With FSU, ACC in for big change

Those interested in big-time college football will love the new, improved Atlantic Coast Conference. Those interested in the reform of intercollegiate athletics, please step aside.

The addition of football powerhouse Florida State guarantees the ACC a place in the national championship equation starting next year. That's no way to scale down, but who cares? College


football might as well be as big here as it is everywhere else.

Big as in first-class facilities. Big as in weekly sellout crowds. Big as in increased television revenues. The ACC will have it all now. The price, of course, is obvious. But advocating big-time college sports means never having to say you're sorry.


Which is why Maryland athletic director Andy Geiger opposed all this, at least at the start. Now Geiger is saying things like, "There's no sour grapes. We'll give 'em hell." Still, his reservations remain. Maryland and Duke were the only "nays" when the ACC voted 6-2 to include Florida State.

Forgive Geiger for pointing out that expansion makes no sense at a time college presidents are preaching reduction. Next year there will be 16 conference basketball games instead of 14. An extra day at the men's and women's tournaments. More baseball games. More swimming meets. More everything.

You know the ACC's response: Appreciate the thought, Andy, now step aside. The Jefferson-Pilot television network immediately paid the conference an extra $500,000 to expand its syndication of ACC football. The network already has added 10 markets, eight in Florida.

Maybe it's all for the best, seeing as how no one is fooled by Knight Commission reports one minute, the creation of super conferences the next. Better Maryland be the next Ohio State than join the Ivy League -- especially with no NFL team for Baltimore in sight.

Even Geiger admits, "I don't think there's any question the ACC will now be considered definitively as fine a football conference as there is in the country. Now football equals basketball. Florida State meant an instant upgrade."

But not necessarily for Maryland, not right away. Indeed, the Terps almost certainly will suffer after Florida State begins ACC

play next season. The Seminoles, currently ranked No. 1, have finished among the top four each of the last five years.

Maryland never again will get away with playing Western Michigan, much less a Division I-AA school. Florida State makes eight ACC opponents, leaving only three non-conference openings. They'll be reserved for hot regional matchups: West Virginia. Syracuse. Penn State. Otherwise, no bowls.


If Maryland is smart, it will forget its record (at least at first) and focus on recruiting. Starting next year, the ACC champion joins the New Year's Day bowl scene -- along with the Big East, Big 8, Southeastern Conference and Southwest Conference winners, Notre Dame and two highly ranked at-large teams.

The addition of Florida State made the new alliance possible, and for the ACC it comes at the perfect time. Three schools -- Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson -- appeared in most preseason Top 10s. Tech was co-national champion last year.

Clearly, the ACC is on the rise -- and that was true even before Florida State. The conference went 3-1-1 in bowl games last year (Maryland tied Louisiana Tech 34-34 in the Independence). The ACC's record against non-conference opponents was 28-8-1.

"The conference was good back in the '70s and '80s, no two ways about it," Maryland coach Joe Krivak said. "What has happened is that there is greater parity. Inter-conference play bears this out. The number of teams in bowl games bear this out."

Now the fun truly begins. Sept. 28 is Super Saturday, what with Florida State-Michigan, Clemson-Georgia and North Carolina-N.C. State. Then there's Florida State-Miami Nov. 16. It isn't only critical for the national championship picture. Thanks to realignment, it's the new ACC-Big East challenge.

Geiger points out, "I don't think you can build a program on somebody else's coattails," and he's right. Even before all this, Maryland committed $28 million to improving its athletic facilities. That includes the renovation of Byrd Stadium, and the construction of a new football training and locker room complex.


So, better football players should start coming to Maryland. Geiger wishes he could say the same for all 23 of his sports, but he worries about those that do not generate revenue -- gymnastics, field hockey, etc. Florida State spends lavishly on such programs. Maryland must struggle to keep up.

That's life in the big time.

For better, and for worse.