Then There Were 12: Boston College Joins ACC
Posted October 13, 2003 12:05 p.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — After days of rumors, Atlantic Coast Conference leaders decided to invite a 12th member into the league. But Sunday's offer to -- and acceptance by -- Boston College could fracture the ACC's already troubled relationship with the Big East Conference.
The ACC has expanded from nine teams. All three new teams come over from the Big East; the ACC added Miami and Virginia Tech in July.
In a statement Sunday, Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said: "We are are extremely disappointed with Boston College's decision to leave. Our membership is very surprised that the ACC presidents continue to come back into our league for membership."
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Boston College is part of a conspiracy to weaken and destroy the Big East as a competitor for broadcast revenue and other rights. Until the fallout settles, there is no guarantee the ACC will be a 12-team league in 2004.
The ACC's decision last summer to expand to 11 schools marked a significant shift for the conference. It meant the ACC would give up its long-standing practice of scheduling each conference member to play each other. The vote to grow also meant revenues would be split 11 ways instead of nine. But after trying to make a go of an 11-team ACC, school presidents authorized conference Commissioner John Swofford to invite BC.
"Obviously, an 11-team league can work," Swofford said Sunday. "But if you asked our member schools, after working with it for a couple of months, is 11 ideal? I'd expect the answer to be no."
James Barker, Clemson president and head of the ACC's Council of Presidents, said it became apparent recently that an 11-team league was not ideal for the ACC.
"It's almost like a suit, " Barker said. "You put it on and wear it for a while, and then you decide it needs some alterations. In this case, this was true. We began to envision ourselves in the summer as one sized league and we felt an adjustment would be wise to position us for the future."
Boston College and Syracuse were the Big East schools in the ACC's original expansion plans -- along with Miami -- but were voted down in favor of adding the Hurricanes and Hokies. Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State voted against adding Boston College at the time.
But other pro-expansion schools in the ACC kept pushing for another member.
"Our position is we wanted to expand the league which we've done, expand the footprint," Florida State president T.K. Wetherell said. "We wanted those northeast markets, and Boston gives us that opportunity."
The ACC also wanted a lucrative league-championship football game. It had to have a 12th team to get that.
"When Boston College comes into the league, our presidents said today we will have a championship game," Swofford said.
The BC administration accepted the ACC's Sunday offer in fewer than four hours. The vote of ACC presidents was unanimous.
Before the ACC can have a 2004 football championship game, Boston College must first win its release from the Big East.
"Right now, our understanding of the Big East bylaws is that they require of any member that wants to leave 27 months advanced notice," Swofford said.
Boston College could leave immediately by paying a $5 million exit fee.
Initially, ACC schools opposed to expansion cited three reasons -- increased travel, scheduling difficulties, and short-term economic issues. Those were the arguments in June, but since the ACC added Miami and Virginia Tech in July, the issues have changed.
Increased travel remains a concern. But the expansion from nine teams to 11 has changed the character of the league's schedule. Adding one more team now will not matter.
On the economic front, Boston College's addition will not tax the league revenue picture. Staging a championship game will pay for the addition of a 12th team.
ACC schools will lose money in the short term. The ACC took in $87.5 million last year. Divided nine ways, that is $9.7 million per school. The ACC will play the 2004 season under existing TV contracts, so the revenues are similar. But they will now be divided 12 ways. That is why the $8 million championship game is important.
As to how much buzz Sunday's decision to add BC will generate, local sports radio hosts expect to get an earful.
"It will kind of be a surprise to a lot of people who maybe weren't paying attention," said Chris Clark of 850 The Buzz.
Clark will play referee on his show Monday between ACC fans who think expansion is a good idea and those who don't.
"I think there are some people who look to the future and realize this is the direction the ACC needs to go in if it wants to stay one of the premier conferences in the country," he said. "They needed to make the move to 12 because that's a lot of money, a couple million, that's just sitting there on the table, and if you have 11 teams, you're really kind of missing the boat on that championship football payoff."
Clark said Boston College will be a good fit for the ACC.
"It's a lot like Wake Forest in that it's not huge," he said. "It's a private school, and they do hold their academic standards pretty high, and they also field teams in basically all the sports, which is a good point for the ACC. It's an all-sport league."
Clark knows many of his callers won't be convinced.
"There's a lot of traditionalists, especially in this area, Tobacco Road, who don't like to change," he said. "There's no more round-robin format. In basketball, you can't play everybody twice."
That was one of the major attractions of the ACC to a lot of people. By Monday, Clark and many others will know whether fans still think the ACC is attractive.
Asked whether Sunday's announcement ends the ACC's expansion plans, Barker said: "We would never say never, but adding B.C. is clearly a completion of that phase.
"The expansion idea has moved to the back burner," Barker said. "But it's not off the stove."