The Washington Post

ACC Commissioner John Swofford discusses new Orange Bowl contract

The new deal between the Orange Bowl and the ACC will move the annual game to Jan. 1 after previously being played on a weeknight post-New Year’s, a strategy ACC commissioner John Swofford called “a huge mistake.” (Chuck Burton/Associated Press)

The ACC may have a dismal 2-13 record in Bowl Championship Series games over the past 14 seasons, but the league ensured Tuesday it will remain viable once college football turns to a four-team playoff to decide its national champion beginning in the 2014-15 season.

The conference announced a new 12-year deal with the Orange Bowl that will run concurrently with the new postseason format. In most seasons, the game will serve as host to the conference’s champion, continuing a partnership that began in 2006.

The Orange Bowl will also be one of six bowls that will rotate hosting semifinal games when the four-team playoff goes into effect. The ACC expects the Orange Bowl to host semifinal games “at least four times” during the 12-year term the BCS presidential oversight committee agreed to.

The Rose Bowl (Pacific-12 and Big Ten) and the recently formed Champions Bowl (SEC and Big 12) already have agreements with other leagues and are also expected to be part of the semifinal rotation.

In addition, the new Orange Bowl contract states the game will be held every year at 1 p.m. on New Year’s Day. In recent years, the game had taken place on weeknights after the New Year’s holiday for television purposes, which was inconvenient for fans who had to take extra time off work and pull their children from school to attend.

ACC Commissioner John Swofford called that strategy “a huge mistake” on Tuesday. Two years ago, when Virginia Tech faced Stanford in the Orange Bowl, the Hokies managed to sell only 6,500 of their 17,500-ticket allotment. In 2009, Virginia Tech sold just more than 3,300 tickets when it played Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl.

“I think that everybody throughout our league is very pleased . . . With the prestige and history of the Orange Bowl, it’s a very, very good situation,” said Swofford. “We felt that staking a claim on New Year’s Day was important for the league.”

The contract should be advantageous for the ACC, even during seasons when the Orange Bowl hosts a semifinal game. If the ACC champion is not chosen as one of the top four teams in the country those years, the selection committee established by the BCS presidents last week would place that team in one of the other “access bowls” in the playoff rotation that isn’t hosting a semifinal that season.

If the ACC champion is part of the four-team playoff during a season in which the Orange Bowl isn’t hosting a semifinal, a replacement ACC team would represent the league in the Orange Bowl. Swofford said the conference still must discuss how that second team would be chosen, but two possibilities could be the next highest ranked team or the loser of the ACC title game.

Swofford said negotiations on potential Orange Bowl opponents remain ongoing, but indicated discussions are “fairly far along” at this point. The pool of possible teams will likely include Notre Dame, provided the Fighting Irish meet certain criteria during a given season.

“I don’t think there’s any question the other side of the game will be attractive in any scenario that we’re discussing,” Swofford added.

The deal could also net the ACC a substantial financial windfall since the league will control the television rights to the Orange Bowl going forward. The conference plans to take the game to the marketplace once it finalizes an opponent.

Swofford said ESPN, which recently agreed to a 15-year, $3.6 billion extension with the league for exclusive multi-platform coverage, has first negotiating rights for the Orange Bowl as part of its existing television contract with the BCS.

But while Swofford may shop the television rights, he admitted that throughout negotiations with the Orange Bowl, the league never seriously considered aligning with any other entity going forward in college football’s new postseason format.

Mark Giannotto is a Montgomery County native who covers high school sports for The Washington Post. He previously covered Virginia and Virginia Tech football for five years.


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