Sunday, December 7, 2008

The failed experiment that is the ACC Championship Game

Or should I say, the failed experiment at holding it at a neutral site.

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 two three years of this event, but the league and Tampa did a laughable job in promoting this year's game. Absurdly laughable. I saw exactly two billboards in the last three months around the Bay area, two or three commercials, no TV news coverage until game week and heard no radio promotion outside of the sports station. I can just about guarantee you that 95% of the non college-football following Bay area population had no idea the game was going on yesterday.

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 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 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.


Winfield Featherston said...

Yeah, up here in Atlanta, the SEC championship was all the newspapers talked about for 2-3 weeks before the actual event.

All valid arguments above too.

Brian said...

I was at the game too. I think the league has to sack up and admit that they gambled and lost on this Florida ACCCG issue.

Look at a map ... Tampa is pretty much in between Tallahassee and Miami, the two most southern schools in the league. What in the world is the league thinking? That makes just as much sense as having the game played in the Meadowlands because its centrally located between BC and Virginia Tech (the teams with the best ACC record since the last expansion).

Not to mention the ACC is ALWAYS going to play second fiddle in the state of Florida to the SEC. I overheard that some of the locals didn't go to the ACCCG because they wanted to be home in time to watch Florida in the SEC Title game. Playing this game in a state that's attention is diverted away to the SEC + in a freaking Big East football stadium (USF) = a league embarrassment.

At least in North Carolina, you don't have to share the spotlight with other conferences (with all due respect to C-USA champ ECU).

Not to mention, flying down from NYC to rep the Eagles, I had to CONNECT in Charlotte! When I landed in Charlotte, if the game was there instead of Tampa, I was kicking myself because I would have already been home.

If Charlotte doesn't sell out, then I totally agree - put this game on campus.


Add a ninth regular season game and do away with these arbitrary divisions. No one can even remember how this conference is split between the two divisions. Have the two best teams that finish the regular season play in the Championship.

If you think about it, the divisions are skewed towards having greater attendance from Atlantic division schools. FSU, Clemson and NC State have bigger fan bases than anyone on the Coastal side except Virginia Tech. GT the second best fan base? The league has been LUCKY to have the Hokies in this game 3 out of 4 years. Break the division barriers to get the two best teams in this game.

If BC doesn't get back to Tampa next year, then my rooting interest is to see a Duke-Wake ACCCG. Something needs to change drastically for this game and maybe, just maybe, a Duke-Wake championship game in front of 10 fans will finally push the league to take action.

Marcus said...

Charlotte will work if it's VT, UNC, NC St or Clemson in the game. But what about Miami vs. BC? Wake vs. UVA? You're looking at 30,000-40,000 tops in the stands and that looks awful in a 72,000 seat stadium.

Tampa would've worked with FSU-VT or really FSU-anybody. Worked as in 50,000 or so which would look fine on TV and from the playing field.

This game has got to be played on campus. Three of the four tiny schools have too good of a shot to make this game regularly.

Winfield Featherston said...

Problem with putting it on campus is that you have a "Big 6" conference basically accepting defeat that they can't get to the "legit" status they have pushed so hard for. It's embarrassing now matter how you look at it.

Anonymous said...

There probably aren't any perfect answers to where the championship game should be played. I live in Bluefield, WV and, as a Hokie fan, would like to see the game played in Charlotte as it is more central to the conference teams. Even if Tech weren't in the "big show" I would probably attend the game no matter who plays. There are probably a lot of fans with the same feeling.
To the loyal ACC fans, Charlotte is probly the logical location. However, those who continue to trash the conference won't show up anyway.

Lee said...

I think in Charlotte you woudl have "ACC fans" and not just the two teams playing. MD/VA/NC is ACC country. It leads all the major papers and has a fan base outside of people that attended the universities. I think even DC would be a more viable site than Tampa. The city of full of VT/BC/MD/UNC grads that don't often get to see their team play because they are far from campus. The other issue with FLA is you have fans picking between go to FLA for the bowl game or go to FLA for the ACCCG. The bowl game is the obvious choice around new years. A driveable trip to VA/NC/DC for 80% of the schools is a different story...

Marcus said...

The problem with Charlotte is that the game is held on Saturdays in December. UNC, Duke, NCSU, MD and Wake fans - unless their teams are playing - will be more focused on their team's basketball game that day wouldn't you think?.

I do agree that Charlotte is definitely more "ACC Country". If it has to be held at a neutral site, that's the place.

Lee said...

I live outside of DC and am a MD fan. If the game was in Charlotte and MD was playing I would go. If it was in DC I would go regardless of what BBall game was going on.

I'm the biggest BBall fan there is but all the tune up games in the early season don't trump Championship Football. This weekend the only team playing a legitimate basketball game was Duke and they won't be in the hunt for the league title in football anyways.

I think the local promotion would be much greater in "ACC Country" as well. It just makes more sense to have the game geographically central than in FLA so it's easy for FSU/Miami. You would have seen a stadium full of VT fans in Charlotte for sure...

BeantownBC85 said...

Don't blame BC fans. We're a small, Jesuit, Catholic school and I'm sorry if we're not a football factory like State or U. We're the northernmost school, one of the smallest in the conference, and quite frankly it's a little bit of a hike to go from Boston to Tampa. Or Jacksonville. Why not put the game in DC for a bit?

My worry is a lot of people won't show up in Charlotte whenever it happens because of the history in Jax and Tampa. And once 30,000 people fill Charlotte, people will freak out again because NOW we finally got what we wanted, and it's still a crappy attendance. I bet people show up in Charlotte, take 2.

Anthony said...

Sorry BeantownBC:
Boston College should have thought about its size, location, and vast cultural difference with the teams in the ACC. No one made them join. I think the league is getting tired of your excuses.

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