In the last article we took a trip through the uncertain two seasons of the Hokies’ issues dealing with the churn in the conference alignments that looks to be shaping up. The upshot of the poll was interesting and illuminating from the perspective that nearly a third of you are just going to root for the Hokies no matter what, and slightly more than half of you realize that things are out of the direct control of even the Athletic Director, and whether or not the team wins some games and picks some boogers, it’s largely out of anyone’s hands as to which conference the Hokies will belong beyond 2025. It’s not a “negative thing,” by the way, it’s just a recognition of the realities of 21st century college football.
What’s a Conference for? What’s a Real Champion? Somebody Please Tell the ACC!
This piece was initially predicated on examining the ACC’s efforts to increase its attractiveness to something, or some program (maybe programs) to sweeten the pot for an event or make things ‘interesting’ for the fans, or… The possibilities are increasingly obtuse, and exceedingly difficult to explain in simple terms. The reality is that the ACC, with 14 active programs, has decided to cast aside it’s divisional format and throw in for a round robin limited schedule to determine a conference champion. There is a serious problem with the move, and a fundamental issue of program fairness, and we’ll talk about that below, but it’s really useful to look at just exactly why the ACC would detonate its orderly divisional format to go to a firehouse championship format that pits a “number 1” team against a “number 2” team for the conference championship.
Why? Notre Dame. Please! Pretty Please with Sugar Substitute on Top!
The biggest problem that the ACC has been having since the acceptance of Notre Dame for all other sports besides football is finding a way to correct the blunder. Look, non-revenue sports are called ‘non-revenue’ for a reason. Men’s basketball makes some money, yes, but it is functionally dwarfed by football at this level. Men’s basketball money blows around outside of the teams in the bored winter betting of “March Madness” and contributes nothing directly to the actual programs. It is unquestionably football that brings in the cash, and the ACC has been in the hunt to add that Notre Dame football cash flow and audience to the ACC Network lineup. So, why is that relevant to detonating the divisional alignment of the conference?
(Pure Speculation Zone to Follow, this is opinion, but not wild speculation.)
There are probably two reasons for the move. First, is that Notre Dame is a probable perennial championship game participant which brings revenue and prestige into the ACC Championship game which has become boring, of late. Which then jumps right into the second reason which is the league is fundamentally unbalanced with a 11-13 team fluctuating peloton of average to above average teams vying for the chance to be slaughtered on TV by Clemson. “Look! Gee! We led at half-time by 3!” might be the rallying cry of every ACC Coastal program since Dabo finally lined up the Clemson stars in the mid-teens.
In the case of the first reason, Notre Dame is the odd football program out of a balanced conference situation. If they were added to an Atlantic conference, then the championship game would still be between the “wrong” other. The other being the winner of the currently perennially mediocre Coastal Division. Folks, that’s not a big draw for audience share for “The Mouse.” The addition of Notre Dame to the Coastal, would probably result in a more/or less permanent Coastal title for the Irish. Maybe one or two programs would challenge, but the math just didn’t work out. Besides, the ACC would need to add another program to the other conference when adding Notre Dame to balance the league and schedule. Which would also mean an even less meaningful championship of either division. It also would mean that the Irish would lose at least one or possibly two traditional non-conference rivalry games with huge audience draws. Notre Dame Athletics and Boosters (who are wildly wealthy) have no use for that formula.
There were a couple of options available to fix the problem, and whether or not they were explored in depth is a matter for the secret blather behind doors and expensive umbrella drinks. The ACC could have recruited another program and resorted their divisions to north and south vs. east and west. We covered that possibility last summer. That obviously didn’t happen, and the next step would have been a shuffling of programs between the existing, now completely ephemeral divisions, into randomly distributed divisions. This situation would rebalance the league slightly but offered no real boost for Notre Dame’s non-conference scheduling demands.
In walks the big move to save something thought to fix the permanent 2nd and 3rd tier advertising revenues. And more importantly make it possible to attract the big money from Notre Dame to the ACC football lineup. The bright idea was to do away with the divisions and go to a round robin formula of scheduling. So, in essence, the ACC will have no battle of champions, merely a battle of statistical ultimate vs. penultimate finishers. There are big essays to be written over this, but the reality behind the move seems to be largely a cynical ploy to lessen the burden of playing all of the other teams in your division for the chance to play for the championship. There are many analysts, both professional and amateur who will sing the praises of this move, but they also tend to sing the praises of polling over results on the field for who is best, anyway.
The end result of the ACC’s detonation of its schedule is that Notre Dame football still shows up as a non-conference game and Notre Dame athletics still makes more money than most of the ACC programs combined as the Irish giggle at the lame move.
Probability here: The Irish have a huge Comcast Sportsnet (NBC) contract that will be renegotiated soon. The B1G (Big 10) just signed on the dotted line for a monster B1G network deal with NBC/Comcast – the advertising is already starting in preparation for the first big season. The Irish have a contract expiration and renegotiation coming, and there is just no way that either NBC or Notre Dame misses out on that huge monster B1G cashflow with tons of channels on Comcast networks… The expectation, here, is that Notre Dame is a shoe-in for the expanded B1G super conference.
The ACC will have stirred up its divisions and hacked up its traditional rivalries for nothing and as proven nothing in the meantime.
Wandering in the Revenue Desert – Some Creatures Evolve for Life in the Desert
With the unfortunate collapse of the ACC effort to lure Notre Dame into the conference, what is likely to happen given the detonation of the league order, and the removal of the functional on-field championship? We know, that a) 2023 and likely 2024 are going to remain unchanged in more than scheduling shifts and b) conference departures are going to be dependent on breaking the revised “Grant of Rights” agreement between the ACC, its programs, and ESPN. (Folks, that’s a court fight in which high powered attorney’s fight it out in corporate conference rooms, and possibly court houses.) Either way it goes (split or no-split), the ACC is operating in an obsolete set of contracts that benefits only the bottom half (plus or minus one program) of the conference members. For the “Magnificent Seven” to work it had to be at least eight, or better nine. Right now, any proposed agreement to void the Grant of Rights and the current ACC Network contract would probably require eight or nine teams to object to the current situation and file suit. Any “settlement” to allow for voluntary separations would still have to be agreed to by more than half the programs. The “Less-than-Magnificent Nine” benefit far and above their natural capabilities in the current deal. Who from them is going to vote for that?
One of these three things are going to happen to the ACC: 1) Nothing, 2) losing up to six top teams with an effort to fill gaps, or 3) reorganization and merger. These are placed in some form of rational order with the most likely outcome first.
Nothing Happens – And That means N-O-T-H-I-N-G.
Right now, the reason for mentioning “Nothing” first is plainly obvious. The current contractual situation is so expensive, complex, and binding, that even the most powerful lawyers won’t be able to untangle it which would allow for an orderly departure and reorganization funding. There will be ill feelings, lawsuits filed, and even some potential forced departures under adverse circumstances where programs work out individual settlements from various positions, but those departures are unlikely to be more than two or possibly three teams. Realistically with in the “Nothing” scenario, only Clemson and possibly Florida State would have enough muscle and SEC draw to gain on a straight bum’s rush split, sue, and settle deal. An ACC without those two teams isn’t crippled, but it does lose a huge amount of upper tier cache. It would also leave the bottom of the bulk of the Magnificent 7 holding a bag that is far too expensive to fill. A 12-team ACC might just live for a while, in the grand mediocrity of Tier 2 conferences. The long-term media money prospects will dwindle, and the obvious obsolescence of their exposure will cause a fairly rapid collapse of the football programs leaving them hovering between the middle 40 and bottom 40 on the overall program viability chart.
Survive a Loss of Parts with Searching Teams
This would be a non-expansion oriented pure survival move that would replace departing teams with new teams from other leagues but not execute a merger with any group of teams from other conferences. This scenario makes sense if the ACC is only replacing two or three teams at the top. No one is going to write home and brag about the conference, but it would survive intact with the ACC name in place, and most of the ACC teams. It would leave the ACC in about the same place as the Nothing Scenario, but with two or three new members to make things interesting with levelized talent and a more competitive push for the ACC Championship. That might net a single bid for the 12-team NCAA playoff, or it might put the ACC in that weird 6-team selection pool/wild card pile. Either way the distinction is that the ACC might be more interested in maintaining its conference image within other sports even if football is the king of revenue.
Merge for Tier 2 or Die of Nothingness
This configuration might attract some PAC-12 and/or Big XII attention for enough programs to form a 20-team middle tier conference with the bulk of the ACC and a few from the other former P5 conferences. The current amorphous configuration is attractive for doing that particular organizational finagle. Which teams would show up to present the eight programs necessary to complete the super conference is largely a debatable point. There would be competition from the B1G for the better programs in the disintegrating conferences. This is where the Whit Babcocks of the world would prefer that Tech not be involved, and already bolted for the B1G based super.
If Something Does Happen to Break Up the Band
The most likely outcome, other than ‘nothing,’ is a renegotiated media rights package prompted by an orderly merger and re-incorporation as a new conference of 20 teams. That super conference would wealthier and better stocked with talent than most of the Group of 5 programs, but the available talent pool and only midgrade earnings of the programs in the conference will definitely limit its media exposure. The best thing that could come of the renegotiation is a bonus revenue distribution based on a formula containing audience share. The question for Hokie Nation is where do we fit in to all of this?
It is going to be hard for most Hokie fans to swallow, but let’s look at the facts in this case, not fond wishes. Most analysts realize that in the 2nd decade of the 21st century, Virginia Tech is a second-Tier team in good seasons, and a third-tier team in most. They’d have to win more, consistently, to be regarded as solidly in the 2nd Tier. If the program appeared in the 1st tier, it’d be a perennial cupcake challenge for most of the bigs. Tech would be bragging about scoring a touchdown or two against an overwhelming opponent and going ballistic over the occasional huge upset. We’d be better than some teams in the B1G, but not better than most. We would have a shot at much better talent, that could change the status, but moving to the B1G is more than a rebuild effort. It’s a complete restructuring of the program from nearly the ground up. A healthy well recruited and funded Virginia Tech Hokie program would probably be in positive win territory and decent bowl shape after a few years of restructuring, but it’s doubtful that it would compete for limited national playoff spots in a scheme of wild cards. The dissolution of the Power 5 and reforming into Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, and Tier4 conferences of 20 teams each would still leave the Tier 1 championship out of reach.
That is why, short of college football walking away from the current conference and FBS championship scheme there is little that will change in the grander sense of the National Championship. It will remain a trophy that the absolute elite uber wealthy programs overstocked with oodles of talent compete for at the end of the season. Tech isn’t anywhere near, and is never going to be near, that magical pool of cash money.
It’s Your Turn
If these don’t suit your fancy, sign up to comment and hack away, it’s only guesswork at this point. Your opinion is as good as any.
What does Virginia Tech end up doing?
This poll is closed
Tech and the other Magnificent 7 get two more teams to give the group enough impact to get the grant of rights issue settled. Tech moves to the B1G Super Conference and starts pretty much from scratch in a much better conference with much better money.
Tech ends up staying in the ACC with UVA and everyone else but FSU and Clemson. The ACC stays largely intact as a Tier 2/Tier 3 level small conference with only the ability to attract lower-level programs with disadvantageous media contracts to join.
Tech stays in the ACC which merges with teams from the Big XII and PAC 12 to form a Tier 2 20-team conference. The money is good, the competition is even, and the new merged conference is much more enjoyable for the fans. It thrives and never looks back.
After some sorting, the current conference structure of the FBS appeals to the feds to reorg the NCAA and fix the money issue between programs. Tech will be in a position to choose where it goes in the new college league. It just won’t be the ACC.
It’s July, and time to start getting ready for the schedule breakdowns and roster reviews. First up will be the Risk Analysis for the Opening kickoff on September 3rd. We break the schedule down in 3rds as usual, and then glue up the first Risk Chart, before plunging into the roster for 2023.