This piece about the new ACC commissioner is from the end of March, but there are a few telling points made in it that I believe reinforce what we know about the sport we love.
Start with this quote:
And with men’s college basketball powerhouses Duke and North Carolina being close to the ACC’s base in North Carolina, some coaches and administrators have long suggested it skewed the league’s priorities away from football, which provides the overwhelming bulk of revenue.
“Everyone’s thought for a long time that our league trended toward the bouncy ball rather than the pointy one,” one coach said, “but college basketball is not what it was as a franchise 10 years ago. Does that hurt us? Has our league ever really looked at pushing football as the future?”
Phillips doesn’t see it as a zero-sum decision but suggested the ACC must prioritize its biggest revenue stream across all schools — football.
“We can have it all,” Phillips told ESPN. “We’ve had our moments in the ACC, but we all want to see more sustained excellence because those two sports are important to the commitment we have as a league.”
Okay, we can have it all is a laughable concept, but it’s also dangerously ironic. Let’s face it, the ACC was a basketball conference for years. Not that there was anything wrong with that. But as the NCAA tournament expanded, the value of the basketball regular season eroded. That’s certainly reflected in regular season revenue, which is largely driven by television these days. I’m not sure if it’s the case now, but just a few years ago, the only program in the conference that received more money from basketball than football was Louisville. That’s why ACC football coaches are getting traction now with the same suggestion that would have been laughed out of the room 25 years ago.
The irony I refer to is that college football is poised to repeat the same mistake — and why wouldn’t it, since it’s run by the same folks who brought you a devalued men’s basketball regular season?
Speaking of having it all, this is precious.
Another ACC athletic director offered similar thoughts on spending. Sure, the SEC has more money coming in, he said, but several SEC schools are spending that revenue before the checks have cleared. A smarter approach to spending — investing in assets with a financial return over gaudy new facilities, avoiding massive buyouts after bad coaching hires — can help offset some of the gap between the ACC and the SEC, he said.
Good luck sticking to that, fellas.
Nearly all of the athletic directors and coaches we spoke to suggested the massive gaps in revenue present extensive challenges for their schools, affecting the ability to retain assistant coaches, hire support staff and placate fans and boosters when the SEC and Big Ten have far deeper pockets.
“I’m under no illusion that we’re going to close the gap and catch up with the SEC or Big Ten,” another ACC AD told ESPN. “I’m optimistic that we can maintain the gap at the same level of increase that the SEC just got and what the Big Ten will get in their next go-round. If we cannot let the gap get bigger and can cut into the gap in some other ways, that will be success to me.”
But there is not yet a consensus among the league’s athletic directors on the right strategy.
If it were me, and I was forced to think outside the box, I’d embrace player compensation as a means to level the playing field. I’ve got the feeling there are plenty of players who’d prefer a check over a shiny new waterfall. But maybe that’s just me.
In any event, this appears to be the bottom line:
“If we don’t get our TV contract in the ballpark of [the SEC and Big Ten], there will be no level playing field in the Power 5,” said one ACC coach, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There will not be a Power 5 anymore, in my opinion.”
If that’s how they feel, there’s an argument to be made that playoff expansion helps that concern. The more money that shifts to a bigger postseason, the more it gets evenly spread among the P5. Plus, a shift away from regular season relevance eventually means less regular season money for conferences like the Big Ten and SEC. Think of it as a form of college football inflation.
Ten years from now, I suspect this is going to be a very different world than the one we’re watching now. Different doesn’t mean better, in case you’re wondering.