Could Tech-to-the-ACC Ever Happen?
by Will Stewart,, 7/13/99

Conventional wisdom says that Tech will never be in the ACC, so forget about it.  But after studying the matter a little, HC's webmaster envisions a scenario where it could indeed happen.

With all the discussion the past few weeks about whether Miami would bolt to the ACC and bring about the downfall of the Big East in the process, a number of scenarios have been bandied about with regards to ACC expansion. Those scenarios almost never include Virginia Tech joining the ACC.

I, for one, wonder why. Sure, popular opinion holds that the Hokies will never get in the ACC, and we should just forget about that ever happening. Our own athletic director has said publicly on many occasions that it'll never happen.

As the argument goes, we fit geographically and academically with the ACC, and we have a long history of competing with many of the teams in the ACC, especially the University of Virginia … but none of that matters, because the key point is, we don’t deliver a new media market to the league, and that's what counts when it comes to expansion.

That's why ACC expansion always includes various scenarios where Miami, Syracuse, Boston College, and even Pitt or Rutgers might join the league, but never Tech. The reason is that each of those schools delivers a new media market of considerable size to the ACC.

That's conventional wisdom. My own thinking runs a little different. But I'm no fool. I still center my arguments around the key factor, which is money.

In the past, I've always thought that the only way Tech would gain entry into the ACC is if the SEC ever showed a serious interest in bringing the Hokies into the league. Then, purely as a defensive move to protect its Virginia market, the ACC might bring the Hokies into the fold. As much as I love the SEC, I think that given a choice between the ACC and the SEC, Tech would choose to be in the ACC, where the budgets are similar. You don't see ACC schools paying their football coaches $2 million a year like they do at Florida.

These days, though, if the ACC were to expand to 12 teams, I think the Hokies could sneak in the back door as the twelfth team. And I think the reasons would be fiscal, not philosophical.

Some Assumptions

Be prepared that the following discussion will not blow you away as being well-researched and well-calculated. In many ways, it's rather simplistic. This is more of a "gut-feeling" analysis that presents a way in which Virginia Tech might indeed one day wind up in the ACC.

I don't pretend to know a lot about the ACC, but I do know a little about some of the schools and what motivates them. I've been making an effort to educate myself a little lately, in order to properly assess the threat that the ACC poses to steal Miami from the Big East, and along the way, I've learned some things that I think work in Tech's favor.

First of all, there are nine teams presently in the ACC: Maryland, Virginia, Duke, Wake Forest, NC State, UNC, Clemson, Georgia Tech, and Florida State. If the ACC wants to expand, seven of those nine schools have to approve the expansion.

I'm going to assume the following:

  • ACC expansion to 12 teams, which will occur by adding three teams all at once, so each team would have to receive 7 votes.
  • the schools that would be offered ACC membership would accept it if offered. It has been argued that Syracuse wouldn't accept it, but let's assume they would, and that Miami would, as well.
  • for whatever reason, the schools that are more resistant to the idea (such as Duke) feel that it's unavoidable, and the decision has in general been made to expand, and pretty much the only decision left is what teams to pick.

I make that last statement because, if basketball-centered schools like Duke and Wake, with weak football programs, decide they don't want to expand, and another school like Maryland is opposed to the idea also, then no team gets 7 out of 9 votes, because 3 teams are already voting no to everyone. So in order to even envision expansion, we have to assume that Duke, Maryland, and Wake, who I think are normally opposed to the idea, are willing to consider it.

Let's make some assumptions about what schools support expansion, which ones don't, and which ones might, under the right conditions.

Supports expansion: Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, and NC State. I'm assuming that those five schools will pretty much vote yes to any team that makes sense. In other words, they would vote yes to any combination of teams from the pool of Miami, Syracuse, Boston College, WVU, Tech, and maybe even Pitt or Rutgers, although those last two are not likely.

I say that those schools support expansion because they have solid football programs and are probably not hung up on treating basketball as the main, untouchable, dominant sport of the ACC. NCSU might be, but certainly not to the degree of Duke and UNC, so I'll group NCSU with the pro-expansion schools.

If you assume five schools in the pro-expansion group, then a good candidate like Miami, Syracuse, or VT only needs to get two of the remaining four votes from among Wake Forest, Duke, UNC, and Maryland.

Supports expansion if conditions are right: UNC, Maryland. Although UNC is steeped in basketball tradition, my own personal feeling (based on as many facts as you can fit on the head of a pin) is that UNC is a university that strives to excel at everything, and would like to advance their football program and their overall athletic programs, and is not really hung up on what expansion "will do to basketball." I think as long as the Tar Heels can play the hated Dookies twice every year in hoops, they'll be open to suggestions for expansion.

Maryland? Their football is suffering, but I'm sure they would like to boost it significantly. They, too, probably aren't too hung up on the ACC's basketball tradition, not to the point where they'll let it stand in the way of progress of the overall conference.

Opposed to expansion: Duke, Wake Forest. Coach K has expressed his opposition to expansion, and what Coach K says, goes. People tell me Wake isn't exactly swimming in money, and doesn't want to fly their non-revs all over the eastern seaboard, and they don't want to add three teams that will just continue to pound them in football. Things are looking pretty tight at Wake financially. I think the only way you can expand is if you force it down Duke and Wake's throats. If expansion is inevitable, I think they may vote yes on certain teams to have some say-so in the matter, but overall, they'd just like to avoid the whole thing. Since they only represent two votes, they can't stop expansion by themselves.

How It Might Go

Given the assumptions above, let's assume that the ACC presidents are gathering to vote on expansion. The mood is generally pro-expansion. For whatever reason, the time is right, and the issue is getting a serious look-see. There are a number of schools on the table: Miami, Syracuse, Tech, WVU, Boston College, Pitt, Rutgers (basically, the entire Big East, except for Temple). Let's also say that Louisville is on the table.

ECU is not on the table, well, because, and any schools from the SEC that have been bandied about on message boards and in the press are not on the table, because, well, it is the SEC, and you'd have to be nuts to leave it. So we're looking at Big East schools and Louisville.

The voting begins.

First team up: Miami.

Yes votes: Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, UNC, and NC State. That's six, and only one more is needed. Maryland, Wake and Duke aren't happy about it, because the extra travel costs present a big hit to their budgets, but at least one of them is sold on the idea that Miami brings a national reputation that will boost the value of the ACC TV contract to offset the travel costs. So at least one of them votes yes, and Miami is in.

Second team up: Syracuse.

Yes votes: once again, Virginia, Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech, UNC, and NC State. Again, only one more vote is needed, and one of the remaining three (Duke, Wake, MD) is convinced to say yes, because Syracuse (1) has great basketball tradition and (2) is perceived as delivering the New York market. They add value to the TV contract and to the basketball league that offsets the increased travel costs for non-revs. So Syracuse is in.

There is one more team to go.

How Virginia Tech Gets In

From this point on, things start to get contentious and sticky. As the remaining teams come up for consideration (Boston College, Tech, WVU, Pitt, Rutgers, and Louisville) getting the seven required votes becomes much trickier and much more difficult.

The swing votes of Maryland, Wake, Duke, and perhaps UNC will determine which team is the twelfth team. And among those teams, I think UNC is more likely to vote yes than any of the others, because UNC has more money than the others, due mainly to a healthier football program. So UNC will be more likely to vote yes before the others.

Therefore, in my opinion, the true swing votes are Maryland, Duke, and Wake. If you want to get in the ACC as the last of twelve teams, one of them has to say yes.

There are two things that will make them say yes: if you can add value to the TV contract (like Miami and Syracuse), or you have a great basketball program that would fit well in the ACC (like Syracuse).

Among the remaining teams, none of them can deliver either one of those items at a high enough level to satisfy Wake, Duke, and Maryland. WVU, Pitt, Rutgers, and Virginia Tech can't offer either one. So they're not attractive on those terms.

That leaves Louisville and Boston College. You can argue that BC adds the Boston market, but they're just not strong enough in football to actually capture that market, and their basketball team is down in the dumps. The Eagles are close, but not quite.

Louisville was once a national power in basketball, but in case you haven't noticed, those days are over. Their football program is growing, and has a nice new stadium, but they're just not there yet. Like BC, Louisville is close, but not quite.

So on the criteria of TV contract value and/or basketball prowess, none of the remaining schools quite fits the bill like Miami and Syracuse do.

So it's time to turn to other factors to break the tie among those remaining teams, and that, my friends is where Virginia Tech separates from the pack, because they can offer two things that none of the other schools can:

Reduced Travel Costs

Unlike any of the other teams being considered, including Syracuse and Miami, Tech offers a school that is within driving distance of almost every other school that is presently in the ACC. Wake, Duke, Maryland, NC State, Virginia, UNC, NCSU, Clemson, and even Georgia Tech can throw, say, their softball team into a van and drive to Blacksburg, instead of having to (aargh!) fly them. Louisville, WVU, BC, Pitt, et al can't offer that cost-savings measure.

You're Wake Forest, and you've just voted Miami and Syracuse into your conference, and with them comes a serious ballooning of your travel budget. But they (Miami and SU) cancel it out by adding value to the TV contract and/or the basketball league. The other schools can't offer that, but man, Virginia Tech sure is easy and cheap to get to. Point, Hokies.

Extra Football Gate Revenue

There's something else Tech offers that BC, Pitt, and company don't offer: butts in the seats on Saturday.

Wake, Maryland, and Duke, who are weaklings in football, desperately need fans in the seats to increase revenue. And they won't get that from BC, Pitt, Rutgers, etc. Maryland would get traveling fans from WVU, but Wake and Duke wouldn't.

All three schools would get tons of Hokies in their seats when they host Virginia Tech. Wake and Duke may get as many as 10,000 Hokies to visit, and at $25 a pop, that’s a cool quarter million each time they host the Hokies. BC and Pitt don't bring that to the table.

Maryland might get as many as 20,000 Hokies to visit, since they're close to Northern Virginia. At $25 a ticket, that's half a million dollars in gate revenue. That's serious bucks.

The Conclusion

Once the ACC adds Syracuse and Miami and goes to 11 teams, the TV markets and/or basketball prowess just aren't there among the remaining candidates for ACC expansion to 12 teams. So other factors become the difference, and that's where Tech shines in relation to WVU, BC, Pitt, etc.

The Hokies offer vastly reduced travel costs over the other teams under consideration, and Tech fans can fill seats throughout the states of North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and even South Carolina and Georgia in a fashion that BC, Pitt, and company can't even dream of.

Folks, one day, the ACC may sit down and decide to go to twelve teams, and I think the first two (Miami and Syracuse) will be easy to decide upon, but when it comes time to pick that third team, the decreased travel costs and increased gate revenues that Tech offers to the ACC may swing those tough-to-get Maryland, Duke, and Wake votes in the Hokies' favor. And Virginia Tech may very well become the twelfth team in the ACC.

I wish I had the time to sit down and research the numbers and put together an argument full of hard facts to prove out this gut feeling that I have. But my purpose in writing this article wasn't so much as to convince you that this scenario will unfold, but rather, to spark the idea in your mind that it could.

If it ever comes to pass, remember, you heard it here first at HokieCentral. If not, well then, I'm just another guy who wrote one of many articles about conference realignment.


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