Logistically and culturally, the ACC is not equipped as a conference to fill up NFL stadiums on a week's notice. It just isn't. Even the Big XII, with all of it's traditional powers and larger schools, rarely sells out their title game. But it's still a respectable event.
What are the traditional (or should I say "national") football powers in the ACC? Florida State and Miami, of course. Virginia Tech, sure. And then....Clemson? I guess. Georgia Tech? Now we're stretching. Only at four league schools can you safely say that football is king...FSU, Miami, Clemson and Virginia Tech. Georgia Tech, Virginia and Boston College shift depending on which program (football or hoops) is better. UNC, NC State, Duke, Wake Forest and Maryland are clearly basketball-centered schools and always will be. The vast majority of schools in the SEC and Big XII are football first. That's problem one.
Problem two is enrollment and alumni base. Four of the league's twelve schools - BC, Miami, Duke, Wake - are private, with undergraduate enrollments under 10,000. Not only does that equate to smaller fan bases, but those schools do not have the deep roots in the actual state they're located in like State U does. The small, private schools draw students from a national pool of applicants, and in terms of athletic following they generally don't draw in the unaffiliated locals as much as the state schools do. Four other schools - UNC, UVA, Clemson and Ga Tech - have enrollments well below 20,000. Only four ACC universities have over 20,000 in undergrad population and two of them - NC State and Maryland - have zero national image in football. That leaves the ACC with just two "big" state universities with "big" football followings - Florida State and Virginia Tech. The Big XII and SEC each have 5 to 7 schools on that level, by comparison.
Problem three is logistics. The league stretches from Miami to Boston, with a cluster of four schools roughly in the geographical center in North Carolina. As for the other eight universities, BC is several hours from Maryland, which is a few hours from UVA which is a few hours from Va Tech. Clemson is three hours from Ga Tech, which is five hours from FSU, which is eight hours from Miami. Charlotte is really the only somewhat centrally located city. Holding the first three (and with next year, four) title games at the southern end of the league map eliminated far too many fanbases from making an easy trip to get there. Tampa is 760 miles from Blacksburg and 1360 miles from Boston.
Problem four is promotion. I don't know how the ACC or the city of Jacksonville handled the first
Problem five is the lack of a national title contender playing in the game. No team has entered this game undefeated and only once has a team entered the game with just one overall loss (Virginia Tech '05, who proceeded to lose to 7-4 FSU). This year saw a 9-3 team playing an 8-4 squad...in a rematch. The game has to mean something other than an Orange Bowl bid at least once every other year for it to gain traction as an "event".
Next year, unless there's a national title contending FSU, Miami, Clemson or Georgia Tech squad playing, you will see a 3/4 empty stadium again. Charlotte may prove different in 2011 and 2012 but then with the ACC's luck there will finally be that sought after FSU-Miami rematch and the Noles will bring only 30,000 fans while the Canes will bring 12 people.
The solution is obvious...play the game on campus. The ACC is burning bridges now by leaving cities in debt after hosting the game (hello Jacksonville). The game should be held at the home stadium of the team with the better ACC record. If both teams have the same record, use head-to-head as a tiebreaker. If they haven't played yet, use the better overall record. After that, rock-paper-scissors for all I care. Holding the game on campus guarantees better attendance, a better atmosphere and familiar travel arrangements for the visiting team's fans. It cuts the travel cost almost entirely for one team and it's followers. Personally, as an FSU fan, I'd rather play Georgia Tech in Atlanta or Tallahassee for all the marbles than in Jacksonville or Charlotte.
After yesterday's atmosphere, I have little desire to go to next year's game here in Tampa. And I'm the freakin' ACC football blogger.