Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

ACC has lost its charm in rush to become next superconference

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The latest hostile looting of the Big East by the Atlantic Coast Conference has prompted yet another wistful bout of nostalgia.

The first whispers that ACC commissioner John Swofford wasn’t finished with his ongoing campaign to destroy his supposed BCS ally came early Saturday morning while killing time in the press box at Clemson, hours before kickoff against Auburn.

Within 24 hours it was official. Syracuse and Pittsburgh have ditched their longtime associates in the Big East and rejoined three former conference colleagues in the ever-expanding Atlantic Seaboard conference. Swofford left the door wide open to upping the fold to 16 teams before he’s done pillaging, meaning you can pretty much bet that Connecticut and Rutgers (though Louisville makes more sense) will join the footprint, possibly before the week is over.

As you read this, the wheels are turning to add a four-team Texas-Oklahoma outpost to the soon-to-be Pac-16. The Southeastern Conference will undoubtedly add somebody (Kansas or Missouri?) to its pending baker’s dozen to keep Texas A&M company. The misnomered Big Ten is still leaving the light on for Notre Dame, will likely want to round things out with more free agents in this rush to create superconferences.

Where it all ends is anybody’s guess (and everybody is guessing). Personally, this sad chapter has me thinking more about where this began. Hearing the news that Pitt and Syracuse would further dilute the collegiate traditions I grew up with took me back to the good ol’ days of 1990.

Back then, before Florida State joined the ACC and signaled the conference’s intent to attempt to be more competitive with the SEC in football, the conference had this charming tradition. It was called the ACC Football Tour, and it was a media bus road trip to all eight ACC schools and preseason camps. The tour always started in Greensboro, N.C., at the conference headquarters and typically ended at a motel outside of Clemson.

My first and only tour was 1990, and the most memorable part was sitting around the motel pool in Clemson with just-exiled coach Danny Ford, who didn’t let getting fired keep him from joining us to cook out, drink beer and determine our “official” preseason predictions. The assembled reporters went through every single game on the schedule, picking winners. When Ford didn’t agree with the consensus, he’d shake his head and overrule the verdict.

That remains my lingering feeling about ACC football. It was a casual alliance of friendly rivals who filled the weekends with football until basketball season led to the conference’s greatest showcase event – the ACC Tournament. Students and fans could drive to every school for every game if they wanted. Georgia Tech was two-and-a-half hours from Clemson, which was three hours from Wake Forest, which was less than two hours from the Tobacco Road cluster of North Carolina, Duke and N.C. State, which were all a couple of hours from Virginia, which was two-and-a-half hours from Maryland.

Someone born in 1990 would now be of drinking age and ready to toast their pending status as alums, and they wouldn’t recognize the ACC of their birth. Those days are ancient history now. The ACC lost all of its charm when it first raided the Big East in 2003 to stretch its range from Boston to Miami. Nobody drives to those outposts for games, and it takes longer now to fly between many schools than it used to by bus.

It’s 960 miles to drive from Georgia Tech to Syracuse. It’s 765 miles to drive from Clemson to Miami. It’s 1,430 miles from end to end of the “new” ACC that stretches from the doorstep of Canada to the gateway to Cuba.

And that pales to the scope of what the rumored Pac-16 will look like, with more than 2,000 miles dividing Texas from Washington. Or the desperate association of the leftovers from the Big 12 and Big East should they form their own conference.

Remember all this the next time these university presidents and athletics directors try to use the well-being of its “student-athletes” and fans as an excuse for not creating a true playoff system for football (which could have generated all the money they clearly desire without destroying the traditions and rivalries of the current conferences).

They’ve long argued that a playoff game or two more would pull their student-athletes away from class too often. Obviously traveling halfway across the country to visit conference foes won’t have any effect on players in volleyball or track and field.

And they argued that it wouldn’t be fair to fans to ask them to travel long distances for playoff games. Which choice do you think the diehard fans would make: travel once or twice on the occasions when your team is fortunate enough to be playing a meaningful playoff game or travel multiple times every single year to far-flung regular-season meetings with nontraditional rivals like Pitt or UConn? Which requires more of an investment in time and money?

Well, the emperors of big-time football schools have no clothes. They’ve sold their souls and our traditions for money and exposure. Swofford gets credit for potentially securing the future of the ACC in this fear-scape of realignment, but he disgraced himself and a once-proud union of close-knit schools in the process.

Something tells me Danny Ford is sitting by a pool somewhere shaking his head. But like the rest of us, he’s powerless to change the upheaval that’s overtaken reason.

Comments (14) Add comment
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kfaigle
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kfaigle 09/20/11 - 12:42 am
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Well said Scott. Things are

Well said Scott. Things are spiraling out of control with no end in sight. Being a Syracuse grad, this whole thing makes me disappointed in the Orangemen selling out. I've always said the Pac -whatever and soon to be no longer Big 12 will be a disaster just for those "other" sport road trips. Yea, that trip to Washington for Texas for the volleyball match will cost a pretty penny, not to mention lost class time. Student-athlete is a sham. The NCAA has no say in the matter showing what a joke they are as well. Pretty pitiful what college athletics has become

Techfan
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Techfan 09/20/11 - 07:26 am
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1990, let's see, that would

1990, let's see, that would be the last year that a team from Georgia won the football National Championship wouldn't it? Evidently some teams didn't just fill the weeklends until basketball season. I know the AC has a UGA/SEC bias but this is stretching it a bit.

woodymeister
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woodymeister 09/20/11 - 07:45 am
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This piece of literary wonder

This piece of literary wonder only serves to further the black cloud that the Chronicle continues to cast toward the upstate of SC. Clemson is mentioned more in this article than probably the entire Sunday paper this past weekend. I can only assume since an SEC school fell to the likes of an ACC school on Saturday, the author has his shorts in a knot. I cannot remember the number of muscles it takes to frown, but it is far greater than thoses needed to smile. Is there any chance, Mr. Michaux, that you could every once in a while put a positive spin on something and smile? Less people read the newspaper now than ever and you sir are apparently trying to drive a few more away with each column or article that you author.

justthefacts
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justthefacts 09/20/11 - 08:26 am
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On Sept 9th Scott wrote a

On Sept 9th Scott wrote a piece titled "SEC's expansion doesn't make sense", just as critical of the SEC for doing the same thing. I swear some paranoid folks see a boogieman in every closet. However, Woody makes a great point. An ACC team beating a SEC team should have been headline news for weeks!!

Dave108
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Dave108 09/20/11 - 09:28 am
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Translation: "I'm an SEC

Translation: "I'm an SEC homer and am a little threatened by the ACC's growing influence."

You also gave no justification as to why Louisville makes more sense than UConn or Rutgers. Academics are also an important factor in expansion, and Syracuse, Pitt, UConn, and Rutgers all fit in well with the ACC's academic culture (and carry much more important TV markets than Louisville, thus making MUCH more sense). Louisville's third-tier academics and redneck fanbase make them a better cultural fit for the SEC than the ACC, so you and your fellow dawg friends can welcome them alongside A&M.

And Texas A&M is 1100 miles from South Carolina. I've yet to see you complain about that. You only seemed concerned that the SEC expansion may upset the status quo of SEC dominance.

Scott Michaux
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Scott Michaux 09/20/11 - 10:23 am
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Thanks for all the kind

Thanks for all the kind assumptions about my allegiances. As for Clemson's presence in the Sunday paper, you might want to check out the column I wrote from the Auburn game and the emergence of Chad Morris' offense. It covered a good part of that sports front page and was just one click below this story on the website.
http://chronicle.augusta.com/sports/clemson/2011-09-18/clemsons-offense-...

Scott Michaux
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Scott Michaux 09/20/11 - 10:32 am
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And regarding my opinion that

And regarding my opinion that Louisville would add more to the ACC than Rutgers (UConn will be a terrific addition to the league's basketball might), I think that since the ACC is going to all the trouble of adding programs it might as well get programs that have actually achieved something athletically. The academics argument is silly and hypocritical. Louisville would add rich tradition and passionate basketballl market to the ACC. Rutgers has a population advantage but nothing else going for it. I have family in New Jersey and my brother owns a popular bar up there where sports is pretty much the running dialogue every day. Rutgers doesn't even register on the consciousness of NJ sports fans. The same could not be said of Louisville in Kentucky. But don't worry, Rutgers will probably win the ACC sweepstakes.

Scott Michaux
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Scott Michaux 09/20/11 - 10:34 am
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Of course, if the ACC can get

Of course, if the ACC can get Notre Dame (a growing rumor), that trumps Rutgers and Louisville and anybody other than Texas.

justthefacts
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justthefacts 09/20/11 - 11:01 am
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Scott, isn't the betting

Scott, isn't the betting money on ND going to the Big 10, er11? The ACC move is actually going to save them. The SEC was probably going to go after Maryland, NC, and/or UVA. Certainly the Big 10 was. While not doing much for it's football landscape, it solidifies it's basketball dominance.

Dave108
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Dave108 09/20/11 - 03:08 pm
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I couldn't disagree with you

I couldn't disagree with you more about Louisville, especially the academics part. It might seem silly to you, but to the university presidents who vote on the expansion, academics are everything. College football isn't a semi-pro sport (though some SEC schools might disagree), it's an enterprise that helps to bring in revenue used to bolster the university. And academic reputations are shaped partly by association. For example, you earn respect if you are a member of the Ivy League, and there's no question that a school such as Cornell (founded in 1865) had help in gaining its current academic standing in part because its association with schools like Harvard and Yale bolstered its reputation.

If you look at the current US News College rankings, 10 of the 12 current ACC schools are ranked among the top 75 prestigious universities in the country, with Florida State and NC State bringing up the rear tied at #101. Syracuse (#62) and Pitt (#58) fit into the current academic culture in the ACC. And if you recall the ACC's expansion to 12 teams, rumor was the ACC was wanting Miami, Boston College, and Syracuse, but had to replace Syracuse with the less academically prestigious Virginia Tech due to well-publicized pressure from the Virginia governor. There is NO WAY you would see the ACC go after a Louisville or West Virginia (tied at #164 in the US News rankings) because their academics don't meet the bar. There's nothing silly or hypocritical about it, and the only people I've seen who think so are those who cheer for schools with weaker academics.

And you may want to check history before talking about Louisville accomplishing something athletically. Syracuse and Pitt have much richer athletic traditions than Louisville. Each has a football national championships to its name (and Pitt has many). Louisville has traditionally been a perennial doormat in football except during the Bobby Petrino era, and they are returning to doormat status since he has left.

This isn't about what schools have accomplished lately, it's about a long term plan that incorporates tradition, TV markets, and academics, and Pitt and Syracuse fit beautifully into the ACC. And I'm not convinced the ACC wants Rutgers or UConn, but that may be who they have to settle with if they can't land some bigger fish.

Scott Michaux
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Scott Michaux 09/20/11 - 03:32 pm
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If these university

If these university presidents cared so much about the academic side of things in this discussion, none of this realignment and conference raiding would be happening to begin with. It is hypocrisy to talk up academics from one side of your mouth and create absurb travel requirements for your student-athletes with the other side of your mouth. When it comes to making a buck with athletics, touting academics is something that just makes them sleep better at night knowing they did the wrong thing by day.

As for tradition, I'm not comparing Louisville with Pitt or Syracuse. That deal is already done. And I'm not even talking about football (if you read what I posted above, you'd understand that). It's basketball and the Kentucky market that Louisville brings to the table. The ACC will always be a better basketball conference than football, and the additions of Louisville and UConn along with Pitt and Syracuse would solidify that for years to come. Rutgers adds nothing but a state that couldn't care less about college sports. Syracuse already offers the New York market. Rutgers isn't needed. That's my argument in favor of Louisville.

Dave108
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Dave108 09/20/11 - 05:20 pm
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I can see that we'll have to

I can see that we'll have to agree to disagree. For university presidents, academics are paramount. Some sacrifices have to be made, such as having players travel long distances or recruiting many players who probably couldn't get accepted into the university if they weren't athletes, but these sacrifices are made because they ultimately benefit the university as a whole. The revenue from these sports is funneled into enriching the university (much of which goes directly to the academic side of the university), and the exposure schools get from these sports helps in recruiting students to the university. Any decision regarding conference expansion would be done in a way that would not harm the academic reputation of a conference and its members. As such, the ACC will NEVER invite Louisville.

Scott Michaux
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Scott Michaux 09/20/11 - 09:20 pm
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I'm sure all these

I'm sure all these student-athletes at these outstanding schools will get together and enjoy some great study halls together after practice.
Please don't think for a minute that the money brought in by athletics benefits the university's academics. That money, in the EXTREMELY rare instances of the five or six athletics departments in the entire country that actually make a profit, go straight back into the athletics association. Because so few sports programs make a dime after all the expenses, all the rest of the students are required to pay student "activity" fees to help cover the losses. (Most schools actually LOSE money going to bowl games.) The only benefit that athletics provide to the university at large are promotional and inspirational. I do not discount those contributions in any way (I've devoted my career to that aspect of it), but don't think that all this money will show up in the classroom. It never has and never will.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 09/21/11 - 08:55 am
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Scott, what you are missing

Scott, what you are missing is that it's all about TV ratings. Pitt and Syracuse are in populous states. That's why the ACC wanted Syracuse so badly when BC was added. Rutgers and UConn would draw lots of viewers, too. Louisville in KY, not so much. Swofford has said that TV ratings are the driving force in past comments.

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