After demonstrating that football is bigger than basketball at UNC (11/27/06), I will now undertake a much easier task: to show, two and a half years into the new and improved Atlantic Coast Conference, the many benefits expansion has brought to us, the sports fans of the Atlantic coast region.
More national publicity. The gun-related events of Virginia Tech and University of Miami football players alone have brought more press coverage than the stellar academic and athletic performances of all the so-called Olympic sport athletes at all the original ACC schools combined. Who cares about an academic All-American at UNC setting conference records in the 200 meter fly or a Wake Forest sophomore scoring a hat-trick in field hockey when you can be reading about ex-Hokie QB Marcus Vick allegedly brandishing a handgun in a McDonald's parking lot, or a University of Miami football player allegedly "returning fire" after his teammate is shot in the buttocks?
More parity. When Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech joined the ACC as national football powers, they sensed immediately the imbalance they could create in the basketball-oriented league, consequently they responded responsibly by becoming mediocre. Now Wake Forest and Georgia Tech can play for a berth in the Orange Bowl, and with further parity, next year it could be Duke and UNC -- if they hadn't been put in the same division!
More fairness. With the elimination of the double-round-robin format in basketball, in which every team played each other twice, once on each home court, basketball immediately became fairer, giving lesser teams a chance to compete against the so-called national powers. A great example is in women's basketball in which Duke, UNC and Maryland all went to the Final Four last year and started this season ranked one, two and three in the national polls. This hardly seems fair to other teams who would likely lose to each of them and have no chance of finishing better than fourth in the conference -- but not with expansion! Florida State, which is currently unranked in the national polls, got to play Duke, UNC and Maryland each one time -- and all in Tallahassee. With a little expansive luck, the Lady Seminoles could have finished first in the ACC.
Bigger arenas. Although BC, Virginia Tech and Miami don't have large basketball venues themselves (their arenas are actually rather small by ACC standards), because conference championship tickets need to be divided 12 ways instead of nine, the men's basketball conference championship will likely be held only in indoor football stadiums from now on out. Fans will now have the marvelous opportunity to watch basketball games in football stadiums, something that up until now only Syracuse fans and Final Four attendees had had the pleasure of experiencing.
Less boring repetition. Schools don't have to play the same teams year after year anymore. For example, in football Wake Forest and NC State had played each other every year since a pig skin really was the skin of pig raised on the State College campus. Now they get to skip years which means both teams’ fans also get to rest from the tiresome competitive banter before, during and after these innovative fallow seasons. Instead they get to meet teams from distant places that they had never played before and begin building new century-long rivalries.
Wider media exposure. First, the ACC captured media markets of Boston and Miami. No longer do Bostonians even care about the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins or Patriots, being totally consumed by the big, upcoming Eagles/Yellow Jackets game -- in whatever sport. Likewise in the Miami metropolitan area, the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins may soon disband as fans and media alike are completely enthralled with the next contest in the historic (since 2005) Hurricane/Cavalier rivalry. Also the ACC now has a complete corner on the coveted Blacksburg media market.
Expansion’s success leads me to recommend to ACC Commissioner John Swofford approaching the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals as the lucky thirteenth member. Although it would a little unconventional to add an admittedly professional team, not only would the Bengals bring the southcentral Ohio radio and TV markets but their league-leading publicity generating roster of nine players arrested in the last nine months.
DID YOU KNOW? (Random facts that fell out of the fact-checkers file.) John Swofford, who came to UNC as a quarterback but was moved to defensive back, once listed in the football media guide as his favorite song, according to my wife's memory from 38 years ago, Melanie's "Brand New Key" (also known as "The Roller Skate Song").
Gary D. Gaddy enrolled at Boston University, not Boston College, for the fateful school year of 1969-70, attending exactly one sporting event (not counting anti-war riots and be-ins), a football game in an almost empty stadium -- to watch a Terrier team that went 9-1 for the season.
A version of this column first appeared in the Chapel Hill Herald, Thursday March 1, 2007. Copyright 2007 Gary D. Gaddy