CLEMSON — In the wake of rumors connecting Clemson and Florida State to the Big 12, the ACC alleges to understand just how important football is to its overall financial picture.
ACC commissioner John Swofford confirmed that 80 percent of the league’s new $1.3 billion media rights contract with ESPN is connected to football; a decade ago, it was a 50-50 split with basketball, at best.
More of ACC football, however, isn’t better for anyone – especially when it comes to establishing the league at the big-boy football table.
The ACC’s new scheduling model was well-intentioned, but threatens to hurt the league’s powers far more than it helps.
When Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the ACC from the Big East – as early as next fall but no later than 2014, depending on legal wrangling – the ACC will be at 14 teams.
In response, league officials expanded the ACC’s regular-season schedule from eight to nine games.
That just isn’t smart for teams like Clemson or Florida State, which hope to compete for national titles in the near future and beyond.
The ninth game removes a potentially valuable and lucrative non-conference game and replaces it with a game of dubious worth.
Clemson and FSU are hamstrung; they’re locked into popular and important in-state rivalry games with South Carolina and Florida, respectively.
Both schools have tried to enhance their schedules. Clemson is completing a three game home-home-neutral series with Auburn, and regional rival Georgia moves onto the schedule next year for a home-and-home series. Similar series with Oklahoma State and Ole Miss are on the schedule later this decade.
Florida State just completed a home-and-home with Oklahoma, and hoped to do the same with West Virginia before the Mountaineers pulled out following their move to the Big 12.
Keeping those marquee games on the schedule is hard to do in the new format.
You’re taking a possible game with an SEC or Big 12 foe that moves the needle and replacing it, some years, with a visit from the likes of Duke, Pitt, or Virginia.
Sure, Virginia Tech, Miami and North Carolina will rotate on and off the schedule, like always. But most years, you’re making your slate weaker.
Fan outcry led Clemson and Georgia to reaffirm their commitment to play the next two seasons, but there are no guarantees that Oklahoma State, Ole Miss or future foes will be so lucky.
The nine-game schedule is unbalanced, meaning you’ll alternate years with five home games with years with four home games. Adding in a home-and-home series like Clemson-UGA (with Clemson-USC already in the mix) makes it tougher to get the seven home games that football-first schools like Clemson have come to rely on to fuel their entire athletic budget.
Faced with balancing the budget or thrilling fans, the powers that be are far more likely to fill the remaining non-conference slots with a pair of games so soft the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man will lead the Tigers’ charge down the hill.
And that’s to say nothing of the issues a softer schedule will cause with the new playoff system.
The new system is expected to reward teams who play a challenging non-conference slate.
The SEC – which also expands to 14 teams – recognized this. It will stay with an eight-game league slate – six games in-division, one game with a permanent cross-division foe and one game with a rotating cross-division foe.
Are some longstanding rivalries lost in this? You bet. Maybe North Carolina won’t play N.C. State and Duke and Wake Forest every year in this scenario.
But if the ACC is serious about being a national football power, it needs to cater to schools like Clemson and Florida State who are in position to fuel that renaissance.
Staying with an eight-game slate and letting them pursue tough schedules would be a good start.