|Monday, May 5
Updated: May 8, 6:28 PM ET
ACC expansion makes dollars and sense
By Gregg Doyel
Special to ESPN.com
In the eat-or-be-eaten world of college football, the ACC is trying to wolf down the largest item on the menu: the University of Miami.
The ACC's hunger for Miami is driven by a survival instinct centered around the pursuit of money. ACC expansion is a football-driven reality that bites, says Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, who may have inadvertently hastened the demise of his own league by lashing out at the ACC last month during an interview with the New York Daily News.
"I have no use for the ACC right now," Tranghese said. "They're a bunch of hypocrites. They operate in the dark. They'll never acknowledge this, but I'm aware the ACC, for the last couple of years, without ever picking up the phone or calling me, has basically gone out and tried to convince our teams to join their league."
Meanwhile, ACC commissioner John Swofford has lobbied his school's presidents to approve expansion, knowing he needs seven of the nine schools to vote "yes" before he can invite Miami or any other school to join. To date Swofford is believed to have five or six "yes" votes, with Duke and North Carolina the two most likely schools to remain in the "no" camp.
Dee confirmed to the Fort Myers News-Press on Saturday that his school is considering joining the ACC, and didn't rule out the possibility of it happening as soon as Thursday, when the ACC celebrates its 50th anniversary at a previously scheduled party in Greensboro, N.C.
"Could something fall out of the sky between now and then? Maybe," Dee said, "but I doubt it."
A more likely scenario has the ACC and Miami reaching a conclusion -- yes or no -- within the next month or two.
If Miami leaves the Big East for the ACC, this becomes one of the largest stories in recent NCAA history because of what it would do to the Big East (kill it?), the ACC (make it a superpower) and a handful of conferences around the country that could be affected by the falling dominoes.
Is the money at stake worth such upheaval? The ACC seems to think so. The most abundant revenue streams are television and the Bowl Championship Series.
Television: The ACC's football contracts expire in 2005, and with the recent slump of Florida State, the league needs a negotiating boost. True, three other schools could be rising powers -- Maryland, NC State and Virginia -- but their lack of tradition won't help at the bargaining table.
Meanwhile, Miami has become one of the most marketable teams in the country, perhaps second only to Notre Dame. By themselves, the Hurricanes' television rights are worth almost as much as the entire ACC now that Florida State has fallen back to the pack.
How much is that? Try roughly $25 million.
If Miami joins the ACC, the league would pursue an 11th and 12th team as well, and while that would have an impact on the team's football affairs (see the next section), it also would be a television boon. The ACC's next two targets would be Boston College and Syracuse, which would give the league inroads into Boston and New York City -- two of the largest television markets in the country.
Athletics directors at Boston College and Syracuse have made similar comments, that their schools would have to consider joining the ACC if Miami made the first move.
If approved, expansion probably would take place beginning in the 2005 season, with an outside shot at 2004.
BCS: The ACC is one of six conferences guaranteed a spot in one of the roughly $13 million BCS games, but it is one of only two of those "power" conferences that have never received a second BCS bid in the same season. The other: the Big East. That's a potential annual loss of $4.5 million, the amount the BCS awards a conference that gets a second bid. Adding Miami (not to mention two other schools) obviously would increase the ACC's chances of a second BCS bid.
ACC title game: The SEC generally makes about $12 million off its conference championship game. The Big 12 usually makes between $6 million and $9 million off its title game. The ACC would love to land somewhere in the middle, generating another $10 million or so for its coffers. The NCAA mandates that a league have 12 teams before it can schedule a title game.
Although driven by football, expansion clearly would have an impact in other areas, such as:
Basketball: The ACC already has a lucrative television deal in basketball, but adding the defending national champs (Syracuse) along with Boston College couldn't hurt. Three more schools also would mean three more chances at an NCAA bid, which comes with close to a $1 million bonus to the conference.
Baseball: Miami is among the premier baseball programs nationally, but the Hurricanes are a baseball independent. Would the ACC insist on the Hurricanes joining the league in baseball, giving the ACC -- which already has traditional powers in Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest -- perhaps the best conference in the country?
Lower-profile sports: ACC lacrosse (men's and women's) would get a huge lift from Syracuse. Boston College is strong in men's soccer. Miami has great volleyball. And on, and on.
As for the risks of expansion, from the ACC's standpoint there are two big ones:
Money: Currently the ACC parcels out close to $10 million annually to each school in revenue sharing, meaning any three teams that join would need to generate close to $30 million per year just to keep the ACC at its current position. What happens if Miami football has a dip? What happens in years without a second BCS team? What if the economy starts driving down the cost of television packages, however unlikely that may seem?
Tradition: The ACC is 50 years old, and while over the years it has added two schools (Florida State, Georgia Tech) and lost one (South Carolina), never has it undergone the kind of transformation that adding three schools in one year would bring.
North Carolina and Duke are said to be against expansion because of the impact it would have on the ticket situation at the ACC basketball tournament. Hundreds of well-heeled boosters have donated a lot of money to be guaranteed, among other things, tickets to the ACC hoops tournament. Unless the tournament moves to superdomes in Atlanta, St. Petersburg and Syracuse on a permanent basis -- not likely -- adding three teams reduces each school's ticket allotment. That means somebody won't get tickets that he or she has come to expect, but who? Duke and North Carolina don't want to have to make that decision, and then deliver the bad news.
Also, what would happen to the ACC's tradition of playing each team twice in basketball? With 12 teams and two divisions, that almost certainly would be lost -- raising the ire of Duke's Mike Krzyzewski.
In those division, how would the Big Four along Tobacco Road be split up? NC State and North Carolina in separate divisions? Wake Forest and Duke? Also, what would the ACC do with Miami and Florida State? Surely it wouldn't want its two marquee football powers to battle in September when they could meet in the ACC title game in early December, right? However it's split, teams accustomed to playing each other every season in football and twice in basketball would lose that privilege.
In the final analysis, the ACC is ready to take that risk. Tradition is one thing, but dollars are another.
Gregg Doyel covers the ACC for The Charlotte Observer and is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. Reach him at email@example.com.