Tampa in 2008 & 2009 and Charlotte in 2010 & 2011, to be precise.
As I was getting ready to sit down and write about the future of the ACC Championship Game (post-failed Jacksonville experiment), the league comes along today and drops the hammer on my line of thinking (I say play the game on campus, but more on that later).
That said, these are the two best options on the table as far as neutral sites go. Tampa Bay is a great area with tons to do (I should know, I live here), and Raymond James Stadium is regarded by many as the best football stadium in the United States. Charlotte, while not as sizzling a destination, is by far the best choice in terms of location to the vast majority of schools. It's a great city in it's own right, and Bank of America stadium is a choice venue as well.
I never understood the choice of Jacksonville from the start. It has historically been a: 1) Florida Gators town, 2) Georgia Bulldogs town, and 3) Florida State Seminoles town, with the Noles only really coming on in the last 15 years or so. Nothing about it screams "ACC!" (well, except for the specious Gator Bowl tie-in). It's a decent city in and of itself, but it's simply not a "major league" city by any stretch of the imagination (pipe down, Jag fans). The Super Bowl hosted there a few years ago was a total mess, the Jaguars have been on the relocation search due to lackadaisical fan support, and it's not a city that's easy to get to from other ACC schools, either by car or plane. It's like a slightly bigger version of Mobile, AL...pleasant enough, but you just don't hold your showcase game there.
While Tampa is certainly not an easy trip by car for anyone but Miami or FSU fans, it's much easier to get flights in and out of the Bay area and it's a much more attractive vacation spot as well. The Tampa Bay metro population is also twice that of Jacksonville, and it's closer to other large Florida population centers (such as the Orlando, Sarasota, and Fort Myers areas). And if it's properly promoted, you'll get upwards of 25,000-30,000 locals in the stands in addition to the participants' fans, unless it's an inexplicable Duke-Wake Forest matchup (sweet Baby Jesus, no).
Charlotte has the advantage of fine tuning their events calendar and festivities schedule over the next few years and I think they'll put on a great show as well.
Before today's announcement, I was going to post my thoughts on how best to host the game. In the long run, I think playing it on campus will turn out to be the best for everyone. The division winner with the best overall record should get to host the title game, which will not only spark additional interest in the final regular season games (especially if a team has locked up their division by the beginning of November) but having the game on campus will provide an added element of excitement surrounding the game, and most certainly in the stadium. Neutral site games such as bowl games and most conference championship games are always kind of sterile, even when the stadium is full. And having the game on campus will most certainly prevent this type of scene from ever happening again:
Thank you Jacksonville!
The ACC has a steep enough hill to climb already in terms of voluminous fan bases. Four of the twelve league schools are private institutions and have enrollments of 10,000 or less. Georgia Tech and Virginia only have 12,000 and 13,000 undergrads respectively. That means that six of the twelve ACC schools have smaller enrollments than nine of the ten Pac 10 programs, ten of the eleven Big Ten programs, eleven of the twelve Big 12 schools, and ten of the twelve SEC schools. When you expound enrollments to alumni, then you see just how far behind most ACC programs are in terms of sheer numbers of viable fans and boosters willing and able to make it to an event like the ACC-CG. Taking all of that into account, placing the game in an apathetic and not-very-easy-to-get-to place like Jacksonville was just a dumb idea.
Still, neither Tampa nor Charlotte can guarantee success. Only in the last ten to fifteen years has the ACC cranked up the football machine, and the already outlined smaller overall fanbase still turns it's attention a tad more toward basketball. One thing is clear - if the game doesn't gain a foothold in either Tampa or Charlotte, holding the game on campus will be the only option left. And that would be just fine.