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Savran: ACC's expansion taints its tradition

Saturday, May 17, 2003

Remember those tests with the "which of the following doesn't belong" questions?

You know ... tangerines, watermelons, screwdriver, apples ... which doesn't belong? Well try this one. North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke, Syracuse, Wake Forest, Florida State, Boston College, Clemson, Maryland, Miami, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest.

Who doesn't belong?

Pick three.

Anyone able to count from one to 10 million fully understands why the Atlantic Coast Conference has become a corporate raider.

About $10 million would be its take from a conference championship football game, although it should also be noted that football doesn't boil the blood along tobacco road the way basketball and NASCAR do.

If Miami ends up playing Syracuse in Charlotte, N.C. or Washington, I don't think a rabid crowd of 70,000 is guaranteed.

Round the corners of the ball and hang baskets on the goal posts, now you're talking sellout.

The ACC believes that in addition to the bonanza of a championship football game, it also will be able to extract extra millions from television now that it has the highest of the high-profile football programs (Miami) under its revival tent.

But when Miami or Florida State plays Duke, Wake Forest or even Boston College, the country, even on this side of the great divide, will yawn benignly. And when Duke plays Wake, you've got Temple vs. Rutgers, southern division.

Plus the networks are beginning to learn that sports properties are becoming less and less profitable.

In other words, you might draw an audience, but even with good ratings, you can't recoup your costs through advertising. Especially in this economy.

The ACC also wanted greater exposure in larger television markets than Raleigh, N.C.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Tallahassee, Fla.

To that end, Miami is a nice catch. But its real objective was to snag Boston, the fifth-largest TV market in the country. And Boston's tentacles generally reach throughout the New England area.

But I've got a news bulletin. People in Boston don't much care about Boston College. Unless Doug Flutie has somehow unearthed another year of eligibility, BC athletics go largely unnoticed up there, and generally get serious attention when there's absolutely nothing else going on.

Just because the games will be on a Boston television station doesn't necessarily mean anybody will watch.

And while a yearly visit from Duke and Carolina in basketball would spark some initial interest, will that defray the extra travel costs incurred by BC or Syracuse?

No matter what the Big East tries, this is going to happen. The ACC wasn't about to conduct a formal vote on expansion unless they already had Miami, Syracuse and Boston College in its hip pocket.

It's like what trial lawyers say: Don't ask a question unless you already know the answer.

All of this leaves Pitt and West Virginia homeless for the time being. No matter which way they turn, the prestige of their respective football programs is going to suffer when the traitorous trio leaves for Tobacco Road.

Pitt will be fine in basketball regardless, because ticket sales at the Petersen Events Center are predicated on how good Pitt is, not on whom it plays. If Pitt maintains its basketball status, games will continue to be sold out.

Being involved in some amalgamation of Conference USA would be just as good a level of basketball as the Big East.

Football is another story, although Pitt might be able to salvage interest by scheduling better non-conference opponents.

Bye-bye Ball State. There will be plenty of those in the conference.

When this hostile takeover is completed, the ACC will have its 12 teams, its championship football game, its millions and its increased exposure.

What it will not have any longer is its identity.

When you think of college basketball, you think of the ACC, you think of Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State within 30 miles of each other. Their geographical rivalries make the Backyard Brawl look downright transcontinental.

When you think of the ACC and you think of the best conference basketball tournament, the passion, the great players and coaches throughout the years.

Now what will we think when Boston College starts a rivalry with Wake Forest?

Or how about Syracuse vs. Clemson? Entirely too much orange.

Some of the best things -- and best things are dwindling rapidly -- about college athletics are the traditions and identities.

With this tainted merger, both tradition and identity are about to take a tremendous beating.


Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WBGG-AM (970).

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