May 29, 2012

Every family is crazy in their own way.

Now that Pitt is heading to the ACC, we are getting a crash course in the crazy and issues of the ACC family. We’ve learned a bit about FSU’s (and to some extent Clemson’s) issues with the ACC. The whole basketball league, controlled by North Carolina interests, dragging/keeping down the football.

What’s interesting is the longtime ill-will towards ACC Commish John Swofford. From the vantage point of a Providence-based conference, Swofford has appeared to be a rather aggressive and dare I say dynamic leader of the ACC. He engineered the raid of the Big East to get Miami, BC and VT — entirely to bolster the football side of things. To do it he navigated over the explicit objections of Duke and UNC on the expansion. He worked around the Virginia politics that forced VT over Syracuse late in the process. He got the conference good TV money in the aftermath. Then he staged the second expansion that got Pitt and Cuse out of the Big East for next year (yes, technically Pitt and Cuse are not out of the Big East until 2014, but we all know the reality).

It seems, though, that from within the ACC the Swofford reign is much less charitably viewed. One place that truly hates the Commisioner: Clemson.

In the case of the Clemson faithful, the history is much different and there is a reason for their distaste of Swofford. It dates back thirty years.

However, before he became ACC commissioner he had served for 18 years as Athletic Director at North Carolina. Which is his alma mater. Which gave him a front-and-center seat when Clemson’s problems with the NCAA were reaching a conclusion in 1982.

Fact: Clemson was guilty. The football program as a whole had violated NCAA rules in regards to improper recruiting inducements, extra benefits to student-athletes already on campus, unethical conduct, etc, most of which occurred over two seasons when Charlie Pell was head coach in 1977 and 1978, a portion of which continued after Ford took over. This all came to a head in November 1982 when the NCAA imposed two years of recruiting sanctions on Clemson, as well as a two-year bowl ban and two-year television ban. That’s where it was supposed to end.

Then Swofford stepped in.

In a behind-closed-door meeting called by Swofford and including every athletic director in the conference . . . except Clemson’s . . . the now-ACC Commissioner stated, essentially, that the ACC was a hallowed collection of academic institutions that shouldn’t be sullied by the rule-breaking of one member institution interested only in winning. Therefore, Swofford continued, all should agree that what the NCAA handed down simply was not severe enough. Even though Clemson, one of their own in the league, was at its lowest point ever, the ACC should add another year of sanctions. (No, I’m not kidding.) Swofford and his counterpart from Duke led this initiative and were ultimately able to garner enough support from the rest of the conference to make it so. Only Wake Forest and Maryland were opposed to further punishing one of their fellow ACC members and the representatives from both schools walked out of the meeting when Swofford suggested the vote be taken anonymously.

Swofford was not the commissioner, but he essentially acted as if he was. He essentially took control of the conference punishment. It isn’t hard to see that as the Tobacco Road controls that still chafe many members today. The fact that Swofford became the ACC Commissioner 15 years later had to become an open sore for Clemson.

You may think that this is an outdated grudge, but fans never forget. In Illinois, they never forgot or forgave Bruce Pearl for his central role in getting the Illini basketball program in trouble.

And as the story points out, there is now a moment where Swofford has to address the wrongdoings of his alma mater and old employer.

The NCAA hammer is about to fall in Chapel Hill. Will John Swofford be consistent now that it’s his school on the business end of sanctions and probation? Is the integrity of the entire league threatened by UNC, as it allegedly was by Clemson in 1982? Given what’s transpired over the past year at North Carolina — academic fraud, agents, trips, jewelry, cash, etc. — , it far surpasses anything Clemson was guilty of. The bottom line is the commissioner’s response will be very telling in regards to what type of leadership the conference has right now and what type of man is at the head of it.

Whether Swofford was right or wrong in 1982 (and it would appear rather arrogant and wrong), Clemson fans have waited 30 years to see the shoe on the other foot. They want Swofford to give a steeper extra punishment to UNC to repay the debt. The twist is that by punishing a football program that has shown potential and now a willingness to improve, Swofford increases the likelihood of doing more harm to the overall condition/reputation of the ACC football.

Then there are the looming NCAA sanctions with Miami. If Swofford does give extra punishment UNC, what about Miami? Further putting the ACC football in a bind. The odds are UNC doesn’t get any extra punishment. Not because Swofford is protecting UNC, but because he’s trying to keep football in the ACC from getting buried. Not that it will make Clemson fans happy.

Florida State’s discontent with the ACC lately really seems to be about the money. As much as they bitch about the conference being a basketball conference and all the other reasons, they don’t seem to want to dwell too much on the actual state of football in the conference lest the conversation turn back to how the Seminoles themselves have done since the expansion for football in 2003. Instead they want to point to the money issues that they are having and how the SEC is out spending them. That’s the real problem.

Both are getting a little more attention. David Teel who covers college sports in Virginia has a look at the whole SEC dominating football because of the money. Not what FSU fans will want to see.

They show how much money the Southeastern Conference and ACC have distributed to their member schools since the ACC expanded to 12, the same number as the SEC, in 2005-06. The figures are based on amounts released annually by the SEC, and on the ACC’s federal income tax returns.

Both conferences divide revenue virtually in even shares.

The totals, from 2005-06 through 2010-11, are close. Over those six years, the ACC distributed approximately $71.61 million to each school, the SEC $77.27 million.

That translates to about $943,000 more per SEC school, per year. Not chump change but not a game-changer, either, in an era when major Division I sports budgets routinely exceed $70 million.

In fact, in each of the first four years of that cycle, the ACC provided more money than the SEC to its members. That changed dramatically in 2009-10, when the ACC’s distributed revenue dipped 13.5 percent (the year previous, the ACC used reserves to award each school a bonus to compensate for a lean economy) and the SEC’s, thanks to new television contracts with CBS and ESPN, skyrocketed 57.7 percent.

So even when the ACC had more money to distribute, the football in the SEC was still more successful.

Money, or lack thereof, isn’t ACC football’s primary issue. The issue is that since expansion the conference is 1-7 in BCS games and its most storied programs, Miami and Florida State, especially the Hurricanes, have declined.

If ACC schools resist panic, remain intact, win more football games and invest the enhanced ESPN revenue wisely, the conference’s long-term viability will be assured.

Here’s a year-by-year look at the ACC’s and SEC’s per-school average revenue distribution:

*Fiscal year         ACC                        SEC

2005-06                $10.84M               $9.68M

2006-07                $11.46M               $10.17M

2007-08                $11.78M               $10.63M

2008-09                $13.54M               $11.04M

2009-10                $11.71M               $17.42M

2010-11                $12.28M               $18.33M

Florida State is not getting nearly the sympathy it seems to think it should because of the budget problems. Mainly because anyone who actually looks at FSU’s budget problems sees them as self-inflicted.

FSU spends and makes enough money to be nationally competitive.  Across all sports Florida State’s athletic department has never been more successful on the field.  For the 2010-11 academic year FSU was the ONLY school to place all of its teams – 19! – in postseason completion.  THE ONLY ONE.  Not Texas, not Notre Dame, not Stanford or Ohio State or Georgia, but Florida State.

This begs an obvious question: with the Seminoles so successful on the field, how come their athletic department hasn’t been able to financially capitalize on that success?  If I was the president at Ford Motor Company and Ford was selling more cars than any other manufacturer and continued to run a deficit, I’d first look internally at our processes to explain the reason why.  Florida State has a great athletic department, if it is unable to financially capitalize on that success that’s an FSU problem, not an ACC problem.

To further that point, look at Virginia Tech.  Virginia Tech doesn’t compete at the Noles’ level across its athletic department, but the Hokies’ football program has been better on the field over the past decade than FSU’s and that’s what we’re most interested in.  For the 2009-10 academic year Virginia Tech generated $63.6 million in athletic department revenues while spending a trim $55.7M.  The Hokies did this with NO direct institutional support which FSU receives from student fees in the millions each yearVirginia Tech, in the ACC, was one of only 22 self-sustaining athletic departments nationally that year and won the ACC title in football.  Virginia Tech is a good example of the power of smart spending over more spending

Let’s look at the University of Louisville.  For 2010-11 Louisville generated $87.7 million in revenue (almost $10M more than FSU – WOW!) while spending $81.8M, five million less.  The Cardinals had successful programs and made big money while competing in the perceptually weaker Big East – and did all of this with a much smaller conference generated TV deal than the Seminoles enjoy. (And no, the difference didn’t come from third-tier rights.)

Sadly, none of this will do much to change the mind of FSU fans. They have created their scenario that has them leaving the ACC for the Big 12 and immediate profits and success. They shrug off the $20 million exit fee by claiming that they won’t actually have to give that much and/or the Big 12 will loan them the money right away like WVU got. Even though the reason for the WVU deal was one of financial necessity. They pretend that the partial shares they would get from the Big 12 in the first few years of joining aren’t a big deal (or that it really wouldn’t happen).

Essentially, FSU fans have come to believe that they — as a program — are so desirable to the Big 12 for economic impact that the Big 12 will do everything possible to make it happen. Even though it is FSU that is acting desperate. Not the other way around.

Outgoing Big 12 Commish Chuck Neinas, however, continues to publicly express hesitancy about the idea of expanding the Big 12.

But Neinas sees no reason to rush into anything. There are lessons to be learned from the near collapse of the conference. The initial merger of the Big Eight and Southwest Conference created too many factions, too many rifts that were allowed to fester. The old Big 12 could never get all of its schools pulling in the same direction. There were too many different agendas.

Neinas would like to see all 10 of the schools in the newly reconfigured Big 12 prove they can get along before any more kids are invited into the sandbox.

“People have to understand that bigger is not necessarily better,” Neinas said. “What we are trying to do, in view of what has transpired in the past, is to build unity. We have two new members. Let the membership be comfortable with each other before they ever consider going forward.

“We’ve taken care of the contentious issues. We have a very workable solution. Let’s build on that, then down the road maybe think of expansion. But to automatically run off and say, they’re going to go to 12 or 14 or whatever — that does not take into account where this conference was, where we’ve come from and where we need to go.”

That may be part of a big reason why they wait to expand. The upheaval around the conference that has seen 4 members leave — and nearly saw another 4 go — and 2 come in over the past 2 years is a lot of change and chaos. Not to mention a new conference commissioner taking over in two weeks. Not to mention, the fact that the Big 12 powers (Texas) still hold out hope of luring Notre Dame to park their non-football athletics in the Big 12. That requires waiting.

In the meantime, FSU powers say one thing but quickly hint at others.

“We have not heard a thing and we have not approached them and they have not approached us,” said Andy Haggard, the chair of FSU’s Board of Trustees. “If anybody approaches us, we are certainly going to listen to them. We have an obligation to Florida State to listen. You can’t close the door.”

The door to a possible relationship may begin to open this week when the Big 12 conducts its annual meetings in Kansas City, Mo.

Though it appears unlikely Big 12 representatives will offer any public acknowledgement of expansion talks, the meetings will allow the league to decide whether it wants to explore another round of additions just one year after accepting TCU and West Virginia as new members.

FSU leaving the ACC is still very possible at some point. It just doesn’t seem like it will be as immediate as FSU fans hope

Interesting stuff.

Comment by Gordo 05.29.12 @ 11:08 am

Swofford’s holier-than-thou attitude while at UNC, an institution that would eventually commit some reprehensible violations, kind of reminds me of another institution whom we all are quite familiar with.

Comment by wbb 05.29.12 @ 11:34 am

The Big 12 has all the football talent it needs right now…If I were them, I’d be looking at Lville and Cinncy to beef up their basketball footprint. This would also provide a geographic link to WVU and provide them with the basis for rivalry games.

Comment by HbgFrank 05.29.12 @ 12:31 pm

HbgFrank, that would make too much sense for it to happen …. remember, we are talking conference expansion here

Comment by wbb 05.29.12 @ 12:46 pm

I could care less about loosing FSU and Clemson. Academically they pull down the ACC. Guys while it all about money, prestige matters too. The Ivies do okay money wise relying on alumni donations and their rep, certainly not TV revenue. Of course, the income of their alumni is high. It’s a catch 22; good name school, higher incomes for the grads, which should mean greater donations to the university.

I admit it, I’m a snob. I like the new conpamy we will be keeping in the ACC.

Let’s get PITT a varsity Lacrosse team!

Comment by Old Pitt Grad 05.29.12 @ 1:04 pm

HbgFrank, At one time I thought that might happen, but a more likely senario if FSU or Clemson leaves the ACC would be for them to add UConn over Boston College’s objections.

Comment by Justinian 05.29.12 @ 1:06 pm

I guess UConn, Rutgers, Lousivlle, Cincy and USF would all be canididates

Comment by wbb 05.29.12 @ 1:08 pm

Good reading. Bunch of weird thoughts below.
I still think FSU wanted Miami in the ACC and they pushed to raid the BE. I think USF and UCF have gotten some FSU/Miami talent. The NC control of ACC is a fact as MD often complains whare I live. I hear ND is still thinking ACC as BE may dump some Olympic sports. Butch Davis was a problem at Miami and now at NC. Hope former BE schools push for ACC BB Championship in new Brooklyn arena.

Comment by Frank 05.29.12 @ 2:18 pm

FSU fans are delusional if they think changing conferences is going to improve their fortunes in football. They don’t even have the former FSU swagger going for them now, as they did when they first entered the ACC in 1991. And they did pretty much dominate the ACC in the 1990’s in football, but that all ended in the 2000’s as Florida and Miami both surpassed them(actually UF had surpassed them by the mid 90’s). They were then the 3rd best team in their own state.

And even though both UF and especially the U have regressed, FSU hasn’t capitalized. They would be an average team in the Big 12. much as they have been in the ACC. Perhaps on occasion they would be challenging for a title, much as they do, on occasion in the ACC these days.

However that being said, losing them would add further to the perception that the ACC is a weak football league. And it seems perception is what it’s all about. And come on, who wouldn’t rather play the Seminoles than UConn or Rutgers. Give me a break. Same with Clemson.

Comment by Emel 05.29.12 @ 3:15 pm

I still think the ACC would be well served by moving it’s HQ and BB Tournament to Washington DC. This would be a a great city to serve as the HUB of the ACC.

I also don’t see FSU leaving, I just don’t see how they can justify the $20 million buyout…only to turn themselves into another pawn under Texas control. Seems like a bad deal to me.

I agree with the previous poster about getting a LaCross team going at Pitt….that sport is huge right now amongst kids and growing all the time…I don’t get it, but it’s still big.

Comment by CJK 05.29.12 @ 3:32 pm

Yes CJK — I’ve thought for a long time the ACC should move the basketball tournament to DC full time. It’s a great city and would instantly become a serious contender to the BE.

Seriously, Greensboro? That place sucks.

Comment by Denny 05.29.12 @ 6:44 pm

Let Clemson and FSU go. They are stampeding buffalo at this point running full tilt to what they think is football salvation (Which they could see for a cliff if they left the echo chamber message boards and blogs). There is far too much momentum for Swofford to stop this from happening. The internet provides a frictionless slope for the fan bases, boosters and childish administrators/trustees to accelerate down.

Work on keeping the potential targets that don’t have administrators that act like Steinbrenner and Jerry Jones (GT, Miami). The ACC was poised to become the premier football conference when the BE was raided, but who could have possibly predicted the complete collapse of the programs at Clemson, FSU and Miami? Not Swofford’s fault and like has been mentioned, against the wishes of the bball schools.

I just hope that Swofford is smarter than the BE leadership. This is happening. Don’t stick your head in the ground and pretend everything is rolling along smoothly. Let the Presidents and ADs of the remaining schools that there is a plan in place. The day Clemson and FSU leave is the day that Rutgers and UCONN come on board. Don’t let panic set in with everyone sprinting for the lifeboats. The ACC will never be the best football conference, but it is the best basketball conference and UCONN will make it even better. I honestly hope that GT, Nova, SJU and ND are allowed to come along for bball purposes. Lock it down as by far the best basketball conference with by far the best conference tournament. Half the teams would be in the top 20 every year and provide tons of amazing basketball games for ESPN to televise.

Comment by Chris 05.29.12 @ 8:21 pm

I definitely agree that the ACC should move to D.C. but how much would G-Town like that, and how badly would they blame Pitt for it.

Comment by Lou Gagliardi 05.29.12 @ 8:27 pm

Espn will have alot to say to Fsu about leaving

Comment by 63Team 05.29.12 @ 11:30 pm

chris the money is in football

Comment by Frankcan 05.29.12 @ 11:43 pm

I like the Wash DC idea for the basketball Tournament. I also like the idea of the new B’klyn arena. However The B’klyn area is still not the best to walk around at night. (I was born and raised in that neighborhood.)

DC certainly would serve the Eastern schools and a bunch of alumni.

Football is where the money is, no question. However it is not where Pitt’s future lies. Our part of the Country will not dominate the college football game, as in the past.

Being competitive is good enough for me while maintaining/gaining prestige

Comment by Old Pitt Grad 05.30.12 @ 1:11 pm

[…] any expansion right now (unless Notre Dame came calling). Outgoing temp Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas also suggested strongly that the Big 12 would be best served to stay settled and stabilized for a while after all the […]

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