ACC commissioner John Swofford is either a backwater rube or heartless marauder. So sayeth critics in the wake of his conference luring Syracuse and Pittsburgh from the Big East.
Distasteful, unsettling and panicked as realignment is, those portrayals are unfair and inaccurate.
In a perfect world, would Syracuse and Pittsburgh, especially the Orange, remain in the Big East? Absolutely.
Alas, these are imperfect times. Desperate to retain their place at the Bowl Championship Series money trough, conferences and schools have fostered a climate of mistrust and fear. Pledge steadfast loyalty one minute, cut a backroom deal the next.
Amid the madness, Swofford and ACC officials had every reason for concern.
If the Pacific 12 had pillaged the Big 12 and grew to 16, the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference were sure to react. And if they did, ACC members such as Virginia Tech, Maryland, Florida State, Clemson, North Carolina and North Carolina State figured to be their potential targets.
How best to protect the ACC’s flank, to assure long-term viability? Swofford and company chose two avenues.
First, they jacked up the league’s exit penalty more than 50 percent, to $20 million. That’s not cost prohibitive, but it’s sure not petty cash, either.
Second, they added Pittsburgh and Syracuse, the latter a Big East charter member. Five former Big East schools – Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami are the others – now call the ACC home.
That’s a startling number, and given the Big East’s uncertain future, cause for some to label him the conference’s executioner. But let’s be clear, Swofford didn’t have to coerce any school to the ACC. The schools came willingly; the Big East’s Connecticut, Rutgers and West Virginia would have, too, if invited.
Since the Pac-12 and Big Ten declined to expand, and since the SEC added, for now, only Texas A&M, others accuse Swofford of misreading the landscape, of being played like some Vegas first-timer by card sharks such as the Pac-12’s Larry Scott, SEC’s Mike Slive and Big Ten’s Jim Delany.
Don’t believe it. Swofford and the ACC were proactive and assured the membership that the conference’s foundation is secure.
Yes, college athletics would be better-served with its present conference alignment. Yes, the Big East is in a lurch, and yes, 14 ACC schools may be another step toward 16.
But that ship sailed when Big 12 ayatollah Texas hopped in bed with ESPN to form the Longhorn Network, irritated Texas A&M bailed for the SEC, and Oklahoma president David Boren clumsily attempted to take the Sooners from the Big 12 to Pac-12.
Besides, it’s not like the ACC added Don’s Diploma Mill and Carl’s Community College. Pittsburgh and Syracuse fit the ACC athletically, academically and culturally, and immediately boost the league’s sagging basketball fortunes.
Some bark that the Panthers and Orange don’t instantly upgrade ACC football, and they’re right. One glimpse of their teams last week against Notre Dame and Toledo, respectively, spoke volumes.
Question is, who would have elevated ACC football?
Texas? Please. The Longhorn Network would have required far too many concessions. Moreover, it would have given Texas southeastern recruiting inroads.
Notre Dame? Absent total realignment Armageddon, the independent Irish aren’t budging.
West Virginia? Its academic reputation doesn’t reach ACC standards, and Morgantown’s couch-burning fetish has become a bad cliché.
So among the schools that approached the ACC, the conference chose wisely, and in a story linked here, the Sports Business Journal speculates that expansion could net each school $2 million per year in additional television revenue.
The ACC also acted quickly, quietly and in-concert, a stark contrast to the contentious 2003 expansion that grew the league from nine to 12. Swofford deserves as much credit for the smooth 2011 process as he does criticism for the 2003 disarray.
So feel free to lament the Big East’s predicament and to wonder if bigger translates to better in the ACC. Those are legitimate issues.
Just don’t forget who the ultimate decision-makers were in the ACC’s latest expansion: Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg and Syracuse chancellor Nancy Cantor.
Swofford? He did his job. He helped secure the ACC’s future.
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