The Deal Maker
By Derrick Stacy
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WVU athletic director Oliver Luck is a deal maker. A powerful sports personality, can he wheel and deal the Mountaineers into the ACC?
Many times when you develop an idea for a column, you’re not positive of the reception you may receive.
Whether good or bad, you never know the ruckus that may occur, especially when broaching subjects that could be labeled touchy or hot button. When the idea of ACC expansion was approached last week, the reaction that occurred was well beyond anything I imagined while penning the column in my make-shift man cave that evening.
Message boards and bloggers throughout the Big East and Atlantic Coast territories were clambering at the opportunity to discuss, deconstruct and determine what they believed to be the right or wrong answer. Next thing you know, people in the know are proclaiming to the roof tops that they have spoken with Oliver Luck, and West Virginia to the ACC was approaching DONE DEAL status.
The story continued to grow like kudzu through the Appalachian Mountains range, and managed to reach the volcanic islands of the Hawaii, where Josh Pacheco of ESPN Hawaii wanted to discuss an article that “His listener’s had been discussing and wanted to learn more about.”
As the discussion progressed, there were plenty of voices whom vehemently disagreed with the idea of West Virginia and Pittsburgh entering the ACC. Brian of Boston College Interruption, a popular website for Eagles fans, was far from a proponent of the proposition at hand..
(Quote courtesy of BCInterruption)
“First, the Pittsburgh TV market isn't as attractive as advertised. Pittsburgh is just the 22nd largest TV market in the country, and this would create a strange TV coverage map that includes existing ACC territories, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. West Virginia adds next to nothing in terms of TV. The conference would then have to be able to renegotiate its existing TV contract and argue that the addition of Pitt and West Virginia would add at least $24 million per year to the value of the ACC media rights deal, lest every ACC program would be poorer with the additions. Even if the ACC were able to head back to the negotiating table with ESPN, few programs add that much value to these media rights deals to make it economically viable.
Second, and with due respect, West Virginia would be a huge academic drain on the conference. WVU would instantly become the least valuable institution in the ACC academically. Can you really see schools like Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and Wake Forest approving adding West Virginia to the fold? These schools nearly turned away BC in the last round of expansion talks, and would have also turned away Virginia Tech if it weren't for some late-hour Virginia General Assembly politics. Everyone is quick to point to athletic department revenues when it comes to conference musical chairs, but there is an equally large amount of money in bettering your academic standing. In doing so, a school can land more lucrative research grants and improve admissions, which produces more valuable alums, which become donors of the school, and so on and so forth ...”
His interpretation allows us to view the proposed hypothetical from a different standpoint. Although, to believe that the 22nd largest media market in the country supplements nothing of substance, especially to a conference that is consistently struggling for viewership, appears to be a bit asinine. What Brian has failed to realize is the ability of West Virginia’s fan base and their willingness to watch their Saturday football. Boston College, the program which he represents, struggles to fill a stadium that seats 44,000 people and has not shown the ability to travel well, since Doug Flutie was slinging Hail Mary’s. Brian may revert back to the Private Schools draw TV ratings arguments, but BC is certainly not Notre Dame and in Boston College’s most recent appearance in the ACC championship game in 2008, the game only managed a 2.6 rating. While in 2009 West Virginia managed a 3.95 during the Gator Bowl, and managed a 2.45 in the lowly Champs Sports Bowl versus another ACC opponent, N.C. State.
Brian and the others whom are not in favor of this expansion, need to realize that West Virginia football was the 24th most profitable football program in the country last season. That would place them first among ALL ACC football programs, with Virginia Tech placing second at 26th in the nation. The Mountaineers continue to impress in the dollars and cents category, West Virginia Basketball ranks 57th in the country in basketball revenue, earning over 6.9 million dollars. Therefore, West Virginia’s second most profitable sport earned over 5 times more revenue than BOTH of the Eagles top two revenue producing sports combined. Pittsburgh also possesses a top 60 revenue producing basketball program, and a top 75 football program. Those aforementioned numbers are better than the majority of the programs currently existing within the ACC.
Considering these schools are already producing these large financial numbers and profit margin, what will happen if and when they join a more powerful conference? The financial success could be exponential.
While the numbers produced support a positive theory for expansion, will it be enough to leap over the largest hurdle, the academic standards of West Virginia University?
As J.C. Shurburtt, of 247sports, pointed out in a recent discussion on their message boards..
“ACC folks (and I am not saying I agree with them) say they would not take WVU because of academics. They weren't going to take VT either until the governor of Virginia got involved.
Times may have changed, though. I've always thought West Virginia was a great fit in the ACC.”
Shurburtt propagates the most legitimate argument regarding the subject. Many surrounding the situation wonder if this scenario is feasible due to the well known academic standards of the ACC. As of today, N.C. State is the lowest ranking member in the world of ACC academia, ranking 111th in the US News educational rankings. West Virginia, on the other hand, is more than 65 spots behind the Wolfpack, possessing a ranking of 176th in the country.
This academic discrepancy could be one of the areas the ACC power brokers could broach to avoid serious talks of expansion. If the likes of UVA, UNC and Duke detest the idea of an institution with an underwhelming, although improving, academic reputation within the confines of their conference, things will become mighty difficult for the ‘Neers and Panthers. Thereby, declaring all of our discussion of expansion moot.