Five years ago, ACC presidents could have dismissed the blather regarding the conference’s imminent demise. After all, why dignify with comment what you know to be baseless?
But today, Twitter and message boards are not to be ignored. Nor, sadly, are media, mainstream and alternative, who value page views, ratings and/or followers more than truth.
So Thursday, after more than two weeks of speculation fueled by charter member Maryland’s departure to the Big Ten, ACC presidents released a joint statement of solidarity.
Included were the CEOs of the 11 current members in good standing — Maryland, obviously, does not apply — and impending arrivals Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Louisville.
Here is the complete statement:
“We, the undersigned presidents of the Atlantic Coast Conference, wish to express our commitment to preserve and protect the future of our outstanding league. We want to be clear that the speculation about ACC schools in negotiations or considering alternatives to the ACC are totally false.
“The presidents of the ACC are united in our commitment to a strong and enduring conference. The ACC has long been a leader in intercollegiate athletics, both academically and athletically, and the constitution of our existing and future member schools will maintain the ACC’s position as one of the nation’s premier conferences.”
This runs counter to conventional social media wisdom, where reporting essentially consists of throwing linguine at the laptop and hoping a noodle sticks.
Since Maryland’s stunning move — no school had left the ACC since South Carolina in 1971 — reports have been as numerous as they were outrageous.
First, Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver allegedly said the school was open to talks with the SEC. No he didn’t.
Then, Virginia’s Board of Visitors was meeting to discuss potential Big Ten membership. No it wasn’t.
Finally, Georgia Tech and Virginia were going to announce their Big Ten move this past Monday. No they didn’t.
What many failed to realize or acknowledge was Maryland's unique dynamics. Courtesy of its own mismanagement, the athletic department is drowning in debt, witness its eliminating seven varsity sports. Plus, university president Wallace Loh hails from the Big Ten — he worked at Iowa as provost and studied at Michigan.
Combine those conditions with the Big Ten’s projected television riches and you get the shotgun wedding that transpired Nov. 19.
No one pretends the ACC is perfect. Its football teams have underperformed too long, reducing the conference’s leverage with media partner ESPN. Notre Dame’s basketball and Olympic sports are assets, but adding the school’s stubbornly independent football program would be ideal and quiet many conspiracy theorists.
But those flaws do not translate to the league fracturing. Indeed, adding Louisville was a strong and rapid counter to Maryland’s defection.
Still, the ACC chatter continues. Who knows what the tipping point was, but clearly the remaining presidents had heard enough.
According to a source, the statement was the idea of a presidential subcommittee that includes Virginia Tech's Charles Steger, Florida State's Eric Barron, Georgia Tech's Bud Peterson, Clemson's James Barker and North Carolina's Holden Thorp.
Not coincidentally, those schools have been the focus of most realignment speculation.
Good for them. Proactive beats passive in this case.
Will the gossip cease? Of course not. Too many traffic and revel in it.
Moreover, the cynical and omniscient will snicker that ACC schools are poised to jump the moment Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, a former ACC basketball player at North Carolina, snaps his cash-stained fingers.
So believe what and whom you will. Just remember these words, and, most important, hold the presidents to them.
“United in our commitment.”
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