Can the flagging ACC survive in a football-driven industry?

It seemed like a big deal at the time: Tech after winning the 2009 ACC title. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

Georgia Tech celebrates the 2009 ACC title, since vacated. (AJC photo by Johnny Crawford)

The ACC has long been the nation’s most prestigious basketball league, but at a time when college football grows ever larger, basketball  counts for less. The almighty SEC figures to try and poach a team or two from the ACC and the Big East and the Big Ten likewise could make entreaties. Is it possible that the ACC could, in the not-so-distant future, cease not just to matter but to exist?

It was in 2003 that the ACC snatched Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech from the Big East, which appeared bound for oblivion. But the Big East, in a deft bit of damage control, grew to 16 teams and became the nation’s best — as opposed to the most prestigious — basketball league. The ACC, by way of contrast, has reaped next to nothing from its expansion.

Since the ACC expanded to a dozen, only Virginia Tech has finished a season ranked in the top 10 of the final USA Today coaches’ poll, and in that span the Hokies haven’t cracked the season-ending top five. The SEC has won the past five BCS titles; the last ACC team even to play in the national championship game was Florida State in January 2001, which was so long ago Mark Richt, now the dean of SEC coaches, was the Seminoles’ offensive coordinator.

The ACC’s ballyhooed basketball has suffered, too. It has become a two-team enterprise: North Carolina and Duke have won three NCAA titles between them since expansion, but the last ACC school to reach the Final Four other than the Big Two was Georgia Tech in 2004. Even more distressing, seven of the 12 programs have changed coaches in the past 17 months.

Duke and Carolina stand as the two best basketball programs in the  land — Kansas and UConn and Michigan State and Kentucky might quibble — but the balance of the league, once its regionally televised Thacker & Packer hallmark, no longer exists. Also gone are those days where every league game brought a full house at every arena. Five ACC schools saw decreases in home attendance last season, and three more had average increases of fewer than 100 per game

The question, then: If football tepid and basketball is top-heavy, what’s the lure of the ACC? Tradition, yes. Seven of these 12 have graced the conference since 1953, the year it was formed. Academics, sure. In scholastic terms, this is considered the most serious of the six BCS leagues. But are history and academics enough in a business where millions of dollars flow to the schools that play the best football?

The ACC is in trouble. Its image — and the ACC cares about image — has been sullied. Georgia Tech had to forfeit the 2009 conference title and was placed on four years’ probation by the NCAA. North Carolina has been hit with nine rules violations ranging from impermissible benefits to academic fraud. Miami could well get the death penalty in the wake of Nevin Shapiro’s jailhouse accusations.

If you’re Florida State … if you’re Clemson … if you’re Virginia Tech … if you’re North Carolina State … do you want to stay in the ACC and play Class AAA football if you have big-league options? (And surely some among those will.) Are ACC matters apt to improve anytime soon? Is John Swofford the man to save his conference in the way Mike Tranghese did the Big East? And if Swofford seeks to raid some other league before his gets raided, where does he turn? Nobody’s leaving the SEC, and who in the football-playing Big East might be amenable? Louisville? West Virginia? South Florida?

The ACC was a lovely idea more than a half-century ago: Schools of common interest in a tight geographic area. Over time, the conference has sought to broaden its base, which is necessary in a zero-sum marketplace. The reality, alas, is that the base hasn’t grown but thinned. This has become a strange-looking league with one toe in Boston Harbor and another in the sands of South Beach, and the football it plays isn’t very good. And football matters above all else.

By Mark Bradley

397 comments Add your comment

BobbyDodd

August 22nd, 2011
3:37 pm

Get Ga. Tech back in the SEC where they belong!

WeBurn

August 22nd, 2011
3:39 pm

Mark Bradley

August 22nd, 2011
3:40 pm

Almost, WeBurn. Kudos to Coach Dodd.

Vinnie

August 22nd, 2011
3:40 pm

Central Florida does not play in the Big East. South Florida does! However UCF does want in. In my view the ACC can have them!

GIVE ME A BREAK

August 22nd, 2011
3:40 pm

The ACC will be just fine. Maybe add Central and South Florida. Could be fun.

Bama Danny

August 22nd, 2011
3:41 pm

GA Tech and the entire ACC are cheating, lying, backstabbing thugs. The NCAA deserves to strip them of any and all titles and thoroughly investigate their off-the-field transgressions!

RTR!

Get your Hot Dogs and Hamburgers

August 22nd, 2011
3:42 pm

Mark Bradley

How about a Hamburger

GT should drop down to Div II where they really belong

Lowcountry Bulldawg

August 22nd, 2011
3:42 pm

And that is the first post? Someone living in lala land thinking Tech is worthy of playing in the SEC. FIRST for the official post…

Vinnie

August 22nd, 2011
3:43 pm

South Florida will not leave the BE. I think with the money the BE is about to get (more than the ACC), why would they leave. UCF wants into a BCS confrence so maybe they will go for it. But ask yourself if it makes sense to add another team from Florida???

DS

August 22nd, 2011
3:43 pm

ACC Football has definitely faded fast. One year ago, minus Duke and Virginia, NC State, Maryland, Miami, FSU and UNC looked to be rapidly improving. Now this conference looks like it is destined for a Virginia Tech vs Florida State championship without much fight.

In my mind, Virginia Tech and FSU have to be the most likely candidates to defect to the SEC. Virginia Tech’s basketball team seems to be getting closer to national prominence every year, which makes me think they are happy dominating the ACC in football, while building their basketball program.

FSU on the other hand seems as though they have every reason to jump ship.

Does this conferences hopes rest on FSU?

Lowcountry Bulldawg

August 22nd, 2011
3:43 pm

Meant 8th…

GeorgiaDog

August 22nd, 2011
3:43 pm

Heck, no. Bobby Dodd wanted out of the SEC to Tech could be the “Notre Dame of the South.” How’s that working out for y’all?

BAMA dude

August 22nd, 2011
3:43 pm

GT in the SEC? You must not like seeing your team in bowl games consistently.

Not On The Radar

August 22nd, 2011
3:45 pm

Wow…just learned that Georgia Tech had to forfeit their ACC chmpionship and is now on 4 years of probation. Guess they’re not exactly a national story…

UGA Class of 14

August 22nd, 2011
3:45 pm

Bobby Dodd Tech will never rejoin the SEC. Maybe you guys could join C-USA when we poach Clemson and Florida State.

Goose

August 22nd, 2011
3:47 pm

maybe, the Southern Conference will pick up some of the ACC teams. I know it’s a demotion from the BCS but some of the teams can not compete in the BCS.

The Greatest Game Ever Played

August 22nd, 2011
3:47 pm

Oh ye of short memories, need one be reminded of that magical night in November 2008: 45-42. The mighty Y’Jackets of the soon-to-be-forgotten ACC thumped the SEC power Georgia Bulldogs.

GTBob

August 22nd, 2011
3:52 pm

Of course it can. Football isn’t everything and really isn’t even the main concern of most of the teams in the ACC. If the Florida State’s and Clemson’s of the conference want to leave and join a football conference then they can easily be replaced with a school which better fits in the ACC.

Ron Burgundy

August 22nd, 2011
3:52 pm

As always, stay classy UGA fans.

GStateBen

August 22nd, 2011
3:52 pm

Considering that the ACC will have 2 Top 15 teams this season they should be fine. If the ACC was actually looking out for their best football teams, they would have moved Clemson from the game right after the Oklahoma game. Instead, they gave the ‘Noles a BYE before Duke and Wake Forest. Which is like a BYE, scrimmage and scrimmage.

Jackets 2011

August 22nd, 2011
3:53 pm

Clemson will not want to leave the ACC. If they can’t win it, how will they win the SEC?

Buckhead Dawg

August 22nd, 2011
3:54 pm

No thanks on the nerds coming to SEC. See above photo – they win their conference and nobody is in the place to care.

Tallcarl

August 22nd, 2011
3:55 pm

Easy there Bama Danny, be careful what you wish on other schools. Your team is always on the edge of infractions and I am just waiting for your Coaching staff to get caught with fingers in the pie.It’s inevitable.

disconnect

August 22nd, 2011
3:56 pm

What does tech have to offer the SEC, SEC already owns the Atlanta TV market, and with minor league coach PJ leading the charge the talent base is depreciating faster than a dollar bill in Beijing, there is no promise of any great improvement.Since Bobby Dodds last season in 1966, Tech has a .539 winning percentage and has appeared in 1 major bowl game and won 1 conference title. That doesn’t get you invited to footballs premier conference.

GTBob

August 22nd, 2011
3:56 pm

Get Ga. Tech back in the SEC where they belong!

No thank you. If we became an SEC school then I would probably have to find another school to root for.

Chanticleer

August 22nd, 2011
3:59 pm

If the folks in charge at Clemson don’t make a serious push to get into the SEC, they may need to push for a new job. I’d say the majority of the CU fanbase wants to exit the ACC.

Skeezix

August 22nd, 2011
4:00 pm

If Clemson and Fla. State bolt to the SEC, then soon followed by Miami–then I think the ACC should seriously consider moving down a notch from Divison 1 football. Duke will never be able to compete for a National football title against the Alabamas of Division 1. This is probably also true of Wake, UVa, Maryland, etc.

Burdell

August 22nd, 2011
4:01 pm

Buckhead Dawg…the background of that picture was the Clemson sideline…they didn’t stick around for the trophy presentation you maroon.

Get your Hot Dogs and Hamburgers

August 22nd, 2011
4:01 pm

You have to play in a stadium that seats more than your average high school

So that eliminates GT

RxDawg

August 22nd, 2011
4:03 pm

Meh, at this time the conferences are treated equally (except in TV money). So, staying in the ACC gives these “football” schools an easier path to championships and wins. If the SEC does go after an ACC school then the first choice would be the states we don’t have. North Carolina would be my favorite addition because it will add variety (not just another good football program). I’m sure Va Tech or even UVA are on the board too.

Bleh, I like the 12 teams we have honestly. You can’t beat the regular season in SEC football, period.

Get your Hot Dogs and Hamburgers

August 22nd, 2011
4:04 pm

You have to have more than 500 fans

So that eliminates GT

Get your Hot Dogs and Hamburgers

August 22nd, 2011
4:08 pm

Your stadium has to be at least 1000 ft from a crime ridden neighbor

So that eliminates GT from joining the SEC

Paul in NH (formerly RDU)

August 22nd, 2011
4:09 pm

Mark – nice. fact-filled article. I wish I could quibble but I can’t. If the ACC is going to keep up in “a football-driven industry” (and since when did semi-professional sporting entertainment become the prime mission of a university?) it needs to win some big OOC games (WIN – not come close).

Ted M

August 22nd, 2011
4:10 pm

what if someone wins the BCS NC in the next few years? How will things change then?

Beast from the East

August 22nd, 2011
4:11 pm

Really surprised that FSU, Miami and Clemson have really faded the past 10 years or so. I think FSU is on the rise with the coaching change. Miami is in DEEP trouble. Clemson won’t do anything until they make another coaching change (Mike Leach?). The ACC needs all 3 of those teams to be strong if they want to be taken seriously in football.

Aunt Esther

August 22nd, 2011
4:13 pm

The ACC owns the SEC in all other sports except football…it’s a shame so many “real men” like football best when in reality it is such a sissy game.

Sam Robards, Dawg Fan

August 22nd, 2011
4:14 pm

That’s a really good question, Mark.

On the one hand, it’s not all about football in terms of culture; however, in terms of revenue, it is all about football. The month of March is always big for basketball, but that’s about the only time anyone really cares.

To stay viable as a conference, the football product has to improve and win big. Not even national championships: they just have to beat someone out of conference that counts to try and get some pride back. If FSU beats OU in Tallahassee this year, that’ll be a HUGE step in the right direction.

If the level of play/competition doesn’t improve, I don’t see the conference dissolving (barring some crazy expansion shenanigans). I just think they’ll continue to slog around the bottom of the barrel and pray for the arrival of basketball season.

Whopper Dawg

August 22nd, 2011
4:15 pm

When the SEC and Big Ten are through with their pillaging, the remnants of the ACC and Big East will combine to make up the last of the 4 16 member super conferences. Alas, it will be by far the lessor of the 4 and Tech will be doomed to football mediocrity forever.

Beast from the East

August 22nd, 2011
4:16 pm

Aunt Esther,
Stick to women’s lacrosse. That’s about the only thing the ACC “owns” anyone in these days.

Sam Robards, Dawg Fan

August 22nd, 2011
4:17 pm

Oh, and the people wanting GT to come back to the SEC, TOO FREAKIN’ BAD.

Tech had your shot, but they thought they were hot crap and went independent (note: it didn’t turn out well). I also heard Tech left because of some (figurative) pissing contest between Bobby Dodd and Bear Bryant, but that could just be a rumor.

Once the door’s shut, it doesn’t open back up.

Ga Dawgs!

Coach Grohbo

August 22nd, 2011
4:17 pm

An exciting Georgia Tech – FSU championship game and an Orange Bowl win, coming off of routs of their SEC state rivals will cure all ills in football.

It will happen this year. Florida is starting over and Georgia is about to.

ACC basketball’s revival hinges on removing to the hammer-lock the tobacco road schools have on the basketball officiating and rules enforcement situation.

Don’t hold your breath on that one.

Paul in NH (formerly RDU)

August 22nd, 2011
4:19 pm

Beast
You mean women’s soccer and men’s lacrosse.

Johnny

August 22nd, 2011
4:20 pm

You should at least give Clay Travis props for poaching all of his material. At least you didnt plagerize even though you still didnt have an original thought.

Get your Hot Dogs and Hamburgers

August 22nd, 2011
4:21 pm

Your stadium and campus buildings should not have gang graffiti painted on them

So that once again eliminates GT from joining the SEC

Golden Knights

August 22nd, 2011
4:24 pm

Dogs should consider joining conference UGA with the new power ranger uni’s!

Doug the Jacket

August 22nd, 2011
4:25 pm

This article is just another good reason to never allow the AJC on my doorstep again, ever. The case at GT is under appeal. Any fool knows the punishment did not fit the infraction. The NCAA is out-of-control and needs to abolished for a new system that governs fairly and gives the kids that play the game more respect as human beings, and recognizes college football for what it has become, not what it used to be. BS

Get your Hot Dogs and Hamburgers

August 22nd, 2011
4:27 pm

The opposing team fans can not out number your home team fanbase during a rival game

So that once again eliminates GT from joining the SEC

Dooner

August 22nd, 2011
4:28 pm

North Carolina and Duke the best 2 basketball programs? What? Based on what? Attendance? Fan suppport? Facilities? You are nuts even though you are from Kentucky. I live in Greensboro, NC and know a little about the 2 programs.

Get your Hot Dogs and Hamburgers

August 22nd, 2011
4:28 pm

The combined IQ of your entire football team is higher then the weight of your nose tackle.

So that once again eliminates GT from joining the SEC

Paddy

August 22nd, 2011
4:29 pm

Mark, I believe the ACC will survive. Granted it is down now but dynamics change. Couple teams get hot for a few years and all is forgoten. The South needs the ACC. All the good players can’t play in the SEC!