Reading Joe's tweet over the weekend comparing modern day ACC to WCW in its dying days really got me thinking. As someone who was (is) a huge wrestling fan, it made me realize that there are some pretty uncanny correlations in the paths of both organizations.
For those not familiar with WCW, World Championship Wrestling was a major league pro wrestling organization in business from the late 80s through early 2001, although its history extends much further back than that.
Both WCW and the ACC can trace their roots to the Carolinas. You see, back in the 60s, 70s and early 80s, pro wrestling was a lot like college athletic conferences of the day, very regionalized with promotions controlling a certain territory. There was Texas (Southwest Conference/World Class Wrestling), the Deep South (SEC/Mid-South Wrestling), the Midwest (Big Ten/American Wrestling Association), Northeast (Big East/World Wrestling Federation) and the Mid-Atlantic (ACC/Jim Crockett Promotions).
While wrestlers were vagabonds of sorts, traveling from region to region, it was considered taboo for promoters of the day to cross over into another promoter's territory and run shows. Things slowly started to change in the 80s when Vince McMahon, Jr. bought the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) from his father and slowly began expanding into other territories, stealing their top stars and eventually putting the local competition, no matter how popular it once was, out of business.
By the late 80s/early 90s, there were only a few promotions left that McMahon hadn't conquered. Jim Crockett Promotions, which by this point was considered one in the same with the National Wrestling Alliance, one of the most prestigious and historically relevant wrestling organizations in the world, was still standing and looking at expansion.
Jim Crockett ran his promotion out of Charlotte, but held shows all over the Carolinas, Virginia, Maryland, Georgia and Florida. For years, the promotion's biggest arena and home to all its biggest events was the Greensboro Coliseum.
The financial pressures of fighting a war against Vince McMahon proved too costly for Crocket, who eventually sold his promotion to Ted Turner, who rechristened it World Championship Wrestling and attempted to go toe-to-toe with McMahon.
After making some big-time talent acquisitions, WCW was flying high. The company helped spark the pro wrestling boom of the mid-to-late 1990s and in 1997-1998, WCW was the biggest pro wrestling company in the world. However, poor management, not listening to its fan base and a refusal to adapt with the changing times saw interest and crowds slowly start to dwindle. In early 2001, WCW was out of business; sold to Vince McMahon.
Now, I'm not saying the ACC is definitively going out of business, but in addition to its geographical similarities, many of the key players involved in the latter days of WCW have several striking similarities to today's ACC members.
Don't believe me? Let's take a look.
Commissioner John Swofford is Eric Bischoff — When Ted Turner put Bischoff in charge of WCW, his main goal was expanding the company, making it a dominant force on the pro wrestling scene for years to come. Swofford wasn't content with the ACC simply being a regional conference; he wanted to see the league's footprint extend the length of the Atlantic. Both Bischoff and Swofford made big-time talent acquisitions during their tenure to help raise the profile of their organizations, both are a little too sure that their idea is always right and you could easily see both pulling off some sort of deal that you never in a million years thought would happen.
North Carolina is Hulk Hogan — Both gained their fame in other places, Hogan in McMahon's WWF and North Carolina in basketball. The both put on a goodie-two-shoes façade (UNC — The Carolina Way, Hogan — say your prayers, take your vitamins), but when you dig a little deeper, you realize there is actually a ton of shady stuff going on. Hogan is a little too close to Bischoff for his or the company's own good and is likely always using that relationships to manipulate others to push their own agenda through backdoor politics. Despite his big name and his past successes, Hogan isn't nearly as relevant nationally as he once was — or believes he still is.
Duke is Randy Savage — Savage earned his fame and came from the same place as Hogan. Savage versus Hogan is one of the all-time great rivalries in the sport. Despite their public disdain for one another, in actuality, the two are inseparable. Savage had his days in the 80s, holding the WWF World Championship in 1989, the same year Duke last won the ACC. They've both had moments where they're extremely relevant since then, but neither has been "the man" in its organization since. Even though the rivalry doesn't resonate nearly as much as it once did, you just get the feeling that Hogan is constantly thinking of a way to build up one more run for a feud with Savage. No matter who else jumps, he and Hogan are going down with the ship.
NC State is Kevin Nash — Also has a close affiliation and rivalry with Hogan. Nash was a key member of the New World Order (NWO) that was the catalyst for turning WCW into a major player. Also sees himself as an equal or superior to Hogan, but in reality he'll never ever be the star Hogan is. He's attractive to other organizations because of his size, but whether he stays put in WCW or moves to greener pastures, he'll never really be a true difference maker. Leads a faction called the Wolfpac.
Wake Forest is Diamond Dallas Page — DDP is always invited to the party because he hangs with Hogan, Savage and Nash, plus he lives in the same neighborhood as Bischoff. Has a nice little cult following, but doesn't have the fan base to truly carry the promotion. Every so often, he'll surprise you by winning the WCW World Heavyweight Title, but is not and never will be the long-term cornerstone the organization needs to survive.
Florida State is Ric Flair — Truly one of the all-time greats. In the 80s and 90s, there was none better or more consistent in the ring. Not sure which is more impressive, Flair's 16 World Title reigns or Florida State's 14 consecutive AP top 5 finishes. However, as great as he once was, Father Time has slowly crept-up with Flair. The Nature Boy still shows flashes of what once was, which always gets fans excited, and he can still be an incredibly valuable asset to the company, but even the most die-hard fan must admit he'll never be what he once was. Flair has a deep-rooted philosophical difference with Hogan and is seemingly always at odds with Bischoff, threatening to take his talents elsewhere.
Clemson is Sting — Sting is always a bit of a mystery — and not just because of the eerie black and white Crow-esque face paint. Yes, the Stinger is a big star, but he's never quite achieved the level of success everyone always assumed he would. He's stepped up and beaten the Flairs and Hogans of the world, but just can't seem to supplant them as THE MAN. He does, however, have a loyal and rabid fan base that always sticks behind him. Sting has a long-standing rivalry with Flair that has evolved into a mutual respect between the two and you almost can't think of one without the other.
Georgia Tech is Lex Luger — Another one that makes you scratch your head a little. On the surface, Luger has some of the assets you want — the physique, the charisma — but when you put it all together, he's really not the Total Package his nickname suggests. Royally pissed off Vince McMahon the way he left the WWF and will likely never be welcome back. A sometimes rival and sometimes running mate of Sting, Luger has also won some championships, but will never be regarded quite as highly as the Stinger and certainly not in the same league as the true all-time greats.
Miami is Scott Hall — When the NWO initially formed, Hall was the first guy to appear signaling the change. He's had some great moments in the past and could potentially be an even bigger star than he already is, but trouble always get the best of him. Hall has constant and well-documented run-ins with the law and is nicknamed "The Bad Guy." Due to his past popularity, he'll likely always get another chance, but his demons will likely always drag him down.
Boston College is Bret Hart — Of all the acquisitions made during expansion, this is the one Bischoff touted the most. Hart showed flashes of greatness, winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship early in his tenure, but injuries reduced him to essentially an onlooker toward the end. Hart's pedigree and reputation are second to none and the thought of adding a star (TV market) of his caliber to the organization is a no brainer on paper, but in reality he didn't fit in with the company culturally and was always viewed as an outsider.
Virginia Tech is Bill Goldberg — No one really knew what to expect from Goldberg when he debuted with WCW. Just looking at him, you knew there was some potential there, but no one expected what really happened — sheer and total dominance of the organization. Goldberg's matches weren't always pretty, but nine times out of 10, he came away with a victory and quickly claimed his spot atop the mountain as World Heavyweight Champion. In reality, Goldberg should have probably been a cornerstone piece in the organization for years to come, but mismanagement and poorly executed scripting took the edge off his character. By this point, his fans are clamoring for him to jump to the WWE so he can square off in dream matches against Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Undertaker and Triple H.
Virginia is Buff Bagwell — Has a loose affiliation with Hogan, Nash, Savage and Bischoff. Buff has been around WCW since its formation. He's a physical specimen and isn't shy about telling you how great he is. Bagwell has won some secondary championships, such as the World Tag Team Titles, but has never won the World Heavyweight Championship and likely never will. Likes to think he can compete with Goldberg, but whenever they actually square off it typically ends with a spear, jackhammer and Goldberg's hand raised in victory.
Pittsburgh is Sid Vicious — When WCW's fortunes started to turn for the worse, they started looking around for new talent to inject into the main event scene. Sid is another one of those guys who has a big name and has had some past success. If handled properly, you could see him being an asset, but probably isn't going to be the difference maker Bischoff expects him to be.
Syracuse is Scott Steiner — A guy that has all the things Hulk Hogan loves — size, size and size — and since Hogan is always in Bischoff's ear, Steiner is going to get a shot to help carry the company along with Sid. Well, at least that's what Hogan wants everyone to think because in reality Hogan is really plotting another way he can become the organization's focal point. Like Sid, Steiner is touted as the future of WCW by those in command, but in reality they're both pushing 40 and will never really be the answer to compete with WWE.
Maryland is Syxx/X-Pac — Sean Waltman has had more ring names than Maryland has had uniform combinations (Lighting Kid, 1-2-3 Kid, Syxx, X-Pac). He's never really been a big star on his own, but is tight with Nash and Hogan and was one of the first major defectors to leave WCW. On the surface, you wouldn't really consider him a big loss, but when Waltman jumped to the WWE, you could almost feel the tides turning in WCW's war with Vince McMahon.
West Virginia is Chris Jericho — WCW had its shot to make Jericho a huge star. Despite all of his qualities, Jericho doesn't possess what Hogan thinks you must have to be a main eventer — size — so Bischoff let Jericho walk to join WWE. In reality, Jericho will probably never be the man to carry a company, but he proved to be a very valuable asset to another organization and he could have been for WCW, if Hogan and Bischoff's arrogance hadn't gotten in the way. Jericho had a natural rivalry all set up with Goldberg, but it never materialized before he jumped ship to WWE.
Notre Dame is David Arquette — As the powers that be in WCW set back and surveyed the landscape, they quickly saw their dominance of pro wrestling slipping away. In an attempt to generate some good PR and buzz for the organization, WCW came up with the idea of making an outsider with a little bit of credibility and a name beyond its regular circle of influence the company's World Heavyweight Champion. David Arquette won the Championship in convoluted fashion, as Bischoff took the fall in a match where the belt was on the line, thus Arquette won the strap without actually pinning the champ. Bischoff thought this would generate a great deal of press and help boost moral within WCW. In reality, the backlash was severe and Arquette winning the company's top prize without actually beating the champion — or even being a full-time wrestler, for that matter — made the belt meaningless and turned the company into a laughing stock.
Connecticut is Jeff Jarrett — Like Hogan and Savage, Jarrett achieved his fame elsewhere. He's had some nice accomplishments, including secondary title runs (basketball titles) in WWE. Many see Jarrett as having the potential to become a true main eventer one day and the Hogan/Bischoff regime will give him every chance to succeed, even if the idea of Jarrett being at the top of the card is rejected by most fans. Essentially trading him for Syxx/X-Pac looks like a slight win for WCW at first glance, but Jarrett is missing that certain "something" that will make him a true difference maker.
Louisville is Booker T — Booker T has a lot of attractive qualities — he's a good worker, has great charisma and is a decent promo. He's ascension to the main event roster makes the most sense of all the choices available. Having said that, Booker is still not the long-term answer to WCW's problems, but he could certainly be a valuable complimentary piece.
Cincinnati is Sean O'Hare — A big-body guy with a good look that Hogan and Bischoff will hype as the future of the business. There is some potential there, but will likely be a career mid-card performer wherever he ends up.
Mike Slive is Vince McMahon — The shrewd businessman, McMahon is the head of WWE and always looking to cut the next big deal. Slive claims to have a great deal of respect for Eric Bischoff, but behind the scenes is developing ideas to systematically destroy WCW.