Orange Bowl deal keeps ACC with big boys

John Swofford did it again.

Two months ago, the landscape of the Atlantic Coast Conference was shaken to its core. The SEC and Big 12 announced a bowl alliance pitting their champions against each other, and with the Big Ten and Pac-12 already tied to the Rose Bowl, various reports put the ACC’s football relevance on life support.

The league, which is just 2-13 in BCS bowls and hasn’t produced a national champion in more than a decade, was not among the four super conferences that appeared set for control of the sport.

Florida State and Clemson seemed headed out the door.

As it turns out, there was much more hype than substance to all that talk.

Swofford, who has held his post since 1997 after serving as athletic director at North Carolina, played a key role in putting together the new playoff format that commences in 2014-15 season. That further solidified his national status. And while Swofford was kneading that dough, he was cleverly behind the scenes assuring the ACC a spot among what many national writers are now calling the “Power 5.”

Enhancing its partnership with the Orange Bowl, the ACC will continue to send its champion to Miami for another 12 years. More significantly, the league can shop the Orange Bowl to the highest bidder and will keep at least 50 percent of the TV money.

No matter who the league’s champion plays, it will register more on the national radar than the last several Orange Bowls. This includes a possible union with Notre Dame, which has no conference or current bowl tie-in.

Notre Dame can keep its independence while carving out an association with the ACC. And in time, when the ACC believes it must expand to 16 and the terrain tells Notre Dame it must join a conference, the blood brothers could then become full-blown siblings.

And with Notre Dame’s TV network badly wanting to dive more into college sports broadcasting, this seems like a perfect match.

If Notre Dame doesn’t qualify in certain years, the ACC can reach a deal with the SEC, Big Ten or maybe even the Big 12 about sending one of its teams to the Orange Bowl instead.

In addition, if an ACC team earns an invitation to the new four-team playoff, the league maintains its spot in the Orange Bowl and can choose the champion’s replacement. If the league gets two teams into the playoff, a third ACC club will represent the league in the Orange Bowl, essentially giving the conference three “BCS” bids and a ton of cash to go with it.

Recent history suggests the ACC may struggle landing a team into the playoff, but the same goes for the Big Ten, as neither conference has produced a top-four team in the last five years. But the ACC’s football stock appears to be rising. For example, Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech could be top-10 squads this season and member schools are spending and spending and spending on football.

The ACC’s new position of strength should keep the league intact for the foreseeable future, perhaps long enough for the Miamis and FSUs to regain some of their old form that saw them combine for seven national titles and four Heisman Trophies from 1983-2000.  

Swofford led the charge of expansion in the early 2000s by growing his conference to 12 schools. It will soon be 14 and is no longer just a southern conference, as new TV markets and cultures are strengthening the conference into the future. Swofford has also answered the question about the ACC caring about football.

It does, and this deal with the Orange Bowl only solidifies that and its place among the best college football conferences in America.