Go to the ticket broker website and you’ll find maybe nothing that speaks more of league’s football inconsequence.
Tickets for this weekend’s ACC Championship game in Charlotte between 13th-ranked Florida State and middling Georgia Tech could have been had for as little as $4, as of Tuesday afternoon. Then compare that demand to the minimum $325 asking price for the lousiest of seats at the SEC Championship game to be played later that same day in Atlanta between second-ranked and reigning national champion Alabama and No. 3 Georgia.
It means that calling the ACC the red-headed stepchild to the neighboring college football monster that is the SEC is doing a disservice to red-headed stepchildren everywhere.
I doubt this is exactly what ACC Commissioner John Swofford and his motley band of money-grabbing school presidents had in mind nearly a decade ago when they made a Faustian-like deal to raid the Big East in the pursuit of a large wad of cash from TV revenues. The move not only irreparably harmed the dynamics of the ACC, but also began the unseemly and ongoing musical chairs of conference realignment.
But Swofford and his envious minions desperately wanted a conference championship game because they sought the same kind of national prestige and financial windfalls from such contests that were already available to the SEC and Big 12.
Hence the additions of Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004 and Boston College the following year. Both Syracuse and Pittsburgh will come aboard the ACC of next year, with Louisville reportedly set to follow as well.
Swofford’s unholy deal with the devil came at the expense of ACC basketball, whose proud tradition had always included a double round-robin format in which each team played one another twice. It made for some heated rivalries, while allowing fans from across the conference the opportunity to see every team play each season.
Mighty football – and not basketball – was from henceforth going to be the engine that powered the ACC train.
But Swafford and the others are finding that things don’t always play out as planned. Anticipated to be FSU’s annual championship game foil, Miami is hardly the Miami of old and has yet to even reach the conference title game. BC brought the conference a Northeast footprint, but little else as far as on the football field.
It’s been eight years since the stunning conference transformation and ACC football garners even less national respect now than ever before.
The conference is a woeful 2-12 in BCS bowl games, its ineptitude never more glaring than during the embarrassing 70-26 shellacking ACC champion Clemson received at the hands of West Virginia in last year’s Orange Bowl.
Swofford’s decision to sell out the ACC’s soul for a few piece of silver has resulted in exactly one at-large bid to a BCS bowl—Virginia Tech’s surprise trip to the Sugar Bowl last year.
The league was in position for a second at-large bid this year until Saturday. That’s when Florida State and Clemson each lost to an in-state rival to help the SEC go a perfect 4-0 for the afternoon against its overmatched ACC brethren.
Georgia Tech, which will represent the conference’s suspect Coastal Division in this Saturday’s title game, was hammered by Georgia 42–10. It would only be appropriate for the ACC at some level if the Yellow Jackets stunned FSU in Charlotte and grabbed the league’s automatic Orange Bowl bid with a 7–6 record.
The Yellow Jackets are only playing in the game because Miami and North Carolina are serving self-imposed postseason bans because of scandals. Virginia, Maryland, Wake Forest and Boston College didn’t even qualify for bowl bids, meaning the ACC will be unable to fill two of its eight negotiated bowl berths.
The news for the ACC only got worse last week with Maryland’s shocking decision to bolt for the greener pastures of the Big Ten as of 2014. The conference now has to hold Maryland to the $50 million exit fee school presidents enacted earlier this year. If the league doesn’t force the cash-strapped Terps to fork up the full amount, expect Florida State and Clemson to seriously look elsewhere.
Like the SEC.
*John Hollis has 16 years of daily newspaper experience and has covered major college football and basketball within both the ACC and SEC.