What is Wrong with the ACC?

I wrote this last year for Raycom after a particularly bad weekend for the ACC, and could update it after today's action, but I decided to just repost it. It would sound the same anyway.

Of course you all hear about the SEC lovefest on ESPN every week, and the potential for drinking games using every mention of the superior SEC speed, as well as the superior passing acumen of Big 12 QBs even coming into the Gator, but the fact is that the ACC totally blew this weekend and doesn’t seem to have improved much over this time last year.

During week 1, we saw Puke lose to Richmond (who?), the White Meat lost to William & Mary (what?), BC beat Northeastern (Where is that?), Maryland got obliterated by Cal 52-13, WF lost to Baylor, and VT carried the banner into Atlanta and got smacked around badly on defense.

We started out badly last year as well with the game-that-shall-not-be-mentioned in Atlanta, and then the rest of the conference limped along the first few weeks of the year against non-conference competition. Maryland choked against MTSU 24-14 and barely beat I-AA Delaware 14-7 (DELAWARE? THEY HAVE FOOTBALL THERE?), WF lost to Navy 24-17 in week 3, VT lost to ECU and won the frickin conference, GT barely won against Gardner-Webb 10-7, UVA lost to Southern Cal of course, but then lost to UCONN…in FOOTBALL?

What is the problem? The fans, the money, and recruiting.

Ask yourself, as a Clemson fan, what other fanbases within the conference have as much passion as we do? Who sells 75-80,000 seats for a game besides Clemson?

Look at the the conference….Miami? Nope, they couldn’t sell out the Orange Bowl even when they were unbeaten there for years. They show up for FSU and some night games, and that’s about it…Florida State? Well they have in the past, but a few 8-5 seasons has dulled their enthusiasm, which is not unexpected to tell you the truth. They got spoiled over the ’90s, but still rank just behind Clemson in average attendance….Virginia Tech? Yes, I’d give them a yes on the passion, a no on the big attendance, but thats only because their stadium is smaller. They’ll eventually expand. They still rank a few spots behind Clemson and FSU….Chapel Hill only gets about 57K per game, and those people hardly care about football. Butch Davis will be gone in 3 years, watch and see.

Inside the Top 25 attendance rankings for 2008, there were only Clemson (18), FSU (19) and VT (25). The SEC has #4 Tennessee at the top, #6-10, #17, and #23. The Big Ten has 5 teams, including the Top 3. The Big XII has 5, and Mizzou is right outside at 26.

What does this make me think?

That the ACC doesn’t have programs committed to winning football, partially because there are no fans here that care as much about football, compared to other conferences.

You might say, "well they have bigger stadiums elsewhere", and that’s correct, but don’t you think that if the ACC schools had fans that cared and clamored for tickets over the years, that they wouldn’t have larger stadiums by now? VT has been historically bad, and now that they are good, getting a seat can be tough.

All our good talent leaves the area for better fanbases and louder arenas and more excitement. The excitement at a place like LSU permeates the ENTIRE state, I lived there for 6 years and its ALL that you hear about or see about, and so its very rare that a blue-chip player in the state of Louisiana does not go to LSU. Its similarly rare for a great player in Alabama to not play for the Tide or Auburn.

I go to N.C. and I hardly hear a peep about UNC outside of basketball season, relatively little about NC State and never anything about Duke or Wake. They don’t even care. UNC expands their stadium just to have something to spend money on; they already have the best facilities otherwise.

Ever hear of Boston College fans going crazy? Nope, and its not solely because its a Jesuit school. Maryland is one of the best ACC teams historically, and they don’t even have a following, ranking #47 in attendance. Georgia Tech fans don’t put their calculators down long enough to watch football, its just too violent for most of them. How could you not draw 80,000 fans in downtown Atlanta?

But in S.C., you pick Clemson or Carolina at birth, and stick to them like The Ten Commandments.

Those larger fanbases in other conferences also bring in what is unfortunately the hallmark of amateur sports in the NCAA: $$$$. Look at the TV contracts. The SEC just inked their huge TV deal with ABC/ESPN, giving each team a few million extra to spend over the years. Notre Dame gets their own multi-million dollar NBC deal. The Big Ten now has its own network for games.

How can they pull in that money? Ratings. People watch them. Everyone in the state of Tennessee is likely watching UT play. Everyone in Louisiana is watching LSU. Everyone in Georgia is clearly watching the Dawgs, because they ain’t going to GT games are they? People all over the country watch Notre Dame…but I don’t know why.

Large fanbases=more money from memoribelia sales, ticket sales, revenue at games and in advertising.

More money=better facilities, and that’s where recruiting comes in.

But you say the immediate cause is not the fans, but the recruiting? Well you are right, we aren’t bringing in players. Look at the Rivals or ESPN Top 25 rankings over the last few seasons.
2008: #7 FSU, #9 UNC, #15 Miami, #23 VT. (Rivals rankings) That’s 4 teams. How many SEC schools are in the Top 25? 9. Big 10? 4. Pac-10? 3.
2007: 6 ACC teams, none in the Top 15. 7 SEC teams in the top 10.
2006: 3 ACC teams, only FSU in the Top 10. 4 SEC teams in the top 10.
Is it any wonder we get walloped in bowl season sometimes?

Recruiting is the problem, but recruiting comes back to coaches and facilities. Theirs are better than ours, and when I say "they" I don’t just mean the SEC. The Michigans of the world will always get great players, but West Virginia or Pitt can bring in better talent than UVA or VT? Arizona? Cal? Oregon? Mizzou?

We don’t have the coaches with winning records, who are also great recruiters. Al Groh will be fired soon, finally. Cutcliffe is a competent offensive mind, but couldn’t win the SEC with a Super Bowl winner? Butch Davis can do both, Frank Beamer can do both, Bobby Bowden can do both, but who else has proven that they can? Tom O’Brien is a smart coach, as is Grobe, who do a LOT with a little. O’Brien could never recruit at BC so he left. If Grobe was somewhere else, he’d be winning titles. Friedgen has my utmost respect as an offensive mind, but he can’t recruit and hasnt had a QB in years.

Fans in the ACC put up with too much bad performance from coaches we do have.

Would Groh have lasted this long at Tennessee? Would John Bunting have made it past year 2 at Georgia? What about the myriad of coaches at Maryland after Bobby Ross left, before hiring Friedgen? Someone in the administration would’ve been hung for all those hires if it had been Alabama. Frank Beamer himself might not have lasted at Auburn, nor would Tommy Bowden.

Thankfully we did get rid of him, and I was one of those who wanted him gone in 2003.

Tammy harped on facilities for years, and it made most of us sick, but he was right to say that Clemson was behind in an area we once led. Our facilities have improved and over the last 3 years we all have seen the speed and talent level at Clemson come back up.

UNC arguably has the best facilities in the conference, and now that they have a football coach for the first time since Mack left for greener pastures, they are improving talent-wise too. Before Butch leaves I’ll guarantee he wins the ACC once.

FSU has great facilities as well, and look at them in the ’90s, and all the improvements they put in place to compete. Miami does not, and even though their staff has done a great job in the talent-rich Dade Cty area, they still have fallen off, and lose more players to UF and FSU than they once did. Still, Florida is so rich that if UM had better coaches (who would stay there), they’d be in the Top 10 every season.

I don’t need to go through every team, but you can see my point. Our smaller fanbases, on the whole, are losing us money compared to other conferences, and that money is why we don’t compete now.

How to fix it? Well we need better recruiters and coaches first. You have to recruit out-of-state. You have to get every player who lives in-state. You have to win consistently to get the fans to show up. They won’t show up if your team sucks.

We cannot change that the ACC teams are in states that have less Div. I talent to go around. SC might have 15-20 in a given year, tops. NC will have a little more than that, to spread among NCSU, UNC, WF, and Duke. Virginia really doesn’t have much away from the Tidewater region. Georgia has plenty, but GT never gets them in apparently.

Yes, the ACC has tougher academics as a whole, and historically that has hurt us. Recall Frank Howard once said that they should expand the ACC to 10 teams when the admissions standards were set higher than the SEC’s, so we’d only play each other and the other conferences wouldn’t know how sorry we were. But with the academic support systems we have in place now, theres is no excuse why you could not get 25 Div. I-caliber players in every year. Duke could get in 25 players every year if they wanted to, but they don’t. Half of their players wouldn’t start at Furman. Isn’t Cal-Berkeley able? What about Stanford? WF or Virginia could as well, but they don’t push for it. UNC seemingly doesn’t either over the years.

Whereas at Clemson, if we hear of a great player getting turned away by the AARC, we go nuts and call for Barker’s head.

Will coaches build up their teams and then leave? Yes. Mack Brown did. Jim Grobe will too someday. However, if the fans would just get into the games, maybe one of those guys will stick around, and maybe we’ll start beating other conferences and get some respect back for this league.

Of course Butch Davis may be gone for other reasons....

These opinions are not necessarily those of the Proprietors of Shakin' The Southland.

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