ACC's Forward Progress Limited
Monday, July 14, 2008
The Atlantic Coast Conference's symptoms five years ago were easily diagnosed: diminished ego, voracious appetite and selective vision. The conference with the highest average revenue payouts, an acclaimed tradition of basketball success and a reputation as one of the most pristine collegiate scholastic associations in the country needed -- or, at least, felt it needed -- to grow.
Tired of the persistent malaise with its football clout among Bowl Championship Series conferences and intent on catching the eye of television network executives, the ACC set out to expand from nine to 12 schools in 2003 in hopes of satiating all of its competitive, financial and academic desires in one fell swoop.
The results, to date, have incurred mixed reviews.
Coaching instability throughout the football ranks has numbed the recruiting advantages made possible by a league that now spans 1,500 miles of the East Coast. In addition, the programs expected to serve as the ACC's backbone have withered in recent seasons.
Meanwhile, a lucrative television deal signed shortly after the realignment was announced sparked an economic boon, felt mostly by the conference's newest members. The highly coveted ACC football championship game has contributed to the windfall, despite attendance numbers that have decreased each year.
The expansion "in the short term, has not had a tremendous impact; it has elevated expectations, which make the broadcasting rights more valuable," said Marc S. Ganis, president of the Chicago-based sports consulting firm SportsCorp Ltd. "In the long term, it should raise the level of competition among the schools that have not had a tradition of excellence in football. The smaller schools will get more exposure."
The conference's scholastic identity -- which some schools felt was in danger of being tarnished with the addition of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College -- has changed. That modification, however, stimulated an academic consortium that provided a platform upon which the trio could ingratiate itself with the ACC's established members.
"I'm not sure there's been a terrifically positive benefit," said Paul Haagen, a law professor and former vice chair of the academic council executive committee at Duke University. "It has been less negative than some people feared and less positive than some people will claim."
By adding Boston, a major media market in the Northeast, and Miami, a hotbed of athletic talent located near Florida's southern tip, the ACC extended its reach to recruits and fans.
Recruits "understand more clearly the boundaries of the conference," said Dana Bible, offensive coordinator at North Carolina State. "It strikes me that recruits anywhere in that range are open to considering all teams in the conference."
However, several ACC football programs have been unable to take full advantage of the conference's expanded borders because of coaching changes. Half of the ACC's 12 schools -- Boston College, North Carolina State, Miami, North Carolina, Duke and Georgia Tech -- have introduced new head football coaches in the past three years. Of those six programs, only Boston College finished the 2007 season with a conference record above .500.
"Stability has not been there with many of the programs," said Mike Farrell, college football recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "It's tough to develop the top-rated kids when you have to start over. It stunts their development a little bit."