AJ's Weekly Musings

It won't look exactly like Atlantic Coast Commissioner John Swofford originally planned, but the ACC has indeed expanded.

The league has settled, for now, at 11 schools after adding Virginia Tech and Miami. And while many pundits have harshly criticized Swofford for not landing Boston College and Syracuse and the expansive TV markets that would have come with such an addition, they aren't seeing the entire picture.

There is no doubt that northeastern TV markets would have helped the ACC's next TV football contract, which runs out after the 2004-05 season but will be negotiated next summer. But there is more to college football and basketball thank market rankings.

Since this expansion was primarily about football, I will speak in such terms unless otherwise noted.

College sports are about more than just TV markets. It's about passion, intensity, emotion, traditions, familiarity, environments, rivalries and quality before TV markets. If this weren't the case the Southeastern Conference wouldn't have the best TV contract for football.

Vanderbilt, which hasn't been to a bowl game since just before Lincoln won the presidency, rests in the SEC's largest market, Nashville, which is ranked the No. 30 by Nielson. Alabama is located in part of the next largest SEC TV market, Birmingham (includes Anniston and Tuscaloosa), which is No. 40.

The rest of the SEC: Knoxville (Tennessee), No. 63; Lexington (Kentucky), No. 65; Columbia (South Carolina), No. 84; Baton Rouge (LSU), No. 95; and Gainesville (Florida), No. 162. The other five schools' towns register on the fringe of markets that rank in the top 210, but are not big factors in the numbers those markets reach.

In football, the eight-member Big East markets are: New York (No. 1); Philadelphia (No. 4); Boston (No. 6); Miami-Ft. Lauderdale (No. 17); Pittsburgh (No. 21); Roanoke-Lynchburg (No. 67); and Syracuse (No. 80). Located in Morgantown, West Virginia registers in the Pittsburgh market.

What huge markets do Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama and Florida State play in or near? They don't!

While Syracuse and Boston College wouldn't have traveled many fans to road games, Virginia Tech will take at least 5,000-10,000, and maybe more, passionate Hokie supporters wherever they go. They will also add to the football culture in the ACC, while the 'Cuse and B.C., two schools with lousy home-game atmospheres, wouldn't have. And with the added draw of Miami and FSU, the likelihood of increased sold out stadiums, especially at places like Duke and Wake Forest, is legitimate.

Increasing the league's number of intense rivalries (Virginia-Virginia Tech, FSU-Miami) means the ACC gets two more highly anticipated conference games every year it can sell in its TV package. And the likelihood that both schools, especially Tech, will quickly develop rivalries with current ACC schools will generate increased regional and national interest is obvious.

Miami is Miami, so it enters with a bull's-eye on its chest right out of the gate and plenty of appeal.

It's also important to note that North Carolina is no longer the only ACC state that has multiple conference schools. The other half of Virginia will now care about the ACC instead of avoiding its games while barking about the giant chips on their shoulders. Miami opens up the bottom half of Florida to all ACC games, meaning the entire state will get the ACC on its ABC telecasts, not just the northern parts near Florida State.

And if the league can convince the NCAA to relax the 12-team rule regarding conference title games, the ACC will increase its per-team lot even more, and make up for what some feel it lost by not bringing in B.C. and Syracuse. Once less mouth to feed makes better business.

The ACC will likely add another school at some point, and will probably take a school from a state not currently in the league. But for now, 11 is fine considering the new members, and 12 will be perfect as long as the school fits.

This week's question is do you believe TV markets matter more than football culture and all that makes the SEC so special? Did the ACC really strike out by not landing those northeastern TV markets despite all that has been bolstered in its own region, which is in direct competition with the SEC? And, how important is the future culture of ACC football to you?

I will post some of this week's responses in next week's Musings.

Reader Response

There was no Musings last week, but two weeks ago, the questions were, would UNC football fans prefer a four-game non-conference slate against a medley of powers, BCS programs with a patsy, full of powers, or full of patsies? What kind of schedule do you think Carolina football should take on, and what do you think is the best course of action is for the program?

From Steve Pate

I admire Bunting wanting to take on all the big boys but some moderation is need. JB said himself when he first got to Chapel Hill that the talent level was much lower than he originally thought. It's important when you are trying to get a program back that you schedule a good mix of quality opponents so that you can build confidence and momentum. Playing the top 5 teams doesn't build confidence and playing the worst teams doesn't tell you anything about your team nor does it fill the stands. Scheduling high quality teams that are beatable make for exciting Saturdays and allows us to build the program so we can play with the big boys in the near future.

Mathew J. McDowell, Fairfax, Va.

How about a mix? Two traditional powers (Bama, Michigan) 1 weaker team from a major conference, and a patsy. Enough to be considered a strong schedule, but enough cushion to bounce back from the two losses we might endure. It is always good to schedule PAC10 teams... with the exception of two years ago. It has been a worthless conference since I began following college football in the mid 80's.

More pressingly, however, if we want to help our football schedule and the perception of our team, we need to push FOR expansion.

Derrick Jones, Rocky Mount

I firmly believe that coach Bunting has the football program heading in the right direction. I also believe that we should continue playing the best teams year in and year out. To me, playing cupcake schedules only give teams a false sense of being better than what they are. It covers up weaknesses that mediocre teams wouldn't be able to exploit.

In my opinion, there is no way we beat FSU the way we did in 2001 without the two games against Texas and Oklahoma. Both of those games toughened the Tar Heels up and prepared them for the speed that FSU possessed. This is one of the things that got me behind John Bunting from the beginning.

I also think it helps in recruiting if you play tough schedules. I think it appeals to the top-notch recruits that you are willing to play the best because they want to be the best. We shouldn't put too much emphasis on last year's 3-9 season because it was a transition period and to a certain degree we shouldn't judge this year too much either. I feel that coach Bunting is putting the pieces into place and continuing to play the best teams will propel the Heels back into the nations elite once again.

Senior writer Andrew Jones is in his seventh year with Inside Carolina. He also covers the ACC for the Wilmington Star-News/Morning Star and can be reached via e-mail at: totlsprts@aol.com.

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