Expanded ACC solidifies standing
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GREENSBORO, N.C -- Pitt officially will join the Atlantic Coast Conference July 1, 2013. It was a move that many considered to be a necessity given the conference's stability and standing as one of the power conferences and the lack of stability and long-term outlook of the Big East.
But earlier this year ACC commissioner John Swofford found himself having to answer questions about the future of his own league despite the additions of Pitt and Syracuse. He also had to address a new 12-year $3.6 billion television agreement because two of its most important football members -- Florida State and Clemson -- were unhappy and considering a jump to the Southeastern Conference or Big 12.
Officials from both schools, along with Swofford, have since put those rumors to rest. But it wasn't until the ACC's recent 12-year deal with the Orange Bowl that some of the fears about the league's status as a power conference were solidified.
And then Friday, Swofford visited Clemson and met with president James Barker and the school's trustees to discuss the future and try to calm concerns about the TV deal, which will be lower than the deals of the other four power conferences. They also discussed the nine-game conference schedule, which starts in 2013.
Barker said after the meeting that it was positive and productive and "did nothing but reinforce our role in the ACC."
Swofford was equally positive when asked about the meeting Sunday at the annual ACC Football Kickoff and media day and said that the conference is in better shape than it has ever been. More important, he has no doubt that Clemson -- and all of the other member schools -- are committed to staying together and becoming a major power in college athletics.
"[ACC losing members and falling apart] has never been an issue in my mind, at all," Swofford said, who was then asked how comfortable he was that all schools, especially Clemson, are still totally committed to staying in the ACC.
"In one word 'totally' [comfortable], I had a great visit with Clemson, they are terrific people at Clemson and I just gave you my answer, in one word," he said. "You are looking at a league that has a group of schools who are together for all the right reasons. [The TV deal] gives us a great deal of security going forward monetarily and from an exposure standpoint.
"We have 14 institutions who basically are all in the top 100 academically, we just solidified our place in football ... so there is just plus, after plus after plus."
The fact that Clemson and Florida State appear to be committed to the ACC is a relief for Swofford, who said most of those rumors came as a result of misinformation via social media.
As Swofford mentioned, the conference's recently announced 12-year partnership with the Orange Bowl, the deal with ESPN and the increased footprint along the eastern seaboard with the additions of Pitt and Syracuse have solidified the conference's standing.
And Pitt and Syracuse were natural additions to the league because they fit the profile academically and athletically. He said the geographic fit was perfect as well because the two schools fill a gap between Maryland and Boston College.
Swofford said that it was easy to add Pitt and Syracuse because both schools are so similar to most of the current schools in the ACC and that both have plenty of potential for growth.
"I think what attracted this conference to Pitt as well as Syracuse relates to the balance or athletics and academics, their history of athletics and the potential of that program to grow going forward and the quality of the institutions," Swofford said. "I know a lot of people are cynical about [the importance of academics] in terms of expansion, but if you sat in and listened to an expansion discussion with our presidents it definitely does matter.
"And Pitt and Syracuse both fit the profile collectively of the other 12 schools in the ACC as far being in the top 100 of academic institutions, their athletic numbers were good in terms of graduation rates, etc., and geographically the two schools have given us the opportunity to be contiguous from state to state, and competitively we felt like they fit well.
"A lot of it was about fit. I mean institutionally and academically as well as athletically and certainly, in this instance, geographically as well."
Swofford was then asked if he thought that the ACC would be expanding again or if the general feeling among officials and school presidents within the conference is that 14 is the perfect number.
"Our focus at the moment is totally on 14 and making that work in the best possible way," he responded.
One issue that has surfaced as a result of the expansion is that ACC teams will play a nine-game conference schedule starting next year when Pitt and Syracuse arrive.
This was one of the concerns of Clemson, which is still against the idea, because it means teams only will have room for three non-conference games and it also means that half the conference will play five conference home games while the other half will only play four.
Swofford said he hopes that the issue resolves itself over time.
"I think we are certainly headed in that direction unless the athletic directors felt they wanted to revisit that and change it," Swofford said. "We discussed it as recently as May and the super majority continue to prefer going forward with the nine-game schedule. It is a little more challenging for a school that has a rival that is outside of the conference but it also relates to a school's particular scheduling philosophy which varies some.
"I think our athletic directors' feeling collectively is that with a larger conference it is important to see each other and play each other as much as is reasonable in both football and basketball, which is why we went to the nine-game football schedule as well as the 18-game basketball schedule."