Wednesday, October 15, 2003

ACC Expansion: The Next Chapter

Originally posted on "TerpTown" on the network and syndicated to Yahoo

The Atlantic Coast conference completed its expansion quest on Sunday by unanimously voting to invite Boston College as it’s 12th (and presumably final) member. Even Duke and North Carolina, the strongest anti-expansion forces in the conference, apparently relented and presented a unified front for the ACC for the first time since expansion discussions became public last spring.

Rev. William Leahy, the President of Boston College, quickly accepted the ACC’s invitation and will rescind their membership in the Big East conference, as Miami and Virginia Tech chose to do in June.

The effective date of this move was not immediately certain. In all likelihood, this would not take effect until 2005, leaving the ACC at 11 members for the 2004-2005 athletic seasons. With 12 members in 2005, the conference will be allowed to hold a conference championship football game, one of the main reasons for expansion in the first place.

This move came as little surprise to those who had been following the situation closely. That group does not appear to include Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese, whose public whining about the ACC’s raid of his league brought this issue to the public consciousness last spring.

Tranghese released a statement Sunday in which he said, “Our membership is very surprised that the ACC Presidents continue to come back into our league for membership.” Hey guys, pick up the sports page every now and then and keep up with the news, or at least have someone read it to you.

In the meantime, Traghese is leading a raid of schools from Conference USA, preparing to add Marquette, DePaul, Cincinnati, and Louisville. The Big East leaders consider that a different situation because, they claim, they have been very up front working with Conference USA membership to facilitate an orderly transition.

To me, this is analogous to the difference between someone robbing your home when you aren’t there vs. a burglar knocking at your door and robbing you at gunpoint. I’m sure if the latter happened to any of the Big East leadership, they would say, “Well, at least the thief had the common courtesy to rob me to my face.” Yeah, right!

Now the bidding will begin in earnest for the lucrative (estimated at up to $10 million in revenue) conference championship game. The ACC will likely divide into two divisions, at least for football.

The Raleigh News and Observer reported that tentative divisions were discussed at the recent ACC meetings. One division would have Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Duke, Miami, and Georgia Tech. The other division would contain Maryland, Clemson, NC State, Wake Forest, Florida State, and presumably Boston College.

The scheduling plans announced for 2004 and 2005 football will now have to be revised, at least for 2005, with the addition of the 12th team, and it remains to be seen if the divisional alignment will be tinkered with at that time.

It is also not clear how this will affect the basketball schedule guidelines determined at the same time. Each team was given two “Designated Rivals” they would play twice every year within a 16-game schedule. The addition of Boston College will obviously affect this in a manner yet to be determined.

If you want my two cents worth (and who wouldn’t) the conference schedule should grow to 18 games. This would give each conference school the opportunity to play seven teams twice and four teams once every year. Expand the designated rivals to three per school.

Give Boston College former Big East members Miami and Virginia Tech as designated rivals and add Maryland, the closest school geographically. This would also allow the conference to correct flaws in the original plan, such as reinstating the automatic second game between Duke and NC State, while Wake Forest could drop Georgia Tech and add Duke and North Carolina. The tobacco road rivalries are still the backbone of the ACC and should be preserved by any reasonable means possible.

I doubt there will be any celebrations of this news in Boston, even if the Red Sox were not currently in the post-season. Boston is a pro sports town, and college athletics rank well down the list of sports priorities in Beantown and most of New England in general.

I have nothing against Boston College. It is a fine school with a solid athletic program. They would be a credit to any conference they chose to belong to. Just one thing bothers me, though; Boston is in the northeast, not the southeast. The Atlantic Coast Conference (at least Boston is on the Atlantic Coast unlike, say, South Bend, Indiana) was born from teams from the Southern conference. All of its previous (and until today, future) members were from the southeast. Do you see what I’m getting at here?

It doesn’t make much more sense geographically for Boston College to be part of the ACC as it did Miami belonging to the Big East. I suppose college sports have outgrown geography. As long as the numbers add up on the athletic departments’ bottom lines, a school could be in Guam and still be part of the picture.

The Atlantic Coast Conference took the final step Sunday to sell part of it’s geographic identity and sports tradition in order to keep their seat at the table with the rest of the major power brokers in Division I college sports. Over time, we will see how much of its soul was part of the deal.


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