Hey, y'all! Only ninety-nine days till the 2012 season kicks off! In reality, that means really only a little more than two months until camp opens, and it actually starts to FEEL like football season. Y'know, it'll be nice to see players in pads again, running through drills. This off-season has been so quiet, amiright?
Joking aside, much like last summer, the college football world as we know it seems on the precipice of major upheaval. Last year, the long-term viability of the Big East and Big XII were questioned; this year, the ACC – whose invitations to the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University contributed to the continental reorganization of the Big East – now finds itself at the center of attention.
Florida State – or at the very least, members of the FSU Board of Trustees – has been clear about its intentions regarding the state of their conference affiliation, and the ACC seemingly is no longer a part of that equation. With Florida State and the Big XII not-so-subtly courting each other, discussions about the sustainability of the ACC in a post-FSU world have become popular. If we are to take our Twitter streams seriously (and we shouldn’t), FSU won’t be moving to the Big XII alone; there seems to be agreement that Clemson would joined the Seminoles in the new Big XII.
If the winner of both the first (FSU in ’05) and most recent (Clemson in ’11) ACC Championship Games depart for the Big XII, what will become of the ACC? The prognosis is grim; using viewership of football and men’s basketball, Tomahawk Nation has compiled data illustrating that FSU and Clemson accounted for almost a quarter of the ACC’s value (24.7% total; 31.3% football viewership only) in 2011. The loss of these schools – and their accompanying viewership, cannot be replaced by simple inserting Syracuse and Pittsburgh into the conference lineup in 2012, especially in term of the gridiron. Which brings us to another uncomfortable question: will the ACC learn from the mistakes of the Big East and allow for compromise between football-centric and basketball-centric schools?
Virginia Tech is a football school. Eight consecutive 10-win seasons, four-time ACC Champs, Lunch Pail defense, blah blah blah…there is little need to reiterate the accomplishments of Frank Beamer in the past two decades. As of now, the ACC is a respectable football conference. Remove FSU and Clemson, and this is no longer the case. If FSU and Clemson bolt for the Big XII, the only schools remaining that can claim ACC titles since the conference’s expansion in 2004 are Virginia Tech (’04, ’07, ’08, ’10) and Wake Forest (’06). The newly instituted playoff system is making college football trend towards the forming of super-conferences (As someone has noted elsewhere, this is a demonstration of conference CONSOLIDATION, not expansion), and an ACC without Florida State and Clemson is the odd conference out.
Virginia Tech – IF Florida State and Clemson eschew the ACC for the Big XII – should seek out membership in the Southeastern Conference. If school administrators want the football program to continue to keep up with the Jones’, than the SEC is the ONLY path to continued gridiron relevance.
Whether we choose to acknowledge it on Saturday afternoons, college football is a business, so let’s look at the fiscal benefits of SEC membership. As reported earlier, the new ESPN-ACC agreement allows for an increase in revenue across the board, but these gains pale in comparison to the numbers already enjoyed by SEC members…and the SEC is due up for renegotiation of its deal with ESPN soon. This increase in revenue will help offset any expenses incurred when changing conference membership (re: $20 million ACC exit fee).
As a member of the ACC, Virginia Tech’s Athletic Department has done a commendable job staying in the black annually. USA Today reports that in 2011, Virginia Tech was ranked thirty-second amongst all institutions (Second in the ACC behind UVA) in AD revenue, and operated with a net gain of $4.3 million. It is interesting to note the discrepancy in net gain between the years during which the Hokies earned a BCS berth ($9.6 million in ’07, $5.3 million in ’08, $7.8 million in ’10, and $4.3 million in ’11) relative to non-BCS berth seasons ($3.3 million in 2006 and $1.9 million in ’09). Membership in the SEC would lead to an increase in “Other Revenue” going forward.
Last September, I wrote the following:
But what about the other alternative? Should we bolt for the SEC if they come calling? Consider this. Let's say we are offered the 14th spot. Presumably we get enter into the SEC East. Geographically appropriate, considering aTm will go to the West. This would be a decent competitive step up, but not outlandish. Florida will presumably remain at the top of the heap, but I see us as a program the same level as South Carolina. We have a geographic rivalry with UT-Knoxville (maybe we could finally see that neutral site game at Bristol!), and there is no question we are a better program (now) than UGA, UK, and Vandy. I see no reason why we cannot continue to schedule UVA, and we should be able to keep the Thanksgiving weekend slot too (UGA-GT usually schedule their OOC rivalry that weekend). Culture-wise, we are a great fit with the SEC. I think it's a win-win if we accept an invitation.
I still adhere to this. Virginia Tech will instantly compete for an SEC East Championship. If placed in the SEC West, Tech will face (currently) the best competition in college football, which will in turn further aid recruitment. Success in the SEC will go a long way in reestablishing recruiting dominion over the fertile 757 (sorry #NEWHOOS), and hopefully curb this:
For those wondering, since 2000, Virginia Tech is 4-4 in head-to-head competition with current SEC schools. Included among those four losses are defeats to two eventual National Champions (LSU in ’07 and Alabama in ’09) and an Auburn team that went undefeated (13-0) and had a more than compelling argument for inclusion in the 2003 National Championship Game.
|2002||W||@ #19 Texas A&M||13-3|
|2005||L||#3 Auburn||16-13||Nokia Sugar Bowl - New Orleans, LA|
|2006||L||Georgia||31-24||Chick-Fil-A Bowl - Atlanta, GA|
|2007||L||@ #2 LSU||48-7|
|2009||L||#5 Alabama||34-24||Chick-Fil-A Kickoff - Atlanta, GA|
|2009||W||Tennessee||37-14||Chick-Fil-A Bowl - Atlanta, GA|
While college football has had its cycles of dominance, the recent run by the SEC – claiming the last six BCS National Championships – as well as the conference’s recent bowl agreement with the BIG XII, places the Southeastern Conference at the fore of the sport. If the sport does evolve into something dominated by super-conferences, the SEC is assured of its survival. The ACC – if it loses Florida State, and Clemson – can make no such assurances. In fact, if Virginia Tech does indeed jump ship after the defections by FSU and Clemson, the death knell may indeed toll for the ACC as a significant football entity.
As I see it, there are three distinct criticisms regarding #VT4SEC: (1) geographic concerns, (2) academic concerns, and (3) acclimation concerns.
I’m going to state the obvious: Virginia Tech in the ACC is a perfect fit. Not only is the school located within driving distance to almost all the other conference members (BC, and da U being the exception), a majority of Tech alumni reside in the ACC’s geographic footprint. There are few obstacles in the way of alumni currently in NoVA or the Carolinas from being able to personally see Tech play. Membership in the SEC will pose obstacles (some will argue, significant) for alumni to attend away games. If placed in the SEC East, Tech will not have to travel far for road division games (Florida is the only school 6+ hours away). As stated above, the SEC should be able to accommodate the continuation of the VT-UVA series on Thanksgiving weekend, adding yet another game within the familiar geographic footprint. Tech can also placate NoVA alumni by continuing its relationship with Fed-Ex field with an annual OOC game.
The ACC, regardless of Florida State or Clemson’s membership, will continue to be one of the premiere academic conferences in the country. Including future additions, the ACC can claim six institutions – GT, UMD, UNC, PITT, UVA, and Duke – that bear Association of American University accreditation. A seventh school, Syracuse, held membership until it voluntarily withdrew last year. Virginia Tech – based upon its innovative research and relatively high academic rankings (71st amongst national universities according to US News and World Report’s 2012 Best Colleges poll) – should eventually be extended AAU membership in the near future. In 2012, the SEC will boast four AAU institutions – Florida, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt, and the University of Missouri. There is little reason to believe that longstanding research collaborations/academic partnerships that Tech currently has with ACC institutions will simple dissolve because of a shift in athletic policies.
Most logical are the concerns voiced over acclimation to the membership in the SEC. To clarify, I don’t mean the football culture per say, but more so the result on the field. It should be recognized that, based upon 2011 numbers, Virginia Tech’s athletic budget would represent only the eleventh-largest budget in the conference.
Although there will be an influx in revenue, Tech will be hard pressed to close the gap with schools such as Alabama, Florida, LSU, and Auburn, which all boast $100+ million budgets. Since 2006, SEC schools have invested almost $5.6 BILLION on athletics. As a new member, Tech will be facing an uphill battle in order to continue the arms race. Where exactly the revenue needed to compete with SEC leaders will come from is a question worth asking. Take, for instance, ticket sales. In the last five years, Virginia Tech has consistently annually collected between $16.7 and $18.9 million dollars in ticket sales, an increased fueled by the expansion of Lane Stadium to its current capacity of 66,233. Lane Stadium would be the 12th largest stadium in an expanded SEC; only Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt have smaller stadiums. As such, the present state of facilities may need to be further expanded in order to generate funds to remain competitive.
I like the ACC. As I was a freshman in 2004, Tech in the ACC is the only Tech I really knew. But times, they are a-changing. The situation is not in the hands of Tech’s administration, or even the hands of anyone in Greensboro (barring a miraculous coup named ‘Notre Dame’). #VT4SEC is not simple a grass-is-greener desire. It’s a reflection of how the ACC as a conference is at critical mass, and a solution to the fall out (should there be defections). If Virginia Tech wants to ensure it’s continued relevance – and more importantly, it’s ability to compete for that elusive first national championship – membership in the SEC should be of the utmost priority…if the opportunity presents itself.
 Georgia Tech’s 2009 ACC Championship was revoked.
 Vanderbilt is a private institution, and therefore not required to divulge financial records.
 The school mentioned as most likely to accompany Virginia Tech to the SEC – North Carolina State – has a capacity of 57,583 at Carter-Finley Stadium, which would rank 13th in the SEC.
*Original Banner Photo c/o: Chris Graythen/Getty Images