by-side comparison? In an ideal world, no. But the first five installments of the ACC title game haven’t been ideal. The event needs a lift. The Dome would supply one. I say try it.
And with that, I’ll open the floor to comments, questions and venue suggestions. I’ll be here until Tech wins — I say the score will be 31-27 — and even if it loses. Join me, won’t you?