I would have hoped people would understand this after the last ten years of the Big East, but now I have to put on a condescending tone and talk down to people. Not really. No. Well… maybe a few.
Bowl games are meaningless. There are so many now that they have lost their meaning. They are just exhibition games. Unless it’s a playoff/BCS bowl, who cares. I think we all know old man complaints. But woe unto the coach that doesn’t get their team into a bowl game. And by god, it better be one in a good location. So, yes, bowl games have reproduced to absurd levels when over half the 1-A programs go bowling. Yet they still matter despite the contradictions and complaints. So be it.
Among the — now — 5 major conferences, it is not unreasonable to say that the ACC has the weakest bowl line-up. Here’s the reality. There is nothing the ACC can do about it.
Oh, they might be able to tweak a bowl or two to a slightly higher level here or there. If the conference has a major and sustained upswing in winning, it might help in the next cycle of bowl deals. But it is not going to be rivaling the SEC or Big 10 at any point in the foreseeable future. It is simply about the numbers.
There’s a reason that when the ACC had their NYC day to welcome new members they touted TV markets. Plain and simple the ACC lacks bodies.
Here is the undergraduate enrollment breakdown. In terms of where they rank in Division 1-A football programs out of 126:
0 schools in top-10
1 school in top-20 (FSU)
4 schools in top-50* (FSU, Maryland, NC ST., VT)
0 schools ranked #51-74
5 schools ranked #75-99* (Pitt, UNC, Clemson, UVa, Cuse)
5 schools ranked #100 or higher** (GT, Miami, BC, Duke, Wake Forest)
*and in 2014 when Louisville (#91) joins and Maryland (#27) leaves it will be 3 schools in the top-50 and 6 schools ranked #75-99
** And while ND is not a football member, they do have fake fanbase that outsizes their #112 ranking. Which is why the Big East before them and the ACC now will affiliate with them for bowl tie-ins.
Now here are the other four major conferences.
2 schools in top-10 (Texas A&M, Fla)
2 schools in top-20 (Texas A&M, Fla)
6 schools in top-50 (Texas A&M, Fla, Georgia, Alabama, Mizzou, LSU)
5 schools ranked #51-74 (South Carolina, Tenn, Auburn, Kentucky, Arkansas)
2 schools ranked #75-99 (MSU, Ole Miss)
1 school ranked #100 or higher (Vandy)
4 schools in top-10 (OSU, PSU, Mich. St., Mich)
7 schools in top-20* (OSU, PSU, Minn. St., Mich, Ind., Ill., Purdue)
9 schools in top-50* (OSU, PSU, Minn. St., Mich, Ind., Ill., Purdue, Wisc., Mich.)
2 schools ranked #51-74 (Iowa, Neb.)
0 schools ranked #75-99
1 school ranked #100 or higher (Northwestern)
*and when Rutgers (#16) and Maryland (#27) join there will be 8 schools in the top-20 and 11 schools in the top-50
1 school in top-10 (Texas)
1 school in top-20 (Texas)
4 schools in top-50 (Texas, Texas Tech, Iowa St., WVU)
4 schools ranked #51-74 (Okla., Kansas, K-St., Okla. St.)
0 schools ranked #75-99
2 school ranked #100 or higher (Baylor, TCU)
1 school in top-10 (Az St.)
2 schools in top-20 (Az St., Arizona)
7 schools in top-50 (Az St., Arizona, Wash., UCLA, Colo., Cal, Utah)
3 schools ranked #51-74 (Oregon, Oregon St., Wash. St.)
1 school ranked #75-99 (USC)
1 school ranked #100 or higher (Stanford)
As you can see, it just isn’t close. The other four major conferences trump the ACC at the top end of undergrad enrollment. And the ACC is ridiculously bottom heavy with private, low enrollment schools. That translates into a much smaller overall alumni base that will be interested in traveling to a bowl game.
At the other end, the Big Ten has ridiculous numbers swelling their alumni ranks. Just based on shear quantity, they will send enough fans to bowl games most years.
Now the SEC may not have the volume the Big 10 offers, but they are based primarily in the Southeast. Relatively near to where most of the desirable bowls are located. That makes it much easier for them to get to these games. Feeding into the narrative of how well most of their fanbases travel.
Over 2/3 of the ACC schools have undergrad popluations ranked 75th or lower in 1-A. Sticking to just the 64 teams in the five conferences the rankings look much worse:
- Arizona St.
- Ohio St.
- Texas A&M
- Penn St.
- Michigan St.
- Florida St.
- Texas Tech
- NC State
- Iowa St.
- Virginia Tech
- South Carolina
- Oregon St.
- Kansas St.
- Washington St.
- Oklahoma St.
- Mississippi St.
- Ole Miss
- Georgia Tech
- Boston College
- Wake Forest
The ACC has just 3 schools (FSU, NC St. and VT) among the 30 largest undergrad populations in the major conference. That number doesn’t grow until it reaches the 46th team — Pitt. The ACC has 6 (Cuse, GT, Miami, BC Duke, Wake Forest) of the 11 smallest major conference schools. It is no coincidence that those six schools are all private institutions. Every other conference has no more than 2 private schools.
Notwithstanding the bowl games that ESPN has an ownership interest in — and hence is more concerned with potential media markets — the bowls still have that anachronistic desire to get people to come to the game. To spend money in the hotels, restaurants and entertainment.
There’s also the fact that the ACC lacks any programs that have historical fan bases that will show up in droves anywhere outside of maybe Clemson. Yes, VT and FSU do a nice job of it, but they are fairly recent in college football history. After that?
Pitt? No. Let’s not pretend otherwise. As a fanbase, we don’t show up for bowl games unless it is convenient, it matters and/or it doesn’t make things difficult to catch the Steelers that weekend.
The ACC has a lot more than where Pitt was. There is potential for football, to be clear. But bowl tie-ins will never be a major thing for the ACC.