The storm of conference realignment started in Texas, not along the Atlantic Coast. But with the news this weekend that Syracuse and Pittsburgh would join the ACC, and the speculation that two more teams could soon follow suit, the ACC became the first conference to get out ahead of the oncoming tempest.
Nothing about conference realignment is ideal, especially the possibility of the Big East and Big 12 collapsing altogether. But ACC commissioner John Swofford made an extremely shrewd move in securing the ACC’s position in what is sure to be a dramatically-altered landscape, first by increasing the conference’s buyout to $20 million and then adding two more Big East schools to the conference’s ranks.
What’s most important, though, is that both additions work to maintain the geographic and cultural identity of the ACC—a luxury amidst the plethora of rumors that often fly in the face of common sense.
Syracuse and Pittsburgh both fit the mold of an ACC school—they are strong academic institutions with powerhouse basketball programs. Both institutions have also had some success on the gridiron and should help to increase the ACC’s standing as a football conference.
Plus, unlike Texas and Oklahoma, which once had been rumored to express interest in joining the ACC, the schools hail from the eastern time zone—which Duke head men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski recently emphasized as an issue of paramount importance in conference expansion.
This is, quite simply put, the ACC making the best of a bad situation. Detractors will cry foul citing the dilution of ACC tradition, much like they did when the conference admitted Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech in the last round of expansion. But if strong action was not taken, the ACC could conceivably have been in as much danger as the Big East or Big 12, and the possibility of losing any semblance of tradition entirely would have been very real.
One needs only compare the state of the ACC to that of other conferences to see that it came out a winner—while the Big East and Big 12 could be nearing extinction, at least in their current forms, the Pac-12 and SEC will be forced to poach teams from the Midwest and Southwest that have no geographic or traditional correlation with the rest of the conference. This will not only damage the identity of these conferences, but hurt student-athletes as well—having to endure a four-hour flight and the ensuing jetlag for a Wednesday night basketball game is draining for professional athletes, let alone those who have to go to class Thursday morning.
Meanwhile, individual teams like Kansas, another traditional basketball powerhouse, could be left out in the cold altogether.
And there’s a reason Krzyzewski is excited about an expanded ACC, as the move should be a boon for Duke in both basketball and football. Head football coach David Cutcliffe will now have a new recruiting pitch in his arsenal, as future Blue Devils will be assured of playing in one of the largest and highest-profile football conferences in the nation. What’s more, Krzyzewski’s team will no longer have to deal with the recent questions about the strength of its conference schedule, as both Syracuse and Pittsburgh would serve as marquee victories on any resume.
But what this all comes down to is common sense—something that the NCAA has lacked in recent years. It makes no sense for Southwestern schools like Texas and Oklahoma to be in a conference representing a coastal region, nor does it make sense to split them apart and ruin one of sport’s greatest rivalries. But with nonsensical ideas like that looking more realistic, the ACC did the only thing that made sense—and whether it’s an ideal situation or not, the conference will profit from its early action down the road.
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