ACC expansion has raised competition, value of title game

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

When Joe Paterno speaks, people tend to listen. But Joe Paterno is not the Big Ten commissioner.

Paterno recently called for Big Ten expansion and a championship game, and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany essentially said no, not now.

"The issue has come up with our football coaches a couple times -- with the extra week and if we did expand, would we be more competitive?" Delany told ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg. "I would say in some years they might be right. But has it enhanced the competitiveness of the ACC in football? Has it enhanced the competitiveness of the WAC? I don't know."

Considering it's May, and NC State players are talking about a trip to Tampa in December, I'd say yes.

Other teams in the conference should be sick and tired of watching Virginia Tech play in the ACC championship game. As evidenced by last year's embarrassing attendance, fans are tired of watching title game reruns. But guess what? The Hokies have raised the bar in the ACC.

The addition and success of Virginia Tech and Boston College has forced other teams -- including Miami -- to improve. Better coaches have been hired. Better facilities are being built. An NCAA-record 10 ACC teams were bowl eligible last season. And everyone wants to play in the Orange Bowl.

And while the excitement bubbled over until the very last regular-season kickoff of 2008 -- 10 teams were still eligible to play in the title game in Week 11 -- the Big Ten players had finished their season early enough to walk home for Thanksgiving.

Virginia Tech and Miami joined the conference in July 2004. Boston College came a year later. It will take more than five seasons to truly weigh the value of ACC expansion, but so far it hasn't been what ACC officials envisioned -- at least not yet. Just look at its BCS bowl record (2-10). And Miami has been as disappointing as getting a salad when you ordered a steak. The league hasn't had a legitimate national championship contender since 2000.

That could change this season, though, and the league has shown improvement from the bottom up.

"The ACC won their first BCS game in nine years, but they've had the championship game for four years," Delany said.

His point being that the title game is not relevant. Tell that to the Wake Forest players of 2006, or to the Virginia Tech team of 2009 that aspires to play for the national title. On average, six million people have watched the ACC's title game on TV each season. That's six million fan's who aren't watching the Big Ten during that time.

Yes, the ACC championship game has struggled. Yes, ACC officials cringe over the recent attendance numbers. But location and match-ups have a lot to do with that.

Don't forget about the inaugural ACC title game in 2005 in Jacksonville. Florida State beat Virginia Tech 27-22 and there were 72,749 fans there to see it. The Noles went on to play in one of the most exciting Orange Bowls ever, a triple-overtime 26-23 loss to -- go figure -- Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions.

If Florida State plays Miami in the ACC championship game this season, the city of Tampa will be bursting to the bay with college football fans eager to help make the title game relevant.

It's already relevant though, just because that possibility exists.