Roller Coaster Ride for the ACC
By Stuart Barefoot
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ACC football fans across the nation have fought through an extremely topsy-turvy offseason.
Thud. That’s the sound of the other shoe dropping for the ACC. That feeling you get in your stomach is the rollercoaster ride that is otherwise known as being an ACC football fan. One minute the future of the conference looks good, like it might gain ground on the SEC and Big 12. Next comes the realization that scandals, negativity, and perpetual uncertainty still encase it.
A few weeks ago the ACC and Orange Bowl reached an agreement linking the two together for the next 12 years. The revenue from TV deals and sponsorships would benefit every member of the conference, which in a perfect world (if ever such a thing existed) would trickle down and help improve each program. The odds of Florida State sticking around were looking good as well, and Pitt, a team who has posted three winning seasons in the last five years, would be joining the ACC a year early along with Syracuse. To make things better, the ACC and Notre Dame have shifted from simple flirtation, to seriously talking. Next they’ll fall in love, move in together and have a wedding that the Big East won’t come to, and the ACC will have another solid football program. Sure, maybe they didn’t add Boise State, TCU or any other emerging powerhouse. Maybe it’s been more than a decade since an ACC team has won a national title. All the same, there was reason for fans to be optimistic. That was early last week, an eternity these days.
Then the news on Hakeem Nicks broke. Shocking? Probably not to most. Nicks was found to be ineligible during the 2008 season, one in which UNC had already vacated all eight of its wins. So doing the same for all of the Nicks’ stats was not exactly a dagger into the Tar Heel’s souls, even if he is the all-time leading receiver at Chapel Hill. It was, at worst, a bruise under the eye, not even a black eye. Really it was an extension of on old problem. Never the less, it was something the folks at Carolina would have liked to avoid, or even better, wished it hadn’t happened at all. Had it been the biggest scandal for the ACC lately, commissioner John Sowfford would probably be a well-rested man after the weekend.
But not to be outdone, Miami was reported to have once again committed major NCAA recruiting violations. Yahoo! Sports broke the story on Friday, citing sources that alleged that head coach Al Golden’s staff broke rules when they received help in recruiting from Sean Allen, a former equipment manager linked to Navin Shapiro, the bane of the Hurricane’s existence for the last year. It’s a big deal because the NCAA has paid yet another visit to Coral Gables to look into the supposed wrongdoing. This came days after Ray-Ray Armstrong was dismissed for undisclosed rules violations. Needless to say, the two could be related.
Next comes the part where speculation runs wild. Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith will yell at each other on First Take. Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser will, for a minute and 30 seconds, touch on it while you’re watching Sportscenter one morning. Someone, maybe Rick Reilly, will write a story on the disappearance of morals and lack of values in collegiate sports. There will be press conferences, columns, tweets, and Facebook statuses. Fans with opinions will call into radio programs, and arguments will erupt on blogs everywhere. Perhaps the only factor shifting negative public opinion away from Miami is the ongoing mess at Penn State. No respectable person could take solace in the latter.
Then the facts come out. If recent history is any indication of how things go, the truth will be stranger than fiction. Sanctions will be issued, apologies made, mission statements conjured, and unfortunately for Al Golden, coaching changes might follow. UNC will fail to rid itself of the embarrassment which academic fraud has brought the university. In the end, nothing will be accomplished. No one will really learn anything. Ray-Ray Armstrong will be in the NFL with Nicks, making millions, while teams from the SEC and Big 12 compete for national titles.
Finally, the healing starts. Teams like Virginia Tech and Clemson will make appearances in the four-team playoff, and N.C State will field a decent team every season. The only constant is the fickleness. Actually, make that fickleness and fan support. Thankfully, despite the fact that college football has given its fans plenty of reason to abandon it, the fans have stuck with it. Maybe that’s what’s most important.