Through UNC emails, a look back at an uncertain time in the ACC

Many North Carolina fans wouldn’t have minded seeing the Tar Heels in the SEC.
Many North Carolina fans wouldn’t have minded seeing the Tar Heels in the SEC. Robert Willett

If you haven’t seen it already, I wrote a story about the uncertain days in the ACC that existed after Maryland announced its move. The story is told through emails sent to and from Bubba Cunningham, the North Carolina athletic director.

Those days after Maryland announced move were tense, indeed – and filled with speculation and doubts about what would happen to the ACC. Was Maryland’s move the start of a domino effect that would lead to the collapse of the conference? Some fans certainly thought so. Many of them emailed Cunningham with pleas to join the SEC.

Cunningham himself expressed doubt about the ACC’s ability to compete financially with other leagues. Those concerns still exist, he said during an interview earlier this week. And that’s true. The SEC, when it renegotiates its TV rights deal, will likely be substantially richer than it already is. The Big Ten’s revenue continues to grow, too, thanks in large part to the Big Ten Network. Some of the money talk is reflected in the story.

You might be wondering, too, about the timing of this story. Isn’t all of this old news? It is, in a sense. Even so, I requested these records back in February, and just received them last week. And I’ve already received some email wondering why the story is solely about UNC, and dialogue between Cunningham and others at the school. The answer: UNC’s future in the ACC was a constant source of speculation after Maryland left. You probably remember the rumors that suggested the Big Ten might be targeting the Tar Heels for further expansion.

So, originally, I filed the records request with hope that fact and fiction could be separated. Was there real interest in the Big Ten? Had the Big Ten and UNC engaged in any kind of written communication? (Not that I’d expect they would have been, given such communication likely would have become public.) The emails and memos I received last week didn’t show any communication between UNC and the Big Ten. But the documents did reflect what those tense days were like.