Posted: 1:37 pm Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
By Matt Porter
Could the ACC move to a nine-game conference schedule? It seems possible, if not likely, when considering what it could mean for the schools:
A move to a nine-game schedule and a potential ESPN-controlled ACC channel are expected to be on the agenda this week at the conference’s winter meetings in Fort Lauderdale.
Miami Athletic Director Blake James told the Post an ACC version of ESPN’s soon-to-be-launched SEC Network is still “a concept,” but “it’ll be interesting to see where the conversation goes over the next few days.”
To advance that conversation with ESPN, the ACC might add a game to its conference schedule. According to our sister publication the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia Tech Athletic Director Mike Bobinski said ESPN would likely want more “inventory” for a possible channel, which means an additional conference game.
James said UM is decidedly in favor of a nine-game conference schedule, especially since it wouldn’t impact the Miami-Florida State rivalry.
The ACC approved a nine-game schedule in May 2012, but switched back to eight after later signing an agreement with Notre Dame (which plays five ACC teams annually). That move was made in large part to help Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson, all of which play SEC rival schools. Louisville, which joins the league this fall, also has an SEC rival.
“It wouldn’t be the worst thing to have an additional ACC game as opposed to hunting around the country” for a non-conference game, Bobinski told the AJC.
James agreed with that, adding that it “helps build rivalries in the long term.”
“We’re still new in the conference,” James said. “We’ve been in it a number of years, but we really haven’t been in there long enough to create rivalries. You look at our biggest rivalries in our league; they are programs that we’ve played throughout history.”
When it joined the ACC in 2004, UM maintained its series with Florida State and Virginia Tech, which date to 1951 and 1953 respectively. James said he sees budding rivalries with ACC Coastal foes North Carolina (all-time series tied 8-8) and Virginia (UM leads 6-5).
On the nine-game issue, the AJC reported there has been pushback from Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Louisville, which would have a full plate of a nine-game conference schedule, an SEC rival and Notre Dame in the same 12-game schedule every three years – but TV money could quiet critics.
According to the AJC, Georgia Tech projects it will receive $22.2 million from the ACC in the 2015 fiscal year, which comes largely from ESPN’s considerable coffers. UM, a private institution which does not disclose such financial information, would likely be in line for similar payouts. They would only increase if an ACC network came to fruition.
Asked if he believed it would happen, James said. “Yeah, I would guess that we probably will. With that said, we have a great partner in ESPN. We have a great deal with them now. Before we get to that point, we have to make sure [a network] is the right thing for our league. That’s what I don’t know right now.”
Currently, ESPN has exclusive rights to ACC football and men’s basketball games, in addition to several other sports. The ACC also has a regional syndication partner in Charlotte-based Raycom, which has televised ACC sports for 35 years.
With the July 2012 entrance of Pitt and Syracuse into the ACC, the conference restructured its deal with ESPN. The reported $3.6 billion deal, which binds league and network through the 2026-27 season, pays ACC schools $17.1 million in TV revenue from the conference. That is some $4 million more per year than the original ACC-ESPN deal signed in July 2010.
However, it lags behind other conferences’ TV deals. Big 12 schools reportedly receive nearly $20 million per year from contracts with Fox Sports and ESPN. Pac-12 schools reportedly receive $19 million from their conference’s deals with the same networks.
Financial terms for ESPN’s soon-to-be-launched SEC Network have not been disclosed, but it is believed to be the richest conference-TV deal ever. USA Today projected each SEC school could receive an annual average of $25 million apiece in TV money from the conference’s agreements with CBS and ESPN.
The Big Ten, which currently distributes more revenue than any other conference, last year reportedly paid schools more than $8 million in TV revenue. Most of that came from the Big Ten Network, launched in 2011.
What should also be on the agenda this week in Fort Lauderdale:
* Earlier this month, ACC Commissioner John Swofford said league and school officials are assessing how often cross-divisional opponents should play each other. Currently, Atlantic and Coastal teams face each other twice in a 12-year cycle (click here to see UM’s future opponents).
*Swofford also raised the possibility of not requiring teams to play every opponent in their division or allowing teams in the same division to play for the ACC championship.
* Last month, the Associated Press reported Syracuse Athletic Director Daryl Gross sent letters to his colleagues suggesting a nine-game conference schedule in part so schools in smaller markets – like Syracuse – can make more visits to schools in bigger markets like Boston College, Georgia Tech and Miami.
The idea of seeing more Atlantic Division teams may not excite Hurricanes fans right now, but James said familiarity breeds contempt.
“As our fans see the other schools in the league more often, you’ll see more excitement,” James said. “You’ll see better crowds.”
Other notes from a chat with the Canes’ AD:
* With Florida State winning the national title, 11 teams in bowl games and two (FSU and Clemson) in BCS bowls, James argued the ACC is the top football conference in the land. He already considers the league the nation’s best all-around, toting its academics and strength across all sports.
“ACC football, top to bottom, is as tough as a league as there is out there,” James said. “Obviously the SEC has done a great job of promoting the SEC brand. Aside from this year, they’ve done a great job of winning the big game. With that said, top to bottom, year-in and year-out, their bottom half of the conference wasn’t at the same level as the top half of their conference.
“Top to bottom, the ACC going forward, and having a relationship with Notre Dame, will show the ACC as the best football conference out there, not to mention the best conference all-around.”
* David Beckham, Major League Soccer’s commissioner and Miami-Dade County’s mayor will reportedly hold a news conference next week to rally support for a soccer stadium in Miami. James said UM is watching the Beckham group’s moves, but isn’t now exploring the feasibility of a break from its lease at Sun Life Stadium, which runs through 2033. “Obviously there’s a lot of talk in the market about [a soccer stadium],” James said. “They’re doing their due diligence to see what makes most sense.”
* Who doesn’t love new uniforms? UM will have an updated look in 2014, though James said a design has not been finalized. James said he gets a lot of fan feedback on what UM’s look should be, and anticipates UM’s longtime uniform partner, Nike, will create an eye-catching update. He wouldn’t say what elements the uniforms would incorporate, but made it sound as if the same colors — green, orange and white — will be featured.
“I don’t want to stir up the fan base and say we’re going to come out and look significantly different,” James said, “but I’ll say our look will be even better next year than this year.” Expect a big rollout this summer.
* James, reflecting on the Al Golden-to-Penn State reports that surfaced earlier this month:
“To me it was surprising the amount of news that came out of that and the stories, and I’ll say, irresponsible and uninformed reporting that was done,” he said. “At the same time, I recognize people have jobs to do.”
“I said three things all along: one, until there’s a head coach in State College not named Al Golden, the media’s going to put his name out there as a candidate for that job. That was true. The second is, I said Al and I are in regular communication about what we need to do as a program, what we need to do to get this program where the fans want it, where our student-athletes want it, where our fans want it, and most importantly where President [Donna] Shalala, Al and I want it. That’s back at the top.
“Through that, we were in regular communication on everything. As I said, Al’s the head coach, he’s going to continue to be the head coach, and honestly, there was never a time I thought he wasn’t going to be the head coach. To have the other things that were reported out there, reported …
“What happened all along wasn’t the story that was going to sell, so that’s not what people went with.”
* Regarding the Victory Fund, UM’s push to raise $7 million for projects including an indoor practice facility, James said “there’s been a great initial response” and said UM would start to move forward on those projects “in the near future.”