Tudor: ACC more interested in TV money than fans

Latest expansion is motivated by prospect of bigger bucks

Staff WriterSeptember 19, 2011 

Pittsburgh Iowa Football

Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg runs from Pittsburgh defensive tackle Myles Caragein, right, during the second half Saturday in Iowa City, Iowa. Iowa won 31-27.

CHARLIE NEIBERGALL — AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

  • May 8, 1953: Seven schools - Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, N.C. State, South Carolina and Wake Forest - withdraw from the Southern Conference and meet at the Sedgefield Inn near Greensboro to draw up new bylaws. The next month, the bylaws are adopted, and the Atlantic Coast Conference is formed.

    December 4, 1953: Conference officials meet again at the Sedgefield Inn and admit Virginia as the league's eighth member.

    June 30, 1971: South Carolina becomes the first and only school to resign from the ACC. It leaves to become independent.

    April 3, 1978: Georgia Tech, formerly of the Metro Conference, is admitted as the ACC's eighth school.

    July 1, 1991: Florida State also leaves the Metro Conference to become ACC's ninth member.

    July 1, 2004: Miami and Virginia Tech leave the Big East to become the ACC's 11th and 12th members.

    July 1, 2005: Boston College becomes the league's 12th member after accepting the invitation in October, 2003.

    Sept. 18, 2011: The ACC announces it will add Pittsburgh and Syracuse as its 13th and 14th members.

Whether constant expansion improves ACC sports no longer matters.

The league's schools clearly have reached a conclusion that growth for growth's sake is smart business. That being the case, it made all the sense in the world that the ACC was up and at 'em just after sunrise on Sunday.

After all, television money never sleeps, as Gordon Gekko might say.

By announcing the annexation of Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East, the ACC will eventually get a raise from ESPN and elbow its way into the lucrative cable TV subscription markets in Pennsylvania and New York.

The ACC and ESPN are in the first year of a 12-year rights contract that assures the league of $1.86 billion, or roughly $13 million per school annually.

Terms of that deal allow for a renegotiation, which ACC commissioner John Swofford said Sunday is likely.

"I'm confident [adding Pittsburgh and Syracuse] will have a positive impact," Swofford said.

He then left the vault door wide open for a possible next round of expansion to 16 schools.

"We are not philosophically opposed to 16. For now we are very pleased with this 14," Swofford said.

But the new financial math of college athletics − specifically football − practically guarantees the ACC will go to 16 and perhaps even to 18 one day. After that, who knows?

Swofford downplayed the chance that Texas would be added if the Longhorns insist on keeping their private TV network income to themselves. The Texas deal with ESPN will pay the school $300 million over the next 20 years.

"In the Atlantic Coast Conference, equal revenue sharing is sacred. It's been a very important fundamental part of this league since the early 1980s," Swofford said. "I do not see that changing."

But everything is changing quickly in college sports and the ACC is squarely in the fast lane, meaning it might be unwise to assume Texas and the league won't find some way to strike a deal.

For the moment, the league's growth spurt may have little impact on fans of the 12 current teams.

It's conceivable that Pittsburgh and Syracuse may not be released by the Big East until January 2014, since the league has a 27-month, $5 million exit clause.

In football, both programs are in tune with the ACC mainstream.

Syracuse last had a double-digit winning season in 2001 − a 10-3 record. Since then, there's been one winning season − 8-5 with a bowl win over Kansas State in 2010.

Pittsburgh won 27 games in 2008 through 2010 after going 16-19 the previous three seasons.

Both are 2-1 so far in 2011.

Although Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim will turn 67 in November, the newcomers probably will make more noise in basketball than football.

Since becoming the Orange head coach in 1976, Boeheim has won 856 games and the 2003 NCAA title.

Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, 45, has a 216-60 record and made eight straight NCAA appearances since landing the job in 2003.

Will fans embrace new teams in either sport? Probably not, and certainly not entirely. But it's no longer about the fans or the players. It's about ESPN money.

Like it or not, conferences in the traditional sense are on the way out in college sports. They're being replaced by clumsy collections of television markets.

caulton.tudor@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8946

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