Some two years ago, rumors swirled. It sounded like another wave of chaos from conference realignment was coming. The ACC was on shaky ground. Much of it stemmed from comments made by the chairman of Florida State’s board of trustees to Rivals’ FSU site.
"On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I can say unanimously we would be in favor of seeing what the Big 12 might have to offer," Andy Haggard told Warchant.com.
And just like that, the rumor mill kicked into high gear again. The story came in the wake of the ACC’s coming to terms with ESPN on a 15-year, $3.6 billion agreement. Speculation about possible next moves or end runs was heightened since Texas A&M and Mizzou had already bolted from the old Big 12 for the SEC. The merits of "basketball schools" vs. "football schools" were debated in a football-heavy college landscape.
But as we get to July 1, the ACC, it turns out, has only become a lot more stable as the conference officially adds its 15th member, Louisville, a program that is thriving in numerous sports that include a lot more than just men’s basketball. In fact, in this era where college sports fans keep hearing about "geographic footprints," the ACC geographic area will contain the most television households and highest population of any conference nationally. The league is also proud to point out that it is the only Power 5 conference to place over half of its member institutions among the top 50 of the Best Colleges rankings released by U.S. News & World Report and put five in the top 30.
"During a very turbulent decade, I feel really good about where we have landed," ACC commissioner John Swofford told FOX Sports last week. "It is a position of real strength and stability."
A big key was the conference’s Grant of Media Rights, an agreement announced in April 2013.
"It was frustrating," Swofford said. "We went through a period where there were a lot of reports out there. You had a lot of people saying things that were flat out wrong."
Swofford said internally among the ACC’s members he had powerful people pledging commitment to the conference. "I knew they meant those words, and the way to put those words into action was the Grant of Rights."
An added bonus for the ACC was when Notre Dame signed on to join the league in all sports except football — although the Irish will schedule five ACC opponents each season, which for the ACC seemed like the next best thing. And if the Irish football program ever does join a conference, it’ll be the ACC, Swofford said.
The ACC’s stock also got a nice bump last season with FSU snapping the SEC’s seven-year reign atop the college football world by winning the BCS national title. The Noles were one of four programs in the current ACC — FSU, Clemson, Duke and Louisville — that finished the 2013 regular season with at least 10 wins.
While the Cardinals arrive, Maryland, a founding member of the ACC, departs, off to the Big Ten. On paper, it’s a trade that looks good for ACC football. The Terps are 13-24 the past three years. The Cardinals are 30-9 and in the 2012 season handled Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
"Louisville brings a lot to the table," Swofford said. "It’s a program with an upward trajectory and its total program has (boomed) under (AD) Tom Jurich’s leadership."
Of course, it will be harder for the Cards to pile up as many wins in the ACC as it was the old Big East and AAC, but new U of L coach Bobby Petrino has won big at every college program he’s been at. This year, he returns to a school where he went 41-9. No doubt, his program will make the league many view as a "basketball conference" much tougher on the football field.