Clemson Expansion: Big Picture

In light of some recent Clemson blogs and internet reports not associated with STS, I felt like I have a big picture take of expansion that I think would be worth reading. Fans have so much pull and influence these days that I hope this gives Clemson fans a more bottom line perspective on expansion and our future.

Let's get right to it.

First off, Clemson has screwed the ACC.

Clemson has screwed the ACC more than the ACC and Swofford have screwed Clemson.

More accurately, Clemson, FSU, Miami, and VT, as the football bell-cows of the conference, have most greatly contributed to the ACC's weak financial bargaining position. And now, the conference is in jeopardy because of it.

What some fans have failed to grasp since the onset of the BCS and following the ACC expansion in 2005 is that the best possible financial and opportunity booster for ACC football is for the league members to WIN NON-CONFERENCE GAMES especially on the highest level.

Im not going to bore you by listing the ACC’s countless non-conference failures over the years. I’ll just say that, unlike other conferences, there is no high level victory over the past ten years for the ACC to hang its hat on. Therefore, there is a perceived lack of quality nationally for ACC football compared to say, SEC or Big 12 football.

Had the ACC teams capitalized on some of these high level non-conference opportunities, I believe that The ACC #2 would still play in the Gator Bowl, C.J. Spiller would have been invited to the Heisman ceremony, the conference TV deal would be more lucrative, there would be no talk of ACC schools leaving the conference and in fact, depending on how high The ACC was in the pecking order, The ACC could have had the opportunity to add Big 12 teams last year instead of being threatened by them today.

Instead, The ACC's bell-cows in football have not delivered anything remotely substantial as far national credibility since expansion.

So, even though Clemson has dominated South Carolina for the better part of the past century, it did not get us a better TV deal or more money than them. That is because The SEC dominated the highest level of college football, and South Carolina is reaping the financial gain from that. That is a non-debatable fact.

All along, some in our fanbase, seemingly stuck in the 80s, tried to maintain that “it is good for Clemson to have our conference opponents down so that we can win the ACC.” This false measuring stick allowed Clemson football to set it's standards lower than it should have and tolerate things it shouldn't have (Tommy Bowden for 10 years for example).

We have always had the resources to compete on a national level but, for the better part of the past twenty years we have chosen not to. That decision by our administration has contributed to the low value and weak perception of ACC football.

Now we think we deserve to be paid more. Based on what?

It seems that the rally cry for fans is to believe that because The ACC has chosen to hang its hat on basketball in expansion, it has cost Clemson the same kind of money South Carolina makes. That is not true.

If you eliminate revisionist history, you'll see that we were and have always been a basketball conference that tried to become a relevant football conference. Picture the original ACC schools from 1953-1980 and name the national power in football? Exactly. We added GT in the early 80s, FSU in the 90s, and Miami and VT in the 2000s...all for football.

If you think the ACC and Swofford are “all basketball all the time”, ask yourself these questions:

In 2005, what schools were the two best possible programs that the ACC could have poached for football?

Did the program you just pictured play in three of the first five BCS NC games like Miami and VT did?

Does Boston College have a great basketball program, or instead, do they have a bigger TV market for football?

Why was Coach K publicly against the expansion?

To this day there were, and still are, many better basketball options out there for ACC expansion. If Swofford is trying to get money to the basketball schools, then he's trying to do it with better football.

Now fast forward to 2011.

I think if there's anything to be upset about in recent expansion, it's that The ACC should have taken West Virginia instead of Syracuse from a football-only standpoint. However, outside of WVU, name two schools that the ACC could have actually landed that have more football tradition than Pitt and Syracuse?

With 10 claimed national titles and alumni like Jim Brown, John Mackey, Larry Csonka, Tony Dorsett, Art Monk, Hugh Green, Dan Marino, Mark May, Donovan McNabb, Marvin Harrision, Dwight Freeney, and Larry Fitzgerald, you could easily argue the two school's football tradition is higher than The ACC's original members. Again, the better basketball move would have clearly been to take UConn and Louisville. If anything, academics played a bigger role here than basketball.

The only major conference the ACC can poach is The Big East right now, and since 2004, the ACC did so with the 5 of the 6 traditionally best football programs that we could get.

The most recent expansion gave the ACC a chance to renegotiate its current TV deal. And, before the negotiation, our conference finally got the opportunity to have two teams in the BCS. This would have been ideal except that we delivered the two lowest rated games. Clemson's delivered the lowest rated BCS game ever.

Not to mention that we were destroyed by a Big East team and VT followed up their massacre by Stanford last year with a loss to a non-division champion in the Big 10.

So, the ACC just gave the lowest return on investment by a conference ever to ESPN on the big stage right before they had to ask for more money.

Now, we Clemson fans wake up in a burning house and are left with pocket-book envy. Most of us see South Carolina’s SEC income and can’t take it. We don't like losing to USCe and think that money is the reason to leave the ACC.

This is true, but this should not be about a quick comparison of conference value as perceived by ESPN in May of 2012.

We should be looking for the best deal that will secure Clemson's viability and great potential for many many years. In other words, if we're going to acquire the resources and opportunity to compete on the highest level, we need to align ourselves with schools that are aggressively football oriented for the monetarily expanding future of college football.

There needs to be a longterm financial commitment to football from the schools with whom we chose to associate.

I have seen a couple accounts saying that the ACC generated more money than the Big 12 throughout most of its history. Some reporters have printed that the Big 12 passed the ACC financially only recently. If that's true, it should be something to consider. (I can't find the links so any help finding them would be greatly appreciated or maybe someone at STS has that information already)

We already know the Big 12 is going to be able to out-bid the ACC today but, what about tomorrow? A move to the Big 12 should be first and foremost to align ourselves with the best...the best facilities, the best recruits, the best money, the best chance at a NC, the most interested TV viewers, and most importantly, the best committed institutions to football success at the highest level.

We must think differently than we did in the 80s and agree that for Clemson to move forward, money is going to be the by-product of conference/opponent success in football, and not the other way around.

It takes TWO great teams to play a football game that casual fans would want to watch. It takes TWELVE to fill out your schedule. That's the pertinent math.

Therefore, when you go to align yourself with other schools, it's certainly not just all about Clemson or today's paycheck. There isn't a one-time revenue check for your athletic department that secures you forever.

Look, some advent in technology could drop ESPN's viewership drastically overnight. Then what? Hopefully, we would be aligned with great teams so that in the ever changing landscape of college football, we will be secure as a major player no matter what happens.

Does anybody remember the Ivy League being the #1 conference in football? Remember when Army was one of the top programs? Me neither. Things change. Money is the driving force behind conference expansion but remember, it is mostly speculative future money and not a lump sum check delivered overnight. Expect more change.

On the flipside, I'm of the opinion that it's perfectly ok for our administration to come out and say, we've made the decision to not keep up with the big boys and have chosen to operate on a slightly lower level than some of the higher profile schools. As long as they are honest and don't try to sell me big boy football when it's not, I'm ok with that.

It would be awfully difficult for a University President to agree to abandon its gentlemanly association with great universities like Duke, UNC, Wake, Virginia, Georgia Tech etc. An academic institution doesn't have play keep up with the Jonseses in football.

Some FBS schools are going to be left out when the dust settles. In fact, many already are. One could argue that the new ACC deal is a step in that direction.

However, the specific numbers involved in the current Big 12 deal vs. The current ACC aren't that relevant.

What we Clemson fans must accept is that over time the great teams are going to align themselves together in the most effective way possible to get that money.

THE TEAMS earn the money for the conference. So far, Clemson, Miami, FSU, and VT have let the ACC down in that regard. The one brightspot is that our TV ratings were actually better than the Big 12 last year. We're about half of the SEC viewership though.

Also, it should be mentioned that the giving up of The ACC's third tier rights was seemingly terrible, but at the same time, one can only speculate about how much money we would have made on them vs. how much money we actually got from ESPN to give them up. So I won't touch that.

I will say though that third tier rights are the obvious gateway to conference/team networks and also to ESPN's eventual demise...and they know that. If Swofford actually played that card then third tier rights are probably worth a good bit. However, he publicly admitted he didn't play it in the last negotiation.

The problem longterm for The ACC is that the original ACC teams don't seem to have as much upside to ever reach the level that The ACC would need to be nationally relevant. Miami, FSU, GT, Clem, Pitt, and VT together at full effectiveness do though.

So, while we're not nationally relevant since FSU took over the ACC in 1992, we have everything in place and tremendous sellable upside. So does FSU. So does Miami.

The ACC, though, is struggling while it absorbs the hit of Miami, FSU, and Clemson all being down at the same time. How many conferences could thrive with their top three traditional programs being down for an extended period of time? The answer is...none.

Right now we should ask the ACC one question, "Specifically, how are we going to improve the league's reputation in football?"

Of course, we are going to hear the Big 12s plan as well. Although, we can all see that the Big 12s plan is unfolding in plain sight.

I'm not going to post an opinion on what we should do here but I do think that the choice will become obvious as soon as the new playoff system is announced, we see what the other bell-cows of the conference choose to do, and when we get the ACC and Big 12's answer that question above.

The point to remember here is that the money will come to a conference when that conference has a product worth paying for. The conference will approach a team when they have a product worth selling. Fans will watch a conference that has games worth watching.

That's why the competition you keep has become just as important as your own team.

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

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