With all the talks of college football expansion, the common theme is that the SEC and Big Ten will be the conferences left standing when the dust settles. I also thought this to be true, but what about the ACC?
Fortunately, time has passed since the announcement of USC and UCLA leaving the Pac-12, and it has given me time to think about whether or not the ACC survives college football expansion. The first thought is “Can they?”
Believe it or not, the ACC, unlike the PAC-12 or even the Big-12 last season, has a great case as to why their members should stay apart of the conference. The ACC also has the answer to “how the members in the conference can compete with the SEC?”
Why stay in the ACC?
We all know that the programs that are of interest for expansion in the ACC are Clemson, Florida State, Miami, and maybe North Carolina. At the moment, these are the biggest brands in the ACC for football. Clemson and FSU are the two most recent National Champions from the ACC.
The next closest brands are Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Louisville, NC State, and Boston College. I know you’re looking at this list and saying these 5 are not big brands, but they have been with in the last 20 years.
like the SEC, the ACC has a large footprint, but it expands along the entire east coast. Its footprint includes college town markets and 5 of the largest media markets in the country. Cities like Atlanta, Miami, Boston, Pittsburgh, and Raleigh are all part of the ACC.
Ultimately, the ACC has the perfect mix media market footprint. When these programs are winning the conference can thrive. The difference between the SEC and the ACC is that the college towns of the SEC only have one primary source of entertainment. Although the ACC have college town markets as well, those markets are very close to the larger markets of their respective States.
Normally we would not mention basketball when we are mentioning conference realignment. The reason is because basketball doesn’t bring in as much money as football. Outside of Kentucky, the SEC in basketball is like the ACC in football. The ACC basketball programs are second to none. This in itself is an asset the other conferences can’t match. The closest conference to the ACC in basketball is the Big Ten.
How can the ACC become better?
Although, it may not seem like it, but the ACC have produced some of the best NFL players of the last 20 years. The greatest receiver of the modern generation was Calvin Johnson out of Georgia Tech. Louisville produced Lamar Jackson who also is the most electrifying player in the NFL. These same players were electrifying in college, but the level of competition wasn’t there overall.
The key difference between the SEC and every other conference is the investments being made to the football programs. The moment Nick Saban became the head coach at Alabama, the facilities arms race began. All over the conference we saw significant money being placed in football.
The only program in the ACC that jumped onto that same model was Clemson. Although FSU won a National Championship in 2013, it was mainly because FSU had head coach Jimbo Fisher who was out recruiting the talent hotbed of college football, Florida. However, Jimbo knew he would need FSU to invest more into the infrastructure of the program if they want FSU to continue to compete with the best.
It might sound cliche, but the conference as a whole need to make a concerted effort to invest heavily into their programs. Ideally, the programs should commit at least 10 solid years to improving the conferences competitiveness on and off the field.
The dynamics of college football has changed a little, but what remains the same is that investment into the programs is essential. With programs like Miami committing to returning to the top of college football, the ACC is in a great position to become even stronger than what they are.
The biggest issue for the conference is their media rights deal. When the Big Ten signs their new media deal, each program could see almost $100 million each. That would put the ACC behind about $50 million.
ACC commissioner Jim Phillips said Wednesday ” We are having daily engagements with our partner ESPN.” The top priority for the ACC is to close the financial gap between the ACC and the Big Ten and SEC. The current ACC Media deal does not end until 2036, 14-years from now.