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Can the ACC weather the storm?

The ACC has been a prime culprit within conference realignment, desperately trying to maintain relevance in the BCS on the football side, which has been suffering since Florida State’s championship run in 1999 and runner-up finish in 2000.

After a few years without success, the ACC scooped up football powers Miami, Virginia Tech in 2004 and Boston College a year later. This was an attempt to capture some of the BCS pie and elevate the media status of the conference. The results have not panned out for the league in the BCS era, a 2-13 bowl record is by far the worst by any power conference. In the same span, Big Brother – aka the SEC – is 15-6 and winners of the last six national titles. ACC football is in desperate times.

In the other revenue-generating sport, basketball, the ACC has been a king, capturing five national titles since 2000. The ACC seized an opportunity to capitalize and strengthen its basketball dominance by grabbing Big East powers Syracuse and Pittsburgh. The move dramatically weakened the Big East, and, in turn, the ACC gambles on the once viable football programs, kings of yesteryear, to rise once again.

The moves gave the ACC the opportunity to renegotiate a media deal which lagged behind rival conferences (Pac-12 - $21 million and the SEC over $17 million). Less than a month ago, the ACC announced it renegotiated its media package with ESPN and the net result turns out to be around $4 million more per school for a total of around $17 million per year per member.

One would think that the ACC members would be ecstatic, however, they are not. Here are the recent developments that have caused the ACC issues with its membership:

1) The Big 12’s new TV deal is rumored to be around $20 million per member with schools keeping their third-tier rights. Texas was able to package its third-tier rights into the Longhorn Network to ESPN for a guaranteed $15 million per year for the next twenty years.

2) It is rumored that the newly expanded SEC’s television deal will be around $25 million per member, which would bring geographic and traditional rivals, Georgia, Alabama and Florida approximately $120 million more over the Seminoles in the next 15 years.

3) The Big 12 and SEC announced a New Year’s Day game featuring the regular season champion of both conferences. This will rival the Rose Bowl which has the Pac-12 and Big Ten represented. Without an expanded BCS playoff, this leaves the ACC and Big East on the sidelines.

Florida State Chairman, Andy Haggard, was particularly upset that the ACC packaged in the TV deal its third tier football rights however kept third-tier basketball rights with the schools to deal to local markets. This impacts the Seminoles greatly and clearly favors the North Carolina members. This outcry led to rampant rumors that Clemson, Miami and FSU (all who value their third tier football rights) would look elsewhere.

The $20-million exit fee to depart the ACC is a big deterrent. SEC expansion opportunities are virtually non-existent with Florida and South Carolina making sure that FSU, Miami and Clemson are kept out. FSU turned down an invite to the SEC in 1990 and opted for the ACC instead. Clemson and Miami have announced their intention to stay in the ACC. Florida State, which is staring at a projected budget shortfall of 2.4 million in its athletic budget, has been quiet.

The academic lure of staying in the ACC has been less of a sell to Florida State, as Haggard puts it "No FSU graduate puts on his résumé or interviews for a job saying they are in the same conference as Duke and Virginia," he said. "Conference affiliation really has no impact on academics."

The pressure to keep the conference together falls squarely on the shoulders of longtime commissioner John Swofford. Swofford’s challenge is to find a way to keep the football powers in the ACC happy and make ACC football relevant once again in the BCS era. The task would be a lot easier if the Seminoles and the Hurricanes were the dominant programs they once were. Swofford’s fight for conference survival and prominence and 60 years of tradition are all now at stake.


Leigh Klein is the owner of Five-Star Basketball Camps and formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island. Each year at Five-Star, he trains hundreds of future college basketball and NBA stars such as Michael Jordan, Grant Hill, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. He will be blogging for 247Sports on college basketball and recruiting.

Follow Leigh on Twitter @leighalanklein and let him know what you think about the blog.

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