â†µWhat I will debate is the proposition that the ACC has to compete on â†µany level with a conference like the SEC, a mega-conference approached â†µonly by the Big 12 in terms of national profile and local â†µfervor. The ACC's expansion to 12 teams has, as Tony Barnhart points â†µout here, has been far more successful than you might imagine. The â†µrevenue is up from $21 million annually to $37.6 million last year, â†µthe conference sent 10 teams to bowl games last year, and there's a â†µnew television contract on the way. â†µâ†µ
â†µThat new television contract is what Mr. College Football believes is â†µso crucial to the ACC, particularly because of the long shadow cast by â†µthe SEC's massive TV deal with ESPN. How massive? ESPN has never â†µco-branded with a sports league before this deal, something which â†µmeans nothing to fans like me, but is a really big deal to suits who â†µthink a lot about these things. Not with the NFL, not with MLB, not â†µwith any of them: only the SEC gets their circular seal merged with â†µESPN, making the Hillbilly Hollywood League something beyond an â†µofficial partner and something closer to a cornerstone product. â†µâ†µ
â†µThe ACC could try to compete on this level, sure. They could also try â†µto package lacrosse to Chinese state television for $18 billion a â†µyear, but that's not happening. Realistically, the ACC's future as a â†µfootball conference lies in shoring up local support for its teams, â†µthe very kind of insanely dedicated local support that turned the SEC â†µinto the financial behemoth it is today. Start from the ground up, â†µrather than from the top down, by making games even more affordable, â†µadvertising locally, and generating buzz for the second favorite sport â†µof the conference. It will be an uphill battle, and take decades, but â†µit would ultimately yield more long-term gains than doubling down on a â†µlarge television contract only to have ample screen time for viewers â†µto see half-full stadiums and mediocre football. â†µâ†µ
â†µFan-friendly marketing won't do the trick alone, though. One â†µparticularly crucial step for the conference to improve its overall â†µstatus among college football's BCS mafia families: make better â†µcoaching hires to improve and liven up the product on the field. The â†µACC has suffered tremendously from a lack of interesting football like â†µthe pass-happy, aggressive style one might see in the Big â†µ12 on any given weekend. Instead, the style of ball in the ACC mirrors â†µthe pro-style muddles of the Eastern Corridor's first football â†µlove, the NFL, and is taught by a hoary crew of respected elder â†µcoaches whose combined voltage reading on the excitement scale reads â†µsomewhere around zero: Friedgen, Davis, O'Brien ... all fine coaches â†µwith demonstrated records of success, but not exactly the crew of â†µjolly mercenaries the SEC has sailing the seas at the moment, and not â†µexactly a group working on football's cutting edge of strategy and â†µinnovation. (See: Bowden, Bobby.) â†µâ†µ
â†µWhen the time comes to replace one, ACC schools should shun some of â†µthe conservatism hampering their searches and go with a younger or â†µslightly less conventional choice for the position. It worked for â†µGeorgia Tech with Paul Johnson, an option coach whose attack â†µnot only worked in the ACC but also restored the Jackets to conference â†µrespectability. It would work just fine for another school when the â†µtime comes, too. Or you could just hire a retread, of course. That's â†µalways an option in the ACC, it seems. â†µâ†µ
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