Originally created 07/21/98

Haughty ACC on pedestal in its own mind



BUFORD, Ga. -- After listening to the nine football coaches of the uppity Atlantic Coast Conference for the last two days, you'd think the world possessed no other schools that mattered.

There certainly is a culture involving the ACC, where its membership, its administrators, its coaches, its players and even some of its media can trouble you with its We Are The World mentality.

And as the conference kicked off its 1998 football season here on this resort island north of Atlanta, you wouldn't be surprised to see Commissioner John Swofford on the disabled list, suffering from a pulled muscle after patting himself on his back.

Despite rampant ACC thinking, one school does not a superpower make. What Florida State has done in winning 47 of 48 league games, it's shown just how wide the gap was from the ACC football teams and those who compete for national championships year in and out.

So as the league convenes this week, the talk has turned to two dusty subjects: When or if the entity with tunnel-vision thinking will expand to add more credibility to its fledgling football status, and when or if FSU will ever be knocked off its comfortable perch.

The real question is which one will happen first.

When the ACC brought the 'Noles aboard in 1992, and a year after the Big Ten acquired an independent Penn State, it was for the simple reason that success in football begets more money for the conference, more prestige for the conference, more credibility for the conference. Without FSU, the ACC remains in the football dark ages, sort of what the Big East is today.

The college football landscape will change in the next century, and whether the ACC will be there to create it, or whether it will ride its stationary high horse remains to be seen.

Sooner rather than later, Notre Dame will join the Big Ten, the collection of Midwestern schools that can boast more expansive television markets than any other conference. And sooner rather than later, whatever is left of the Big East will be out there for the taking, meaning the conference the greatest foresight can latch on to Syracuse and its New York base, and Boston College and its Beantown base.

What makes the ACC so special in so many of its members' eyes is the notion that in 45 years of existence, the core remains intact. With the exception of the monstrous drive to Tallahassee, each school is reachable from the other in one caravan, making the conference's remoteness quite unique.

"We enjoy the family nature we have with our schools, and changing that is something that will not be easy to do," Swofford said.

The nine members spread over six states, a cohesive and somewhat unified collection of institutions. Would adding a Syracuse, as FSU's Bobby Bowden suggested Monday, or picking up three more schools and forming two six-team divisions with an eventual championship game help or hurt this proud group?

The coaches seem split on the idea of expansion, while the athletic directors are taking a wait-and-see approach. If the ACC waits, it may see its high-and-mighty stance hurt by bigger and more broad-based leagues.

"Hopefully what happened with the WAC will be very sobering for people," Swofford said. "It shows that being the biggest conference with the most members in the most states is not necessarily better."

"If we bring any school in, they must bring an awful lot to the table," Duke's Fred Goldsmith said. "We've got a good thing going here. Our football is outstanding, our basketball is the nation's best. Any school that thinks they're ACC worthy must be able to add to both of those."