There are numerous reports stating that ACC Commissioner John Swofford has been wooing Miami for some time, and that school president Donna Shalala is leaning toward accepting his overtures. Shalala used to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services for President Clinton, but now she has a REALLY important decision to make.
I think few who approach this objectively would argue against the merits of Miami's inclusion in the ACC. Their football program is among the nation's elite, and they just opened a new on-campus basketball arena last season. This addition, along with the already improving quality of football in the conference, would give the ACC a great shot at two BCS bids every season. Their basketball program would not embarrass the conference; at least not as long as Clemson is a member.
I don't see any real down side to Miami's addition to the ACC. The conference would still be able to have a double round-robin schedule in basketball, and it is fairly commonplace in leagues around the nation for teams to skip playing one opponent in football. Of course, and more importantly in the minds of most school and conference administrators, Miami would add the large media market of south Florida to the ACC boundaries, which means more money for broadcasting conference games.
For those of you who don't already realize it, decisions like this ultimately come down to money. You don't think the Big 8 became the Big 12 by taking in the four Texas schools because they were doing those institutions of higher learning a favor do you? If you said yes, go to the blackboard and write 100 times "It is all about the money."
The timing of this latest attempt to add Miami to the ACC appears to tie in directly to the football television contract with ABC/ESPN. The current deal expires in 2005, and there are media analysts who feel that the conference is facing a drastic cut in the next contract. Adding the Hurricanes to the package should avoid any cut and could indeed earn an increase, even in the current soft market for broadcast rights. Despite having to slice conference revenue into an extra piece, Miami's inclusion would add more than enough to the pie to insure the pieces did not shrink.
Overall, adding Miami to the ACC appears to be a no-lose possibility for the conference.
The dynamic changes, however, when the other shoe drops. Should Miami pull out of the Big East, it seems certain that several other schools will rush to join them. Most prominently mentioned are Syracuse and Boston College.
This would give the ACC various options to add two more schools. That would swell the membership to 12 and allow the conference to split into two divisions and hold a lucrative football championship game. This would add millions to the television contract and generate millions more in ticket sales.
Two six-team divisions would require a football schedule with eight conference games. Schools would play each team in their division and three from the other. A likely north-south split would preserve natural rivalries such as Miami-Florida State, Maryland-Virginia, and North Carolina-North Carolina State. By adding new blood, the ACC moves closer to become a true football powerhouse.
That's great, unless you're a basketball fan.
The basketball schedule for a 12-team conference is where we run into problems. Familiarity breeds contempt, and contempt is at the heart of any good rivalry. Ever since the ACC was formed in 1953, each school has played every other school in the conference at least twice in a season, often three times if they met in the tournament. Some of this would be lost in a super-conference.
The most likely scenario would have teams play each school in their division twice and each opponent in the other division once, alternating home courts every year. This means that some of the North Carolina schools would only play each other once per season, for example. Closer to my heart, Maryland would possibly play Duke or North Carolina only once each year.
Some people will tell you this works just fine for the Big 12. True, it obviously has not hurt the quality of the top teams since they have earned two spots in the Final Four each of the last two years. Tell me just how many good basketball rivalries do they have in that conference, though? Kansas-Missouri and Oklahoma-Oklahoma State are nasty, but that's about it. I don't know if either of those compare to Maryland-Duke, and they arecertainly nowhere near Duke-North Carolina.
The Big 12 is a football conference that has some exceptional basketball programs. If that's the direction the ACC wants to go, then by all means add three schools, split into divisions, have the championship game, and count the money (although I wonder if even then there will be enough to go 12 ways without the original nine schools suffering).
If, however, the ACC wants to maintain its tradition as a basketball conference that has some exceptional football programs, add Miami and then lock the door. The single additions of Georgia Tech in the ‘80's and Florida State in the 90's enhanced the conference membership without causing any significant restructuring. We are now finally seeing some ACC schools even catch up to Florida State in football. They would eventually do the same with Miami's program.
If the conference would grow to 12 schools, it would lose some geographic integrity, going from primarily a southeast conference to one stretching from Miami to Boston. It would also dilute the power base of the North Carolina schools. Not surprisingly, Duke and North Carolina voted against adding Florida State and are likely candidates, along with Wake Forest, to vote against Miami's entrance. Can they be swayed into falling into a small minority of the ACC's power base?
It is all about the money. If the dollars are there for the ACC, three more schools will be also.
Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.