Like many of you, I've viewed the events of the past couple of years with considerable trepidation as to how they'll affect the long-term prognosis of FSU Athletics. As appealing as a change-of-conference-scenery seems, it too has drawbacks and presents a high risk-reward scenario. Nothing against our friends in the B1G or Big XII, but I'd much rather the ACC start to function as an effective going concern rather than to throw all of our stuff in a U-Haul and move to the Midwest.
I know, crazy, huh?
The Big Ten's acquisition of ACC-afterthought Maryland earlier this week proves a point that I've maintained all along -- namely, that the ACC has considerable assets upon which they utterly fail to capitalize. Think about it -- Maryland's massive amount of cable subscribers have been the ACC's domain for 59 years, and it took another conference acting out of spite against Notre Dame to finally figure out how to make money off them.
Maryland's departure changes little. The majority of those assets -- proximity to talent, proximity to markets, large land-grant schools -- are still there, waiting to be exploited. The steps I present below represent a framework by which the conference can safeguard those assets and move forward.
Nine Steps To A Better ACC
1. Keep it together. The football-centric center -- Florida State, NC State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Georgia Tech -- must hold. North Carolina and Duke must stay as well. It would be nice if Virginia stuck around, but outside the first seven schools I mentioned, everyone is expendable.
2. Get the big fish into the boat. The conference needs to convince Notre Dame to go all-in as of 2014. This would automatically trigger a renegotiation of the contract with ESPN, and give ACC bowl tie-ins a much needed shot in the arm, all the way down the line. Remember, Notre Dame is liable for the same $50 million exit fee that the rest of the ACC is, and they have a vested interest in the survival of the conference as well.
3. Get your minds right. The greater purpose of higher education is to better the lives of society as a whole. Somewhere along the way this ideal took a backseat to elitism and self-aggrandizement, not only in the ACC but in many other academic institutions and organizations as well. The conference must reassess how it views academics. Academic research collaboration should still prioritized and non-negotiable minimum standards should be maintained, but if a school graduates an appropriate amount of athletes AND students, conforms to conference and NCAA norms regarding partial-qualifiers and does an effective job of executing their own mission statement (which is how I've always felt schools should be measured,) then the conference should embrace them, US News & World Reports be damned. Besides, if academic relationships truly mean anything, a rising tide would lift all boats, and if not the tendency of the ACC Establishment toward academic snobbery is exposed for the abstract foolishness that it truly is. Let's face it, none of us put on our resumes that we graduated from a school that plays Duke in football, and conversely it's not hurting Georgetown graduates that they went to a school that aligns itself academically with South Florida. Strict adherence to arbitrary academic rankings is what kept West Virginia out of the ACC, and is what is keeping the Big Ten from making the most lucrative move of all in inviting FSU. The ACC needs to be the one to break that cycle, and they need to realize that it can be done without selling their souls.
4. New blood, but only if we have to. The conference should bring in Louisville to fill Maryland's spot IF it has to do so to maintain an even number. Otherwise, they should stand pat just so there are the requisite twelve members to allow for divisions and a championship game (a must going forward, no matter what the Big XII says.) If more backfilling is required to reach 12, THEN you look at UConn or Cincinnati. If more backfilling than that is required to stay at 12, we have nothing more to talk about and it's every man for himself.
5. Look at a map. The conference needs to overrule the alleged objections of the Carolina schools and Virginia Tech and realign North-South. If they have to take a couple of liberties with geography to maintain balance, so be it. If the SEC can put Missouri in the East, we can get away with a putting Miami in the North.
6. Pay for play. In keeping with the original ideals of the conference, television revenues should be shared evenly. That being said, it's beyond time for proportional bowl revenue sharing. Each team should get half of their bowl revenue, with the other half placed into a fund that would be divided between every school in the conference. Schools that self- impose bowl bans or are placed on NCAA postseason bans should get nothing.
7. Everyone goes all-in. The conference needs to do whatever it takes to get all members to sign a Grant-of-Rights that lasts through the first generation of the upcoming playoff (2026.) This Grant-of-Rights should be set up to renew automatically if per-team revenues over the past rolling five-year period and projections over the next five-year period are at a minimum of 90% of what the SEC, Big Ten, Pac 12 and Big XII teams are getting.
8. Be careful who you're seen with. Conference-wide scheduling guidelines must be established. FCS opponents should be eliminated, and a strategic scheduling partnership should be established with another major conference in which we agree that each of our members will play one out-of-conference game with them a year. The Pac 12 is a good option, because it would allow the Pac teams a chance to play major games in Eastern time, it would allow ACC teams the opportunity for exposure on the west coast, and it'd make it easier for Notre Dame to preserve their out-of-conference rivalries with USC & Stanford.
9. Give that man a gold watch. Once these things are accomplished, it's time for John Swofford to take a golden parachute into retirement. He gets the credit for a lot of the positive moves made by the conference of late, but I remain unconvinced that the gains we've made have been accomplished by anything other than dumb luck. It'd be great if the ACC could bring back Mike Kelly to replace him; if not, the conference needs to conduct a nationwide search and find someone without ties to Tobacco Road or other ACC members.
Penn State. It';s a long shot, but this rumor has popped up and refuses to go away. Given the anger their fanbase carries toward the Big Ten after the conference allegedly held a membership vote on them and then fined them $50 million, I can't help but wonder if there's not a little smoke behind the scenes there. It's also entirely possible that Big Ten commish Delany is making inroads east to guard against the possibility the Department of Education and/or Department of Justice have something far more sinister in mind for Penn State than scholarship deductions and a long bowl ban. It still remains to be seen how those agencies will handle what appears to be the willful disregard of the Clery Act by former Penn State administrators, and how this will affect their accreditation going forward. This definitely bears watching -- regardless of what happens to them, if you have a chance to grab a school like Penn State, you do it.