Is Boston College Headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference?
On Friday, the ACC agreed to invite Boston College, Miami and Syracuse to join the Atlantic Coast Conference, most likely beginning in the 2004-2005 academic year. The nervous times for both BC and Syracuse ended with the news that they, along with Miami, will be among the three new members if the deal is completed. It was reported last week that the Virginia Tech Hokies might be considered in leui of either the Orangemen or Eagles. Both Boston College and Syracuse would prefer to stay in the Big East but are not in a position to decline the ACC's offer once Miami has accepted. Big East football revolves around the Hurricanes and neither BC nor Syracuse will want to be stranded in a conference without a marquee program. Discussions at the Big East annual meetings this week will certainly revolve around finding a way to convince Miami (and therefore BC and Syracuse) to remain in the Big East Conference. This would certainly involve the departure from the conference of the five basketball-only schools (Georgetown, St. John's, Providence College, Villanova and Seton Hall). It would also involve expanding the football conference to include new members such as Louisville. Still, it seems unlikely that Miami would remain in the Big East unless the conference can convince Notre Dame to finally join in football or steal either Florida State from the ACC or Penn State from the Big Ten.
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It is very unfortunate that the Big East situation has come to this. If Miami, BC and Syracuse accept their invitation to the Atlantic Coast Conference, the football programs at Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Pittsburgh will be decimated. With three of its top six programs fleeing the conference, Big East football would surely lose their BCS tie-in and most of their remaining Bowl guarantees. The Big East would no longer be considered among the six power conferences of college football. This would have a devastating impact on recruiting and ticket sales for the programs left behind. Pittsburgh may have a chance to join the Big Ten Conference, which has room for one more member, but it is more than likely that the Big Ten is saving that slot for their one true love, Notre Dame. The Big Ten may also make a play for Syracuse, which would be very harmful to Boston College. BC's does not want to lose its rivalry with the Orangemen nor do they want to be the only truly Northern school in a Southern conference.
With some foresight on the part of the Big East Conference, this impending disaster could have been avoided. ACC expansion has come up many times in the past, yet Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese is running around like a chicken with his head cut off, acting like this is the first he has ever heard of this. Of course, this is the same useless fool who invited Notre Dame to join the Big East in all sports except football (the infamous "we'll scratch your back, you stab ours" deal) and allowed BC and Seton Hall to be left out of this year's NCAA Basketball Tournament, so I guess none of us should be surprised that he fell asleep at the switch on this one. Had the Big East been proactive, they may have been able to steal Florida State from the ACC before the ACC could steal Miami. Florida State has no strong ties to the ACC and could have been persuaded to leave if the Big East had been willing to make the move to separate the football schools from the basketball-only schools. The imbalance between Big East members that play football and those who don't has been damaging to everyone in the conference (except Notre Dame). With FSU on board, Notre Dame might be at least a bit more likely to join the conference in football though I doubt that any combination of teams would be enough to entice the Irish. Penn State might have been more likely to consider a shift to a conference that includes Miami, Florida State and Pittsburgh. You could then replace Temple with Louisville, adding a decent football team and a tradition-rich program. Here is my "dream" expanded Big East Conference:
This new set-up is a bit weaker than the existing basketball conference, but would immediately create one of the top football conferences in the country. The basketball-only schools (St. John's, Villanova, Georgetown, Providence and Seton Hall) would likely join forces with schools from Conference USA and possibly the Atlantic Ten to form a very strong basketball conference. Tranghese and the Big East will make an attempt to put something together, but I'm afraid that it is too late. I don't think that the ACC would have taken this step unless they knew that Miami would eventually say yes.
Assuming that the ACC does expand to include Miami, Syracuse and BC, here are the pluses and minuses for the Boston College as I see it:
The PlusesIncreased Exposure in the South - Recruiting
BC has made a living recruiting in the Northeast and Midwest. They have had occasional success in the State of Florida, but in general Boston College's ability to recruit top players South of the Mason-Dixon line has been sorely lacking. A move to the ACC would give Boston College the chance for exposure in the athletic-talent-rich states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. I'm not suggesting the immediate arrival of hoards of Southern blue-chip athletes to the Heights, but over time BC could expand their recruiting net which could pay great dividends to the athletic programs and the University.An Upgrade in Basketball Respect
The fact that Boston College Basketball could finish 10-6 in conference play, win its Division, finish the season red hot and claim one of the strongest road records in the country and NOT be invited the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament speaks volumes about the lack of respect paid to the Big East Conference. Meanwhile, North Carolina State, a team that BC beat on its own court and topped in nearly every category, was invited to the Tournament. Why? For one simple reason - they play in the ACC. Joining the ACC won't be a cure-all for the Eagles. They will always have to be 20% better than high-profile programs to get equal treatment, but ACC membership does have its privleges.Opportunity for Renewed Fan Interest
One of the biggest problems facing BC's football and basketball programs is the general apathy of its fans, alumni and student body. Conte Forum is often as quiet than the O'Neill Library during basketball games and unless Miami or Notre Dame is in town, the Alumni Stadium crowd has a hard time showing up for four quarters of football. An abundance of empty space in a 45,000 seat stadium is very conspicuous, especially if you happen to be a potential recruit. Joining the ACC may help to generate fan interest and get people a little more excited about coming to Boston College games. In basketball, the new home schedule would include - at least on a semi-annual basis - Duke, North Carolina, Maryland and Wake Forest. The football schedule would add Florida State to the Alumni Stadium docket every other year. At least in the short-term, the conference change would intrigue existing BC supporters and help to bring in a few new fans. I should also mention that the ACC would create much better football road trips. Instead of Morgantown, Blacksburg and Philly, we could be visiting Charlottesville, Chapel Hill and Atlanta.Stronger Academic Connections
Most would argue that academics don't have anything to do with college athletics in the 21st Century. In this case, I disagree. Boston College's academic stature is much closer to schools in the ACC like Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and Virginia than to its current Big East cohorts. This could help form a greater bond between BC and its conference opponents. Let's also not forget that this change impacts all of the University's athletic teams, not just football and men's basketball. Most of these schools, like BC, covet the true student-athlete. It would be great to part of a conference that stresses academics and discipline among its athletic teams.Weather Advantage in Late Season Football Games
This is one of the sillier advantages, but it is an advantage nonetheless. I'm sure that none of the Southern schools of the ACC relish the thought of playing a football game in Boston in November. Teams in the ACC do not typically play non-conference games late in the season and Maryland isn't exactly the North Pole so many of these players have never been exposed to the elements that New England has to offer late in the college football season.
On the football side, I don't see the extra mileage being much of a factor. Most of BC's football road trips involve air travel, so there would not be much difference in that regard. On the basketball side, the extra miles would certainly take a negative toll on BC's athletes. Road games in Providence, UConn and St. John's might be replaced by trips to Tallahassee, Atlanta and Clemson. BC basketball would likely be playing twice in Florida, once in Georgia and three times in the Carolinas each season. These games could be split into Thursday/Saturday road trips to lessen the burden, but we're still talking about 3-4 long road trips per season, not including the ACC Tournament. This would be costly in dollars, fatigue and time away from the classroom.Loss of Strong Basketball Rivalries
BC loses very little in the way of football rivalries with a move to the ACC. They would say goodbye to annual battles with Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers, Virginia Tech. I'm not sure that will cause any tears to be shed. In basketball, however, it would be difficult to part ways with the traditional college basketball rivals, specifically Providence College. The good news is that BC could still face some of these teams on an annual basis in non-conference play. The overexpansion of Big East Basketball has already ruined the Georgetown-BC rivalry and threatens to diminish the rivalry with Syracuse. Under the current Big East Divisional format, BC plays Syracuse and Georgetown only four times (twice at home) every seven years. Ironically, moving to the ACC could actually result in more games with Georgetown. That is assuming that the Hoyas are willing to play a non-conference opponent better than Maryland Eastern Shore.Decreased Regional Identity
Lastly, I question the impact of BC's move to what is really a Southern conference. Will BC and Syracuse get less respect than the charter members of the conference? Will recruiting, specifically men's basketball, be damaged by the fact that these teams will be playing the majority of their games 500 or more miles from home? I am very concerned that BC's strong pipeline to the states of New York and New Jersey will be threatened by this move. BC will be on television far less often in these areas and this decline in exposure could hurt the programs, especially football, quite badly. There is also a benefit in being able to tell a recruit from a state like New Jersey that he will be coming back to his home state to play a football or basketball game. If BC heads to the ACC, they would no longer be able to sell that benefit to potential recruits in Connecticut, New Jersey or Pennsylvania.
This was a frustrating year for Boston College fans. The football team finished 8-4 and beat top ten Notre Dame on its own field yet was shuffled off to the Motor City Bowl in Detroit. Meanwhile, weaker teams in other conferences were invited to more lucrative bowl games in better destinations. In basketball, the Eagles won their division and strongly covered nearly every criteria on their NCAA Tournament resume yet were snubbed in favor of several weaker teams from favored conferences. This made it clear to me that the Big East is doing Boston College no favors. Something has to change. My preference, as outlined above, would be a restructured Big East comprised of only schools that play major college football and basketball. This would mean forcing the hand of Notre Dame to get both feet in or get out and convincing Penn State and/or Florida State to join the conference.
The financial benefits of the move are also unclear. The ACC feels that they can increase revenue by hosting a football conference championship game and it is believed that the addition of Miami would enable the conference to sign a much more lucrative television deal. With both Florida State and Miami in the conference there is also a greater possibility that the ACC could grab a second BCS bid worth an additional $10 million or so. Unfortunately for BC, much of the additional revenue would be washed away by their expanding athletic travel budget.
A new-look Big East would be the best of all worlds for BC, but I think the move to the ACC is an improvement over the status quo. The defection to the ACC will provide new recruiting avenues in the Southern states, but may weaken ties in the Northeast. BC will lose traditional rivals while cultivating new ones. Fans will miss the basketball conference rivalries with Providence, Connecticut and Villanova but will eagerly anticipate the arrival of Duke, North Carolina and Maryland. In the short-term, the conference switch will create a buzz that could bring much-needed attention to the University. Fans will love the road trips. This move will provide opportunities as well at pitfalls, but ultimately the future success of Boston College's athletic programs will be determined more by the quality of the people involved and less by conference affiliation. Boston College Athletics has made great strides in the past five years and there is no reason to think that won't continue in the ACC.