Expansion: Where's the Money?

While on vacation a few weeks ago, I restrained myself from watching any news, especially sports news.

Of course, it's not that difficult when all of the channels in your hotel room come from a South American feed. With my ear turned toward picking up another language via closed captioning, I successfully ignored the news of the week; a week resulting in Syracuse and Boston College getting the heave-ho in ACC expansion plans in favor of adding media market lightweight, and only-recently solid football school, Virginia Tech. Upon my return to the U.S., I learn that VPI has already accepted an invite, and the school initially sought after, Miami, will decide a few days later.

Of course it's all history now; the ACC eventually added VPI and Miami, growing to an 11-member conference with a noticeably higher profile on the college football scene.

Initially, I was pleased with the idea of expanding the conference, but only if it meant we could engulf the major media markets in the northeast – NYC and Boston. That idea has gone the way of the Big East and I'm left questioning the invitation of Virginia Tech.

It's not that VT has a terrible academic reputation (because they don't) or hasn't had athletic success; it's that their success is only in football and is a recent trend, and offers little reason for us to believe it will last beyond Frank Beamer's tenure. Furthermore, when John Swofford set out to expand the ACC, we were led to believe the ACC was going after Syracuse, Boston College and Miami – the logical choices – because adding these three programs in combination would increase each current program's share of the financial pie by essentially guaranteeing a) increased revenue from a conference championship game, b) increased chances for a second BCS bid, and c) increased revenue in TV packages for both football and basketball.

However, adding Virginia Tech only gives minor assists in two of those categories, neither of which seems necessary as long as Miami was in the picture; the addition of Miami alone would no doubt have secured each of these. Of course, the likelihood for increased revenues goes up with the addition of VT, but the total benefit might not outweigh the fact that the conference would be paying out money to an eleventh school rather than just ten. It's arguable that the addition of VT to the ACC will not increase the conference's TV contract for football at all (the Blacksburg TV market comes in at a lofty 220th in the U.S.) and there is no guarantee that by adding Virginia Tech the ACC's total revenues will increase by $11 million; thus the addition of VT not only seems to be pointless, but it also seems to be a poor business decision.

It would appear that the expansion idea originally voted on was a well-researched business plan; consultants were brought in about the TV contracts and the NCAA guidelines for a conference championship game are quite simple (if you have twelve teams, you can have a conference championship game). And anyone with even the slightest hint of college football intelligence would surmise that a conference with Florida State and Miami would have an excellent chance of getting two BCS teams at least three out of five years. In business terms, this was an excellent plan. But as we all know quite too well by now, something along the way went badly wrong, and regardless of who or what was the reason behind it, it would almost appear now that Swofford and the ACC did not have a contingency plan for just such an instance. One could even theorize that after Boston College and Syracuse were out of the loop, some of the presidents were concerned that Miami would not accept an invitation and so they voted to invite VT as a precaution.

An eleventh school doesn't make the ACC's request for a football championship game any more plausible than if the conference has only ten schools. The ACC would still get the same support from the Big Ten and Pac-10 it will get now with 11 teams, and the NCAA will be just as likely to grant the ACC a conference football championship game because the rule would change from 12 teams required to 10 teams required as the NCAA will probably be looking forward to a rule change that could minimize conference-poaching. On the flip side, teams like Baylor and Vanderbilt might be filling gaps for these poached conferences because it's arguable that they're only being retained by their respective conferences because of the current 12-team rule.

Adding Syracuse, Boston College and Miami was the only combination that would have undoubtedly a) increased the ACC's coffers through a football championship game, b) increased the chances for a second, and with a depleted-Big East excluded, possibly a third, BCS bid, and c) increased the potential football and basketball TV packages.

While Miami alone would increase the football contract, adding the NYC and Boston media markets (#1 and #6, respectively) assures a large paycheck in TV money for football and basketball. Whereas Miami would undoubtedly bring the money in football, the addition of Syracuse and Boston College to a conference already widely considered be the premier men's basketball conference in the land (regardless of how misconceived that notion might be) would likely ensure a guaranteed increase in basketball TV money as well because of the large Northeast market.

My complaints notwithstanding, the expansion has raised some interesting questions and possibilities for the ACC. How will the revenue split affect each of the schools? Will there be divisional alignments? Will the ACC get a football championship game?

As always, the ACC will split the conference revenue equally, so it's important that Virginia Tech and Miami add nearly $20 million to the conference's pot, ensuring that all teams can still achieve this past season's earnings. An increased TV package for football will comprise the largest chunk, bringing in what is expected to be close to an additional $10 million annually. The other $10 million would have to come from the championship game and bowls. A championship football game is unlikely to bring $10 million alone, and it's not definite that a second BCS team will come out of the ACC every year. That forecast could render each program lacking in the one driving force behind expansion, MONEY.

Normally, I would be excited about the expansion, but the exclusion of Syracuse and Boston College and the addition of Virginia Tech in their place could wind up with NC State and every other ACC school bringing home less money than before. And that's just no fun (it's also ridiculous, since money was ALWAYS the driving factor in expansion).

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