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The ACC’s Battle in the Northeast

By Jacob Shoor
SouthernPigskin.com
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Each step made by the ACC in expansion from nine members was about securing the future by adding Notre Dame.

It is a given that because of the power of SEC football, the ACC, once it became clear that the future of major conferences was to have divisional play, had to move up the east coast into the northeast. Many SEC fans innately scoff at any such move. The northeast is the region with easily the lowest per capita number of college sports fans, and the region cares more for college basketball than college football. The phenomenal growth of football power means that basketball cannot carry the load, not even on a fifty-fifty basis.

Even with those detriments, the ACC had to move northward because it had no other viable option. Going after Notre Dame was about becoming the main conference for the northeast, because three of the four TV markets that are most important to Notre Dame in terms of its subway alums, who make Notre Dame the football program with the nation's largest TV fan base, are in the northeast: New York, Philadelphia, and Boston.

And it is not just the ACC headed into the northeast. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has declared: "the Eastern corridor is ... the richest corridor in the world from the standpoint of financial institutions, political institutions, media institutions, and we're new to it. So if we can build relationships, make friends and be impactful and relevant over time, that's the goal. We're not going to be changing the world, but we are looking forward to doing everything we can to build a presence in that place."

In taking Rutgers, historically hapless both on the field and in the sports bank accounts, and Maryland, a sports fiscal disaster, the Big Ten, which has been the wealthiest and most politically powerful conference since before the first Heisman Trophy award, was striking at the ACC. It was gambling that adding a pair of huge land grant universities on the eastern seaboard, with Rutgers inside the New York City TV market, would prevent the ACC from becoming the northeast's default conference and eventually would pay off in ways that have nothing to do with winning football or basketball championships or even with filling stadiums.

The war is far from over. And it will not be restricted to ACC versus Big Ten in the Pinstripe Bowl and boasting about which conference sells more tickets and has higher TV ratings when it plays its basketball tournament somewhere in New York City.

As the more astute sportswriters have come to realize, John Swofford is well ahead of the curve. He knows that the things that make the ACC unique and so appealing to its core members (multiple private schools and primarily smaller state schools, nearly all members academically and socially elite) are handicaps in the world of college sports become really big business. All kinds of people could serve as commissioner of the Big Ten or SEC and deliver the goods, because those jobs are relatively easy: conferences defined by flagship state universities and huge football attendance are designed to be impossible to fail.

Swofford knew more than a decade ago that the ACC would have to pursue and win Notre Dame. Each step made by the ACC in expansion from nine members was about securing the future by adding Notre Dame.

The SEC fan who still can't imagine why the ACC would want Pitt and Syracuse and cannot accept that their football histories and basketball prowess make them worthy additions needs to grasp the obvious: adding Pitt, an elite university with a long history working with Notre Dame, in more areas than just football, and Syracuse, a private university in the state most important to the Irish in terms of subway alums, made the ACC as close to perfectly attractive to Notre Dame as possible.

The obvious next move for the ACC is to ease Notre Dame into full football membership. It is not a pressing matter, but it is one that Swofford will be wise enough to plan. He cannot dictate the time table, but he can prepare the field so that when the time is ripe the moves are made seemingly over night.

Especially considering the ACC's battle with the Big Ten for the northeastern TV markets and ticket buyers, I think that the ACC has to make its 16th member a school from the east coast that has a sizable number of powerful alums in areas beyond and more important than professional sports and sports broadcasting. My advice to John Swofford is to move now to get approval from the ACC schools to add Navy and Georgetown, the former for football and the latter for basketball, the second that Notre Dame decides to slip from 5/8ths member to full member in football.

Navy is ND's most played football rival. Because Navy is a service academy, it has a guaranteed national TV audience that is unique and fairly large. Neither UConn nor Cincinnati can come close to matching it. Because Navy is academically the most prestigious service academy, it wields disproportionate power in Washington, DC and across the nation. Because its campus is in Annapolis, MD, the Midshipmen would replace the Terrapins in the Baltimore and DC TV markets, neutralizing the Big Ten in those markets.

Georgetown is one of the three most elite Catholic schools in the country, along with Notre Dame and Boston College. Georgetown alums ooze the power and wealth of the east coast that Delany slathers above. The Georgetown-Syracuse basketball rivalry is the only one from the original Big East that matters to anybody other than fans of the schools involved. Navy can help the ACC neutralize Big Ten football in Baltimore and DC, but Georgetown in ACC basketball would render Big Ten basketball in Baltimore and DC nearly irrelevant.

The other move I would like to see the ACC make, one it can complete this summer, is to add Johns Hopkins for lacrosse only.

Lacrosse is the sport associated directly with elite east coast universities. That, even more than its explosive growth, is the reason any conference with major academic aspirations will consider non-revenue lacrosse when expanding. That is the reason talk of the Big Ten looking at adding Hopkins for lacrosse only has been spreading, even being reported in the Baltimore Sun.

Hopkins is, depending on how you rate certain facts, either the biggest name or the second biggest in lacrosse history (Syracuse is the other candidate). As its other sports are non-scholarship Division III, it is easy for Hopkins lacrosse to be added to any conference.

Why does the ACC need Hopkins? Per NCAA rules, the ACC cannot be counted an official conference in the sport unless it has at least six members; when Maryland moves to the Big Ten, the ACC will have five lacrosse members. The growth of lacrosse guarantees that live matches will play an important part of the forthcoming ACC network.

And then there is the matter of re-securing the state of Maryland for the ACC, academically as well as athletically. Hopkins is even more than Duke an Ivy league school not in the Ivy League. Making John Hopkins University an ACC member for one sport will bring it into the ACC International Academic Collaborative, thus benefitting the entire conference. With Hopkins on board, the ACCIAC will achieve its goal of becoming as well known as the Big Ten's CIC and more active and successful in terms of direct benefit to students.

Jacob Shoor - Jacob Shoor a Tennessee native and UNC graduate who is now semi-retired and living back in Tennessee after having lived since his UNC days in SWC country and Big 8 country, as well as both SC and NC. Other than ACC sports and SEC football, Jacob Shoor is a fan of the Tour de France, the French Open, and hurling (Ireland's biggest team sport).