ACC should stay at 12

STAFF WRITERMay 20, 2010 

In a column earlier this week, colleague Tom Sorensen wrote that the ACC needs to expand again and suggests West Virginia, Cincinnati and Louisville as targets.

Sorensen is right about 90 percent of the time, especially when forecasting draft picks the Charlotte Bobcats should have made. As he often mentions, he said in 2006 that the Bobcats should draft Brandon Roy in 2006 and in 2005 that they should trade up to get Chris Paul. Imagine how good the Bobcats would be if they'd followed Sorensen's advice.

But Sorensen isn’t right this time. Adding some combination of West Virginia, Cincinnati and Louisville might enhance football in the conference a bit, but staying at 12 makes sense for the ACC now.

Let’s assume the expected television deal with ESPN worth in the neighborhood of $150 million to $155 million per year is announced soon. If and when that happens, the ACC can remain fiscally competitive with (though not quite equal to) the SEC (whose deals are worth $205 million a year) and the Big Ten (which is tapping into a potential gold mine with its own TV network).

The ACC can do it without adding more schools that would have to share its money, and the TV revenue it will generate will be enough to keep schools from defecting. Although forecasting how the college athletic “seismic shift” will occur is dangerous, here’s a best guess for how it will turn out:

1. Notre Dame will stay independent. As long as it has its own, lucrative television network contract and doesn’t have to share that money with anyone else, there’s little incentive for the Irish to move. The only thing that could change that would be a collapse of the Big East that left Notre Dame without a conference for its other sports. But the Big East is not going to collapse.

2. Missouri will join the Big Ten. This would add the valuable St. Louis and Kansas City TV markets for the Big Ten Network to target and increase revenue. But Jim Delany will be savvy enough to realize that Rutgers won’t bring a substantial share of the New York TV market and that Nebraska doesn’t have enough TV sets in the entire state to be a strong addition. The Big Ten will become 12.

3. The Big 12 will get back to 12. There will be some minor rejiggering out west to address Missouri's departure. Perhaps Texas Christian will join the Big 12. Perhaps the Pac-10 will add some teams (Brigham Young? Colorado?). But all this will have little effect in the Southeast, and no 16-team superconferences will evolve.

4. This includes the SEC. There’s talk that if the Big Ten gets bigger, the SEC will expand, too. But again, the money is what talks here. Even if the SEC invites more teams, it’s unlikely to be able to renegotiate its TV deals that CBS and ESPN overpaid for two summers ago right before the recession hit. So there’s little incentive for the SEC to expand and add some combination of Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Miami, as some have suggested.

5. The ACC will stay at 12, too. The Big Ten won’t want Boston College, and the Big East doesn’t have enough money to pry away Boston College from the ACC. The SEC doesn’t need Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech or Miami to get into the markets in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida because it already has a strong presence in those states. Besides, remember that college presidents make these decisions. Clemson fans would love to have Alabama and LSU coming to Death Valley instead of Duke and Wake Forest, but there is value in being associated with schools with high graduation rates. College administrators, faculty and some alumni understand this, and it’s what makes the ACC (with schools such as Duke, Wake Forest, Boston College, North Carolina and Virginia) strong.

6. That’s why Sorensen’s suggestion is a flop. According to figures for 2009, the four-class average graduation rates for the overall student populations were 55 percent at West Virginia, 52 percent at Cincinnati and 42 percent at Louisville. Those numbers are far behind the lowest rate for an ACC school (Florida State, 68 percent) for the same period. That doesn’t mean West Virginia, Cincinnati and Louisville are bad schools; their missions and clientele are different from those of Duke and Wake Forest. But adding them to the ACC doesn’t increase the conference’s academic profile. That’s important to college presidents, and it should be important to alumni, too.

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942, or @kentysiac on Twitter

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