By Chris Mahr
Major college sports has ceased to be a matter of competition just between teams. It is now undoubtedly a battle between conferences as well. And so far in 2012–2013, the ACC is losing. Big time.
On the gridiron, the conference made the case yet again that, apart from the Big East, it might be the weakest football league among the six conferences whose winner automatically qualifies for a BCS bowl berth. The problem, as in past years, was lack of depth.
Only two teams (Florida State and Clemson) finished the year in the BCS Top 25. And both of those teams were humbled by intrastate rivals from the SEC in their regular season finales. No other ACC team finished with more than eight wins overall or better than a 5–3 conference mark.
And it could have been worse. Had the Seminoles lost the conference championship game to Georgia Tech — a game, it should be noted, for which tickets were selling for $3.50 less than a week before it was played — the ACC’s representative in the BCS would have been a 7–6 team. If you thought the outcry over Northern Illinois getting an Orange Bowl bid was bad, imagine if the Yellow Jackets had made it.
Normally, ACC fans have an opportunity to wash the sour taste of football season out of their mouths once the calendar turns to hoops. Yet while two-thirds of the schedule has yet to be played, the conference has to be disappointed with having just three teams in the AP Top 25: No. 2 Duke, No. 21 UNC and No. 25 NC State.
The Blue Devils have looked impressive in defeating the likes of Kentucky, Minnesota, Louisville and Ohio State in the early going. The Tar Heels, on the other hand, were exposed as a work-in-progress in losses to Butler and Indiana (particularly in the latter game), while the Wolfpack lost by 20 to Oklahoma State.
This lack of success on the field and on the court doesn’t even account for everything off the field that has adversely affected the conference.
What kind of statement is made when a charter member of the league (Maryland) opts to leave for the Big Ten despite anticipating outcry from its fans and alums? How long will the shenanigans that landed North Carolina and Miami (FL) in hot water reverberate? And does adding Pitt and Syracuse (and eventually Notre Dame) ensure the success — monetary and otherwise — that the SEC and Pac-12 have enjoyed since their own expansions?
It’s shaping up to be a make-or-break time for a conference that is celebrating its 60th birthday next May 8. And for college sports’ sake, fans better hope the ACC makes it.
Even as the conference has struggled in recent years, it is still a part of the overarching college sports conversation. This is due in large part to its heritage and its close proximity (for most of its institutions) to the heavily-populated and major media markets in the Northeast region of the country as well as the fact that people from the Northeast flock to ACC schools in droves.
It’s important for those people to have faith that they’re cheering for teams and a conference that are successful (East Coast media bias be damned). Take away the component of success and they’ll lapse into either all-out apathy or an even greater preference for professional sports.
Like many fans, I lament that college sports has transformed into a death match that leaves the weaker of the AQ conferences teetering on the edge of irrelevance. The ACC has been knocked down a bunch this season. Here’s hoping that it finds a way to get off the mat.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.
Photo Credit: Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports