Luke DeCock

DeCock: Beamerball bailed out ACC’s first expansion

When Frank Beamer backed out of the North Carolina job in 2000, as disappointing as it might have been in Chapel Hill, it was the best thing that could have happened to the ACC.

If Beamer had left Virginia Tech, who knows where that would have left the Hokies. And without the Hokies, who knows where the ACC would have been left during the scramble to expand in 2003.

Beamerball saved that first round of expansion for the ACC. That’s important to remember when the Tar Heels take the field Saturday as the opponent for Beamer’s final home game.

If not for Virginia Tech’s continuing national relevance in football in the post-2005 period, the ACC would have been left with almost nothing to show for its expansion to 12 teams, other than a conference championship game.

Miami was the cornerstone of that expansion, but the Hurricanes were a train wreck then and are even worse now. The divisions were set up and the title game played in Florida specifically to leverage a Miami-Florida State matchup for the championship. (Still waiting, 12 years later!) Other than one perfect-storm basketball title, the Hurricanes never brought what was expected of them to the ACC.

Boston College fit the academic profile of the ACC, but it has always been an odd fit between the core group of southern state universities and this small northeastern Catholic school best known for its elite hockey team. The Eagles had a couple good years in football, benefiting from some atypical weakness at Florida State and Clemson to win two Atlantic Division titles (as did Wake Forest, once), but Boston College has played in only three NCAA tournaments in basketball, none since 2009, and won but a single ACC title, in men’s soccer in 2007.

By comparison, the next-lowest figure across all sports in the post-expansion era is Wake Forest with six. Miami is only slightly better with seven. Notre Dame, in a mere two seasons of partial membership in the ACC, already has six.

It’s hard to look at Boston College and Miami as anything but seat-fillers at this point. Virginia Tech, on the other hand, became a pillar of the league almost instantly. And Beamer gets a lot of credit for that.

The Hokies have won 18 titles and shared one other since joining the ACC, comfortably in the middle of the pack with Georgia Tech and Clemson over that time. Most important, four of those titles came in football, tied with Florida State for the most since Virginia Tech joined the league.

The ACC had to be coerced into taking Virginia Tech by a recalcitrant Virginia legislature (what if the North Carolina legislature had tried similar extortion on behalf of East Carolina?), but history unequivocally shows the ACC was forced into the right decision.

Virginia Tech was immediately, and continues to be, a great fit for the ACC in geography and personality, with a turnkey rivalry with Virginia and fans who quickly embraced the ACC in a way that Miami and Boston College fans never have (as made all too clear each year during the ACC tournament, when the Virginia Tech sections are packed and the Miami and BC sections gather dust).

Lane Stadium, especially on Thursday nights, gave the ACC a much-needed boost of football atmosphere, and the Hokies spent their first eight years in the league as a perennial national-title hopeful, helping inject the ACC into the national discussion even when Florida State and Clemson weren’t exactly pulling their weight.

Those were among Beamer’s best years at Virginia Tech, and who knows what would have happened in Blacksburg had he taken the North Carolina job in November 2000.

The program slipped in Beamer’s final years, and Virginia Tech has some work to do now, but among the many valedictions for the outgoing coach, saving the ACC’s bacon shouldn’t be overlooked.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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