Conference Realignment: How to Fix the ACC (With or Without Florida State)

Is John Swofford Part of the Problem or Solution for an ACC Still Trying to Survive Realignment Scares

The conference realignment carousel keeps on turning, with rumors flying every which way about who’s staying, who’s going and what might happen to those who wait around too long in the ACC and other conferences around the country. One of the overarching themes, however, is that the ACC needs to act — in some way (ANY way) to solidify its future, whether that’s with Florida State or without them. They have to start taking steps, before the Big 12 just loots the place, leaving them penniless.

Below are the best suggestions we’ve got toward fixing the ACC, both right now, and for the future. Some may be a bit more rational/realistic than others, but given the speed of change in college football right now, sometimes the most irrational move can also be the smartest one, too.

Step 1: Level with ESPN

Overall, most are of the opinion that the ACC was grossly undervalued in its latest deal with ESPN, especially considered the worldwide leader took home all of the league’s third-tier rights, too. Since the ACC is the only league ESPN owns in full, come back to the negotiating table laying out the terms in black-and-white. “If we don’t fix this, your property loses value by losing member institutions.” There’s also the option of using it as motivation to grab Notre Dame, the one piece ESPN would really kill to own. But we’ll get to that…

Step 2: Cater to Florida State

If Florida State really wants their own “Longhorn Network” as badly as they claim, let them go for it. With a slightly renegotiated deal, let the ‘Noles take their tier-three rights and create a ‘Noles Network, with all-FSU, all-the-time programming of various sorts. Allow all teams to negotiate their own tier-three rights — but it’s likely they won’t need to if they create:

Step 3: An ACC Network

All ACC sports programming, from studio shows to live events to feature documentaries. Teams will earn plenty from the tier-three rights living on the network (likely run by ESPN in some fashion). Best of all, FSU can also grab revenues from this channel as well. Speaking of Florida State, there’s also another step the league will need to take to ensure they’re happy.

Step 4: Fire John Swofford

And replace him with someone with ties outside of the ACC, and especially outside of Tobacco Road. If FSU pressed the issue, you could do this as step one, to bring a better contract negotiator to the table. But whenever you implement the new leader, he should be seen as a voice for all 14 schools, rather than a small faction of the Carolina schools.

Step 5: Bump up the League Exit Fee

With all of these concessions made for Florida State, of course it had to come back around in some form — but as long as they stick around, they don’t have to worry about these repercussions at all. The conference’s current exit fee stands at $20M. If Florida State wants to be catered to, then it just needs to up the ante on their (and all the school’s) agreement. Make it $30M, and adopt similar rules to the Big 12: If you depart, you’re losing your television rights for years on-end. Even the league’s most popular team, the ‘Noles, don’t have the money for that.

Step 6: (Finally) Bring On Notre Dame

Boxed out of adding any ACC teams, the Big 12 will likely go to the Big East if they’re hoping to expand. Should that league lose another member, it’s likely Notre Dame is suddenly active in looking for a conference home for all sports (including football). The Irish will also get some special treatment to make sure they come aboard, though the same penalties will apply if they leave. Notre Dame can still negotiate its own tier-three rights deal like everyone else, but it must split football games between ESPN and that other partner (likely NBC still). While some may not be a big fan of the preferential treatment afforded two schools, it’s worth it to keep everything together. Adding a 16th team, you’re probably looking at Rutgers.

Step 7: Place ACC Championship Game at Campus Sites

Another one that could happen at various stages in the process, but holds additional significance at the end. The ACC shows its faith in its programs by switching the football title game to neutral sites. It’s a big step for the league toward breaking away from its NC-centricity, and overall isn’t a whole lot to give up to keep everyone together.

If Florida State does leave, many of these steps can still be taken to solidify the league and enhance the on-field product while putting a premium value on marketing potential.

Agree, disagree? What other steps would you take in this process?

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19 thoughts on “Conference Realignment: How to Fix the ACC (With or Without Florida State)

  1. Personally, I can’t believe the ACC doesn’t have its own network already. Really, every major conference should have its own network in some form, to offset the loss of the non-revenue sports and to increase football profits. Plus, you have the markets to sell it in.
    I would be cautious in how much you’d want to cater to FSU: yes, they may be your football daddy, but no one team should have too much power. Look at Texas in the Big 12. And I’d disagree about playing the FBall championship game on campus sites; if you have a workable neutral site, which Charlotte seems to be. Great points all around.

    • Thanks, Derek. For the championship game, most folks are actually pretty ticked off about the Charlotte location. They’ve also tried Jacksonville, but to no avail. People think Charlotte caters to the Carolina schools far too much, and they have a fair point there. The league also didn’t help its case, perception-wise, by staging all but one sports championship in North Carolina for the 2012-13 academic year.

      Beyond the hurt feelings and issues with perceived bias, attendance has also been extremely poor. With a conference as spread-out as the conference is (and will be), neutral sites give more guaranteed fans in seats. The Pac-12 pulled it of last year, and by all accounts, staging the game in Oregon was a success.

      • I’m confused why you’re talking about neutral sites and then talking about the Pac-12 football championship. The game in Oregon was not a neutral-site game, it was hosted by the University of Oregon because they had the best record.

        As for Charlotte, attendance of the ACC Championship game when it has been held in Charlotte has been great – over 72K both years.

        • Meant “campus sites” — sorry for the confusion.

          I think there’s been a big difference between actual attendance at the ACC Championship Game and the reported attendance (having watched the games, and seeing empty seats everywhere). Also, can’t rely on the best-traveled fan bases (Clemson, FSU, VPI) to carry the load either. If Miami and Boston College faced off in Charlotte, no one would show. So campus sites alleviate this concern.

        • But John, what do you do with places like Pitt? We don’t play on campus anymore (I wish we still did) we play a pro stadium.

          That’s why I think a true neutral site like Washington, D.C. would be best.

        • Depends on the cost of the game. If Heinz Field already qualifies as Pittsburgh’s home stadium, then maybe the terms of that deal now include a provision stating its availability for a campus-site championship game? Miami could surely gain a similar one, given they’re in the same situation.

        • Fair ’nuff. I’d think that if a team is doing well enough that they’re good enough to get home-field advantage for the ACC championship game, then they will be able to sell it out.

          Charlotte’s stadium holds more than most ACC stadiums, but I guess that it would be better to have a 54K seat stadium filled to capacity vs. a 73K stadium that has 10K empty seats.

          I also suppose that if the “best team” is hosting the game, it gives that team a better chance to win, which gives the ACC a better chance to have its best team be champion (although that didn’t help Houston in C-USA last year).

  2. I don’t like the idea of the championship games being at campus sites. What does it accomplish? Yes, it gives more revenue to the host town and campus, but if if the site of the conference game is..Washington D.C. for football and..oh what the heck let’s say MSG (come on ACC Pitt, BC and Cuse will love you and you can kill off the Big East at the same time.) that accomplishes so much more. You have two neutral sites that will have GREAT media exposure, a great chance for recruits of both schools in the game to see what the schools and the ACC has to offer and it strengthens the idea of the ACC being a national powerhouse.

    I know the ACC gets derided for being too NC-centric. Being neutral in the conference championships allows this perception to change a little.

    I do agree, and I know as a Pitt fan I probably should say much, that Swofford needs to go. I wasn’t sure, at first, why he was such a bad guy to people but that was mostly “oh my god, THE ACC picked MY favorite (and local) school to join!” stuff. Now I see that the ACC has the same problem as the Big East–only replace Providence with North Carolina. Swofford needs to go. I’m not saying hire a guy from another school; get an outside guy. No more in-house commishs. (I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me why Coach K is a ‘weasel’. He seems like a nice guy.)

    The only other thing I can think of is that the ACC needs to get into talks of being part of this proposed playoff. Right now the ACC, with the Big East, are on the outside looking in. Yes, they have the Orange bowl but who really cares? They end up playing the Big East champ half the time and getting stomped. I say keep the tie to the Orange Bowl but get some decent competition. I know the Big 10-Pac 12 and Big 12-SEC has a matchup but why not propose the ACC Champion against the loser of one of those conferences title games. Seriously. If all these conferences are saying they’re the best of the best, prove it. By their logic their second place team should be just as good if not better than the ACC right? Then prove it in the Orange Bowl. That accomplishes two things. It gives the Orange bowl a marquee game (sorry but WVU-Clemson doesn’t cut it). You could see Pitt-PSU or UVA-tOSU or FSU-Texas, or Miami-WVU, or VT-TCU..or even a rivalry game like Clemson-South Carolina or Georgia-Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl; and you the ACC’s name into the other conferences and if the ACC would beat them, players that were considering those schools might say “well, gee the ACC just beat the school I might go to. Maybe I should reconsider.”

    Sorry to ramble, but I had to share my thoughts.

    • My big issue with neutral sites is the travel with such an immense conference (Boston to Miami is a long way). I agree that we’ve got to work our way into the post-season construction somehow, be it via bowl game or positioning ourselves better for a playoff. With the plus-one talk heating up again, I think it’s time to take ownership of the Orange Bowl or Chick-fil-a Bowl and use it to match the ACC champ against the top team left out of the other two games. This needs to happen soon, though, since FSU’s eying an exit.

      • Right, it’s a large conference but if you hold the championship game in D.C. or even Baltimore, you’re meeting each school roughly half way. Obviously if you hold it in D.C. or Baltimore the draw back is if by some miracle Maryland or Pitt, or one of the Virginia schools makes the game.

        I think the ACC needs to just own the Orange Bowl. They might as well, it’s their tie-in game.

  3. I like it. If there is any way we could bring ESPN back to the negotiating table that would be great. It was foolish to make the ACC an ESPN exclusive in the first place, but we probably will not be able to change this until the contract expires.

    Also how about this. The ACC fights back! Bring on Baylor and Notre Dame. or turn the tables and bring on a potentially disgruntled Big 10 member, Perdue or Northwestern. *Disclaimer, I am only mildly serious about this.

    • Sadly ND won’t happen until at least 2015. They like their independence. The BIG XII is also courting them but realize that won’t happen.

      I don’t know ACC bylaws (I’d have to pay for them to read them) but I believe I’ve heard there’s something about the state having an Atlantic coast (which both PA and NY do–even if Cuse is in the middle nowhere and Pitt is on the Ohio River.) So I believe that counts Purder and NW out. It should technically count ND out (especially as they merely rest on their laurels of years gone by)..Baylor is in..Texas. I’d like that. It opens recruiting easier but then that could lead the Big XII to poach ACC schools.

      I would personally like to bring in UConn and Rutgers but I’m also thinking about basketball and not football so my fault. If I did think football then Cincy and Lville would be decent fits. Cincy-Pitt would be a better rival than MD-Pitt and those two schools are basically holding up the Big East right now. Basketball, LVille has a nice balance of.

      • No way Baylor leaves after the stink they created last year about keeping the Big 12 together. Plus, any school that left the Big 12 would forfeit six years of TV rights (unless the league dissolved, of course).

        No reason to bring UConn and Rutgers aboard unless it’s just one of them, and they’re bringing Notre Dame. Best way to piss off the football schools looking to leave is to bring in more northern schools that bring little to the table in terms of gridiron potential. FSU would rather lose to good teams than win (or as they’ve done recently, lose) to mediocre ones. So that’s why ND is the only fish worth catching.

        • While I agree with what you say about FSU and ND; you also risk pissing off BC (and possibly Cuse; don’t UConn-Cuse have a rivalry? sorry, the Big East never gave me a reason to care about any other school beyond Pitt. The ACC does lol.)

          I mean Pitt and Cuse sort of bridge that North-South Gap (at least more than MD) but wouldn’t Rutgers and UConn further bridge it? and wouldn’t Rutgers-Cuse help shore up that coveted NY Market.

  4. Totally agree on the NY market thing. I’ve definitely wrote about it here numerous times that Rutgers does bring a good chunk of that along. But SU and Pitt didn’t show up to bring more rivalries with them. For SU, we’ve got BC, Miami and VPI already, plus Pitt. UConn’s never been a football rivalry, as much as people push for that narrative. And SU-Rutgers wasn’t a thing until somewhere betweeen 2004-2006 (due to the Scarlet Knights virtual irrelevance in the Big East until that point).

    With four “northern” schools already (everyone from Maryland, up), it’ll be a hard sell to get the other schools to buy in without a definitive competitive improvement. I just don’t know if UConn and Rutgers provide that at a time when the ACC needs it most.

  5. Just got to reading this … so bear with my long reply … I’ll go point by point, and then add some thoughts …

    (1) and (3) … The comment about ESPN “owning the ACC in full” isn’t entirely accurate. ESPN doesn’t actually own all of the rights. It’s true as far as the men’s basketball and football are concerned, but it is not true for other sports. See this link: http://frontrow.espn.go.com/2012/05/acc-on-espn-rights-agreement-speculation-just-the-facts/

    I completely agree that the ACC should form its own television network as a partnership with ESPN (and am rather aggravated that the ACC management seems to have dismissed this possibility). Presumably, the ACC TV Network could also show some of that “third tier” men’s basketball and football that won’t be shown on other networks, as well as some other sports (especially baseball, soccer and lacrosse). If it’s an ACC/ESPN partnership for the ACC TV Network, some of the ESPN3 games could be shown on the ACC TV Network so that it can bring in more advertising $$ since it would be on an actual TV network instead of only online.

    (2) … I agree to a point as far as “catering to FSU,” but they shouldn’t have any more rights than any other school. The ACCNW would almost certainly bring in additional revenue (perhaps substantial additional revenue) that would hopefully help keep FSU and Clemson (and others) happy.

    One other thing that I think should be done is that the ACC should drop the idea of a nine-game conference football schedule and stick with just eight. This would not only help all of the schools (by allowing each to create either a tougher or weaker OOC schedule, depending on what they want), but it would also make it more appealing for Notre Dame to consider joining the league as an all-sports member.

    (4) … I like many of the things that Swofford has done for the ACC, but I agree that it’s probably time to find someone from outside of North Carolina to run the conference. His son working for Raycom is a conflict of interest in itself, but one of the last straws for me was when ALL BUT ONE of the conference championships scheduled for 2012-13 turned out to be in the state of North Carolina. That’s simply not how things should work. I’d hope he would resign rather than be fired, because he’s done some good things for the conference. But it’s time for someone from outside of NC to run the show.

    (5) … Not going to happen until and unless the conference secures its future better (with the TV network and possibly Notre Dame). They tried to bump it to $34 million, but FSU and Maryland balked (because they both, in theory, have other options).

    (6) … If it’s possible, then yes, bring Notre Dame into the ACC. They should NOT get any more rights than anyone else in the conference. That leads to the conference fracturing (see the Big 12 for a great example of this).

    (7) … As much as I don’t like the NC-centric nature of this conference, I don’t have a problem with the ACC football championship being in Charlotte. I do have a problem with so many of the remaining “neutral site” league championships in NC, but that’s another story. If the ACC football championship is at a neutral site, Charlotte really makes more sense because you want as many people attending the ACC football championship as possible. Charlotte is a five hour (or less) drive from 8 of 14 schools, and about eight hours from 3 more. The best choices for the ACC football championship are either (1) Charlotte or (2) hosted by the school with the best record.

    Other points …

    As I mentioned earlier (and as you mentioned in another comment), the ACC decided to place all but one of the neutral-site championships for 2012-13 in the state of North Carolina. This is flat-out unacceptable. These championships should be spread out over the entire east coast. I think the ACC should even consider paying the travel costs for all schools going to the ACC championships, so that whichever site is selected, it is not relevant to a school’s athletic department budget.

    The men’s basketball tournament needs to leave Greensboro. Sorry, but it’s just not a big enough city to host what should be a showcase event for the conference. Charlotte is ok, and Atlanta, DC, and possibly NYC should be hosts too.

    As mentioned in other comments, the ACC needs to take control of its future with the bowls. I’d rather see the ACC champ matched up against the “best of the non-champs” from the B1G / Pac-12 / Big 12 / SEC than matched up against the Big East champ. I also think they might consider moving the ACC champ to Atlanta instead of Miami, since it’s much easier for fans to travel to Atlanta. Unfortunately, ACC fans simply don’t travel as well as B1G or SEC or Big 12 fans. I strongly think the ACC should consider creating a bowl at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands.

    As far as a possible UConn + Rutgers expansion, that makes no sense, unless the ACC has massive defections. Only take one of them, and only if Notre Dame joins up (my preference is Rutgers over UConn, for various reasons).

    • Totally agreeing with everything you included under “other points” — if the ACC is ever going to shake its perception as a regional, NC-centric league, it has to start marketing itself elsewhere (specifically the large cities along the eastern seaboard where it also has teams).

      Also, was reading some of your other material over at B/R, and was curious if you were interested in contributing here, from a Maryland viewpoint. Looking to cover as many bases as possible, and in my opinion, there’s no better way to do that than involving fans from each school. Anyway, let me know if you’re interested. Happy to continue the conversation via email: jcassilloii [at] yahoo [dot] com.

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