CLEMSON — We’re less than two weeks away from the official start of the ACC sports season – the ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C.
The first event on the schedule is ACC commissioner John Swofford’s annual state of the league address.
It is a chance for Swofford to extol the ACC’s virtues, relive its successes and set the stage for the year to come.
Two months ago, it looked like Swofford might have to channel Kevin Bacon in Animal House.
You know, the Deltas have taken control of the homecoming parade, Faber is in chaos and totally out of control.
And there’s Bacon, running down the street, screaming, “Remain calm! All is well!”
Depending on which blog you read, the ACC was on the verge of collapse, irrelevancy or complete death.
The departures of Florida State and Clemson to the Big 12 were a fait accompli, done deal and just waiting to be announced.
Then, of course, the SEC would swoop in and pick off Virginia Tech, Maryland would join the Big 10 and the ACC would head to college football’s soup kitchen with whatever was left of the Big East.
Two months later, reality looks much different.
College football’s new four-team playoff system – which incorporates the current bowls – has been announced, and Virginia Tech president Charles Steger led the NCAA presidents’ advisory board which helped come up with the plan.
Last week, the ACC announced a 12-year deal with the Orange Bowl to send its champion there, with a guaranteed annual 1 p.m. New Year’s Day kickoff. If the Orange Bowl is hosting a semifinal and the ACC champ is not in the playoff, it will go to another prestigious bowl like the Sugar, Fiesta or Champions Bowl (a new venture matching the SEC and Big 12 champs, either of whom are likely to be in the 4-team playoff and creating an opening).
Along with the SEC, Big 12, Big 10 and Pac-12, the ACC is one of five major conferences left; the Big East does not have a major bowl tie-in.
Even though the ACC has not sent a team to the BCS national title game since Florida State lost to Oklahoma in 2000, it has a place at the proverbial table.
In talking with Swofford and Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips, one theme has been made clear: The ACC knows it hasn’t lived up to expectations with Florida State, Miami and Clemson experiencing “down” periods in the last decade.
But with Virginia Tech in the fold and those three programs showing signs of improvement (or at least signs of getting on the road to improvement), the ACC has the pieces for success. If an ACC team plays a strong non-conference schedule and goes through the league unbeaten, it can make the four-team playoff.
And there are signs the ACC is looking to strengthen itself further following last fall’s additions of Pitt and Syracuse (who are slated to join the league no later than 2014 and possibly next season).
TigerIllustrated.com reported Sunday that ACC presidents met with Notre Dame officials in North Carolina.
The subject of the meeting is not known; it could be to discuss an Orange Bowl tie-in, or it could be to lay groundwork for the Fighting Irish to join the ACC in one form or another, be it in all sports or in everything but football with an scheduling agreement to play a certain amount of ACC schools per season.
The ACC’s new TV contract – which will pay schools an average of $17.1 million annually over its 15-year span – is an issue; the Pac-12 and Big 12 are expected to make $3 million more per school annually, although the Pac-12 did swallow up far more multimedia rights from schools than the ACC did. To get a better deal, the ACC must perform better on-field and give itself leverage for the five-year “look-ins” built into the new ESPN contract.
Regardless, it appears the ACC is on far more solid ground than it was two months ago – giving Swofford a far happier union to discuss in Greensboro.