What the ACC must do right now

One of our regulars, TMRNole, took a lot of time to write an article on improving the ACC.  I decided to feature his work.  What fix does he propose?   You'll have to read it to find out.

Unrelated, off-topic, but not completely out-of-nowhere.  With another dismal ACC postseason behind us (sorry - Virginia Tech finally bringing home a BCS bowl win after 9 years of conference suck doesn't cut it), I thought I'd offer a solution to this nonsense.  It's not an idea you haven't heard before as I know I'm not the first genius to recognize that the splitting of the 12 ACC football teams into the Atlantic and Coastal divisions is one of the dumbest ideas in sports.  However, I'm here to tell you that I strongly believe (and have for a long time now) that the realigning of the conference is something that will produce tangible results in improving the product of ACC football.  And it must happen immediately.

Let me get this out of the way:  I know why we have the Atlantic and Coastal divisions.  I know the forces that prevented the forming of North and South divisions in the first place when the league expanded to 12 teams in 2005.  And to those forces and to the head honchos at the ACC:  It's time to do what's best for the conference.

1.  Immediately realign the conference into North and South divisions.  The North must consist of Boston College, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Virginia Tech.  The South must consist of Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, N.C. State, and Wake Forest.  No doubt many of you have seen folks like me lay these two divisions out in this particular manner, and surely the more geographically-aware among you may have wondered why liberties have been taken in the Tarheel State.  It's pretty simple actually:  North Carolina and Virginia are engaged in one of the nation's oldest football rivalries, and it makes sense to preserve this rivalry.  It also makes sense to then place Duke in the North with UNC as well.  Fair enough.  And this then leads to the second essential component of the realignment process:

2.  Eliminate the cross-divisional rivalries.  The other effect of realigning the conference into North and South, and cheating with the geography with the four schools in the state of North Carolina, is that the need for cross-divisional rivalries magically vanishes.  Why is this important?  It's important because instead of having two open slots on a team's schedule for five cross-divisional teams to rotate though, there would now be three open slots on that team's schedule for six cross-divisional teams to rotate through.  And so instead of being able to tell a potential recruit that he'll be able to travel to every ACC team's stadium once in a five-year tenure (an empty promise to a stud recruit looking to begin training for a pro football career), kids can now be assured that they will play every ACC team both home and away in a four-year amateur career.  Nice.

3.  Once the championship game is moved to Charlotte, keep it there.  Or if it fails there, try D.C.  Give it a chance to work somewhere outside the state of Florida, and then either give the host city a long-term deal, or if it's just not catching on anywhere, then start the tour of cities along the eastern seaboard (this could help build fan interest in its own right, with different cities for fans to visit over the years) - but whatever you do, do not plant the game in the state of Florida.  Jacksonville?  Really?  And how did Tampa work as the improvement over Jax?  Florida State and Miami have done a splendid job of serving notice to the rest of the ACC that this will not be a power conference dominated by dynasties from the '80's and '90's.  And it's time to stop pandering to them.  (And yes, I speak as a 'Nole with my program's best interests at heart when I state this.  The conference is suffering with its rep, and Florida State is suffering because of it.)

So why will realigning the conference make so much of a difference?  Well, if you look back up at #2, I talked about recruits seeing the conference schedule as being more attractive.  Not that big a deal?  Hey man, it's step 1.  The idea behind all this is to increase the attractiveness of the conference to recruits and fans.  I'm not here to work miracles, but I am here to voice support for what should be a no-brainer anyway.  This is where you start.  What else will it do to excite recruits and fans?

It will create regional rivalries.  Many such rivalries are already in place with the current set-up.  However, the crime is that natural regional rivalries are being ignored.  Florida State doesn't play Georgia Tech every year with a divisional championship on the line - are you kidding me??  This is beyond absurd.  The ACC must cater to the fans here.  Rivalries will not develop if fans can't travel to the games.  Have you taken your family to Boston yet?  And can you do it every other year?  Will you?  Conferences have thrived for years because of their regionalism.  This is such a fundamentally basic concept that I really don't know what else I can type here.  I'm just staring at my keyboard.  It's been several minutes now.

It will re-establish the importance of the Florida State - Miami game.  This is critical.  One of the key selling points of the expanded ACC was the raised significance of this game, already a game of astronomical stakes coming out of the '80's and '90's when the winner (and one time even the loser) competed in the national championship game a stunning 14 times in the 19-year span from 1983 to 2002.  Seriously, that's insane.  How could the game possibly get any bigger than that?  Well, put a major conference championship on the line and the BCS spot that goes with it.  So how did the ACC screw up this golden opportunity?  It put Florida State and Miami, at each university's insistence, in separate divisions, making the meeting between the two schools mean absolutely nothing in the conference standings.  (A school with a single cross-divisional loss goes to the championship game if it otherwise wins out.)  A loss in the series no longer hurts like it used to.  And maybe that's fine for a lot of folks, but a win now seems equally hollow because the stakes are gone.  In the current set-up, if you're Florida State and you beat Miami, but then Miami continues on to win their division, one of two things will happen:  1) you'll win your division and face Miami in a rematch.  (Believe me, this is a nightmare scenario when it happens.)  Or 2) you'll lose your division, and Miami goes on to compete for the ACC title, unfettered by the beatdown you laid upon the Canes in their stadium in front of their fans which was months ago and... meant nothing.  Which scenario is worse?  The conference must raise the stakes in this game.  If you're Florida State and you want to go to the ACC championship game, you should be required to beat Miami.  And Clemson.  And Georgia Tech.  Your hated rival, your regional rivals - and voila!  You begin to see, plain as day, how simple it is to create an interesting power conference with a compelling conference race.

Sure, no set-up could exist without complaints from some.  The Miami - Virginia Tech rivalry becomes a 2-out-of-4-year affair.  But that's fine.  This isn't the Big East anymore, and Miami-Clemson replaces that rivalry in a heartbeat.  It's not like it's a decades-old tradition.  And hey, you're already wondering aloud, will doing this now really cure all the ills that are plaguing the expanded ACC?  No, but I assure you that when Ed Cunningham's budding career in stand-up comedy is stunted by at least five years because of his guide to remembering which teams are in which division of the ACC (aired during the FSU-Maryland game - oh man, what a disaster), it's time to do something to liven up the party.  And recruits and fans will come to the party.

In closing, my wife and I were dining out the other night, and while we were waiting for our table, I looked up at one of the televisions at the restaurant to see Beano Cook being interviewed on ESPN.  I'll paraphrase his words, mainly because I wasn't really paying attention to what he was saying.  (Habit.)  Anyway, he was discussing how unbelievably stupid it is (and he's right) that the Big East has a 16-team power basketball conference without a split of the teams into two divisions.  (Big division and East division anyone?)  His closing thought on the matter was that when he was young (hold your jokes), he used to think that politicians and the people that run sports were very smart people, but now that he's older he realizes they're not smart people at all.  The ACC must realign these divisions.  There's not a magic switch the ACC can pull to become a better, more attractive conference overnight, but there is a switch that can help get it there.  At the very worst it can do no harm.  Why wouldn't you pull that switch?  ACC fans need to demand it.

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