With all due respect to the good folks of Tallahassee, the ACC is a football conference more than it is a basketball conference.
The head of the Board of Trustees at Florida State and a healthy helping of FSU fans seem to believe the Seminoles would be better off leaving the ACC because of a perception the conference is more focused on basketball than football. While that was probably true at an earlier time in the ACC’s history, it simply isn’t the case anymore.
Times have changed.
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It’s just that the gridiron powers haven’t exactly lived up to their responsibilities on the field of late, and the primary hoops powers have. Hence, it looks like the ACC is still hoops-centric. That’s before peeling away the onion, though.
First of all, it’s downright silly for anyone who seeks credibility to suggest most ACC schools don’t care enough about football. That’s just bunk. Every program in the league has undergone some kind of stadium expansion or renovation, or facility upgrade in the last decade. Even Duke has an indoor football practice facility.
Some critics point to the questionable hiring of ACC head coaches and their salaries to state their case. On the surface, they certainly can gain a little traction there. But, the numbers don’t entirely agree. ACC head coaches averaged $1.964 million in salary last season vs. $2.016 million in the Big Ten. Neither list includes salaries by interim coaches Everett Withers at North Carolina and Luke Fickell at Ohio State.
ACC basketball coaches earned an average of $1.581 million last season, and that includes Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s $4.192 million salary.
But if you look at the volume of posting on Internet fan message boards, the escalation in interest in football recruiting versus basketball recruiting, and how much more football gear fans are purchasing, the complexion of this conference isn’t what it was when hoops was nestled at the top.
Basketball attendance has gone down in the league for each of the last five years while football attendance has increased. In addition, if you simply queried the bases, the following would be the likely result:
The absolute football-first schools are Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia Tech. That’s five.
Boston College isn’t the slam-dunk football-first school FSU and Clemson are, but its base is definitely more interested in what goes on the gridiron than the hardwood. Virginia may have once been more hoops-oriented, but if the fans could choose Wahoo Nation likely would go for an Orange Bowl appearance over a spot in the Final Four. That’s seven, a majority in the 12-team league.
N.C. State is a tricky one because its base has supported some pretty mediocre football over the last decade and 20 years of worse hoops. That, Torry Holt, Philip Rivers and a lot of swamp land sold by former coach Chuck Amato helped bring football in line with basketball, a sport that has won two national championships.
But, in 2012, the educated guess here is that Wolfpack fans would covet a national title in football about the same as one in basketball. N.C. State is probably the only 50-50 school in the ACC.
North Carolina is a great basketball school, but its football interest is too often overlooked, as most Carolina fans love Tar Heel football. Let’s face it, its stadium holds many more seats than NCSU, Georgia Tech, Boston College and Virginia, and Carolina averages many more fans than Miami.
So yes, UNC is a basketball school, but football matters.
Wake Forest football has exploded under Jim Grobe, but if all things were equal, Demon Deacons fans would lean toward hoops.
Duke, well, that goes without saying.
Basketball marks the ACC’s history and tugs more at the heartstrings of fans from most of its long-time members. It has long been the nation’s standard bearer, but its football programs can boast some impressive figures, too.
For example, current ACC schools have 12 NCAA titles in basketball since the ACC opened for business in 1952. But during that same span, current programs have won 11 national championships in football. If you look at history, ACC programs have 13 national titles in hoops and 13 in football.
If you add Syracuse and Pittsburgh, which have agreed to move to the ACC perhaps as soon as next summer, the totals are 14 titles in hoops and 15 in football.
If a spot in a BCS bowl carries similar status to reaching the Final Four, consider this: Only four ACC schools have advanced to a Final Four since the beginning of the BCS era, which began in the mid-1990s with the Bowl Alliance, while seven different schools have played in BCS games.
Lastly, current ACC schools have given the sport five Heisman Trophy winners, and when Pitt and Syracuse join that number will grow to seven.
Not all of these achievements happened when teams wore ACC patches on their jerseys, but they are a part of the current make up’s history and can’t be dismissed.
All the league needs now is for Virginia Tech to finally break through nationally and for FSU and Miami to simply approach their levels of the 1980s and 90s and ACC football will quickly ascend to where many pundits figured it was heading when expansion took place nearly a decade ago.
When that happens, stadiums will be fuller, TV contracts more lucrative, and the perception of the conference will change.
Maybe then people won’t ask which sport matters most anymore.