Seven hundred miles northeast of Durham, the festivity of the winter holidays has come early for the ACC’s soon-to-be 12th member. Boston College, which accepted an invitation to the ACC in October 2003, will officially become a member of the conference July 1.
“Thursday the 30th is New Year’s Eve,” Boston College Director of Athletics Gene DeFilippo said. “We’re treating it like we would December the 31st because the next day, July 1, we’ll become officially the 12th member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. I feel like I did when I was younger when Christmas day was approaching.”
The enthusiasm expressed by Boston College now, though, masks an occasion that marks the end of a period in ACC history rife with accusations of back-room deals and financial greed. Boston College’s Fenway Park party June 30 will celebrate the final step in a movement toward a new era in ACC history.
Once a closely-knit group of schools known for their heated basketball rivalries, the ACC will now assume its new identity as a twelve-team super-conference that spans some 1,500 miles of the Atlantic coast.
The primary motivation behind the additions of Virginia Tech and Miami this time last year, and now Boston College, was the NCAA requirement that a conference be comprised of 12 teams to hold a football championship. Title games, such as the ones currently held in the SEC and Big-12, are major financial boons for conferences and their member schools, bringing in revenue from television rights, ticket sales and corporate sponsorship.
The ACC announced April 25 that the inaugural title game, which will be televised on ABC and sponsored by Dr. Pepper, will be held on December 3. Revenue from the football championship game is expected to exceed $10 million and will be split among all the members of the conference.
When the ACC began examining possible expansion scenarios in 2003, arch-rivals Duke and North Carolina stood together opposing the move. The school presidents agreed with coaches, administrators and faculty who felt that expansion would cause unnecessary geographic displacement and would damage the ACC’s image. Once the deals were struck for Miami and Virginia Tech to join, however, then-Duke President Nan Keohane decided to endorse the “inevitable” move from 11 to 12 teams.
Even though time has passed and tempers have cooled, some of the original concerns about expansion still exist. Members of the faculty have said they worry that the trips to Miami and Boston College will disrupt the student-athletes’ academic experience and put additional strain on an already-tight athletic budget.
“I don’t think budgetarily it’s going to make much difference,” Senior Associate Athletic Director Chris Kennedy said. “The trip to BC will just replace—if you’re the tennis coach—a trip you are going to take to Minnesota. That’s sort of a wash.”
Beyond logistics, the 12-team conference will have an appreciable impact on the league’s competitiveness in different sports. Some of the most outspoken opponents of expansion were the basketball coaches, including Duke head coaches Mike Krzyzewski and Gail Goestenkors. With 12 teams, each school will play five home-and-home series but will only see the remaining six ACC foes once during the regular season. Coaches have said that, with the loss of the traditional round-robin, there is not a true regular-season champion anymore.
With the addition of the 12th team, the league will be split into two conferences for football. The winner of the two divisions will face off in the championship game.
Although the changes to football and basketball have received the vast majority of the headlines, the non-revenue sports will also see changes to their schedules. Historically small in women’s lacrosse, rowing and volleyball, the ACC will expand by one, two and two teams in those respective sports.
With ACC teams traveling up and down the east coast, the conference and its members will have the opportunity to market to and recruit from new areas.
“Having our teams up there all the time and having the name in the paper more for all kinds of sports—that has to have a positive impact,” Kennedy said. “You’re just not going to have the presence in the media or the public consciousness in [Washington,] D.C. or Baltimore or Boston that you do have in Greensboro, Raleigh or Durham or even Clemson.”
Skepticism and past grievances aside, the new era of the ACC begins at midnight July 1, and the conference is looking forward.
“We have been welcomed into the conference with open arms,” DeFilippo said. “The transition for us has been a lot easier then than it might have been.”
Mike Van Pelt contributed to this story.
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