Commentary

Sorensen: Conference math - Add, or be contracted

tsorensen@charlotteobserver.comNovember 30, 2012 

— The problem with adding outsiders such as Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC is that it dilutes intense, time-tested rivalries such as Florida State and Georgia Tech.

The Seminoles and Yellow Jackets will play in Charlotte on Saturday night for the conference’s football championship.

Plenty of good seats are still available. Plenty of bad seats are, too.

We can curse corporate raiding conferences such as the ACC, Big Ten and everybody else with enough pull to pull it off. But we shouldn’t. The old model no longer works.

Just as independent ma-and-pa stores have been knocked out of business by malls and chains, conferences that refuse to adapt have been shoved to the margins. They’re still in business. But business isn’t good.

Every school looking for a better deal, which is almost every school, is a potential free agent. What we’re seeing is no different than what we’ve become accustomed to in the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball.

The local team drafts an athlete. He digs in. Look, there he is at the bar, the charitable foundation, the function. He wears our uniform and, after a few years, feels like ours. Then his contract expires and he heads to Chicago.

Julius Peppers grew up in North Carolina, played at North Carolina and was drafted by the Carolina Panthers. He played for the Panthers in 2002-09, and to retain him the team once offered to make him the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.

Yet as effective as Peppers could sometimes be, do you miss him? He’s been a Chicago Bear only three seasons, including this one. Yet when I think of him he wears Chicago’s colors, not Carolina’s, and is entitled to.

What did the ACC lose by losing Maryland? The Terps were one of the ACC’s original members, the only original outside the Carolinas. They had great moments, especially in basketball. But they haven’t advanced to the NCAA’s Sweet 16 since 2002-03.

Louisville is more interesting. Adding Notre Dame, even if it won’t deign to play a full ACC football schedule, was a coup for the conference. Pittsburgh and Syracuse offer lucrative territory previously unclaimed by the ACC.

Some of the additions have failed. Boston College is fine academically but offers little athletically aside from Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. The school was never going to deliver the Boston market.

Others have succeeded beautifully. Along with the Blacksburg-Roanoke-Pulaski market, Virginia Tech offers credibility. Can you imagine ACC football without it?

You either raid or are raided. You either grow or contract.

The ACC’s motto should be: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddling masses yearning to breathe free and every worthwhile Big East school but Connecticut.

I hope Rick Pitino is still at Louisville and Jim Boeheim at Syracuse when their basketball teams compete in the ACC tournament. Think of the possibilities – Mike and Roy, Rick and Jim, working out of the same gym.

Add N.C. State, which has a program, not a team. And did you see Notre Dame’s basketball team handle Kentucky Thursday?

The additions make the conference more, not less, interesting. If Connecticut wants to head south, there’s room for the Huskies, too.

The school I’d most like to see join the ACC is South Carolina, a charter member that defected before defecting was cool.

But there’s no way the Gamecocks consider it.

Their football team is too good.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen

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