I'm in Greensboro for what is the first of what I hope will be many trips to ACC Media Day - actually it is called ACC Football Kickoff.
Why go this year if Pitt isn't joining until next year, you ask?
I think it is simple - because all of the decisions which have been made in the past six months by this conference and all of them going forward affect Pitt and because this is where Pitt's future is.
The highlight of this first day, well for those who came to actually work, is the news conference and subsequent media availability of John Swofford, the ACC commissioner, who addressed a variety of topics. Here is where you can find the actual video of his news conference should you want to sift through nearly an hour of video.....
But in case you don't want to sit through it, here are some of the highlights...
** The obvious big storyline is the "Clemson and Florida State are unhappy...." story that surfaced a few months ago after the television deal was announced (the ACC signed a 12-year, $3.6 billion deal with ESPN). Both schools were said to be looking to jump to the Big 12 or SEC and both conferences were interested in grabbing them. This obviously sent a lot of panic through the fans and even some officials at Pitt because the fear was they were jumping off the Titanic and onto another ship destined to sink. Swofford spent a lot of time addressing this today and when asked how comfortable he was with the idea that neither school is jumping ship he said he "totally" comfortable and that he never thought it was an issue in the first place.
But it should be noted that Swofford met with Clemson officials, the Clemson president James Barker and Clemson's trustees, on campus last Friday and he sat down and talked with them about the future of the conference. Both sides emerged from the meetings satisfied with the results - Barker was quoted as saying the meetings solidified the school's commitment to the ACC and Swofford said he left with absolutely no reason to doubt that the school was still committed to the cause.
The key to this all was the that the ACC solidified its standing as a power conference by signing a 12-year deal with a major bowl - the Orange Bowl. This is huge as it signifies that perception of the league is that it is a power conference and that it will be showcased on the biggest stage on New Year's Day each year. This went a long way towards easing some of the concerns of the Florida State and Clemson people and it also has helped raise the conference's profile nationally. Now, there is no question it is here to stay and will be a major player.
Now, onto the other themes - which, I have to be honest, after listening to them all I had to make sure I wasn't in Newport, Rhode Island covering Big East media day because all of the issues facing the ACC, well, the Big East used to wrestle with on annual basis and got ripped to shreds for it.......
** For instance, the conference's TV payout is less than the other four power conferences are (or will be as the SEC deal is not yet done) so it will continue to be perceived as the fifth of the five power conferences (and Pitt has experience with this as the Big East was always perceived as the sixth of the six power conferences) but Swofford made it very simple - "we have to win" which sounds an awful lot like some of the stuff Michael Tranghese used to spew about the Big East. But it is true - everything is in place but the ACC needs to win a national title or two and do a better job in nonconference games against the other four power conferences if it wants to climb into the discussion among the elite of the elite. That being said I cannot see any scenario where the ACC won't have its champion in the four-team playoff provided its champion is undefeated or even has a loss - and so that makes it a little different than the Big East over the past few years, but not much. The league is simply too strong for that to happen.
** With Pitt and Syracuse joining the ACC will go to the nine-conference game format. That's not good news on two fronts - one it means teams will play only three non-conference games (which means Pitt fans will be treated to a formula of I-AA, MAC and Notre Dame every year....) and also, it is an odd number which means half the league will play four home conference games, the other half will play five. Remember when the Big East was talking about scheduling alliances to try and ease its odd conference game problems? (The Big East had eight teams, which meant each played seven games and that left four home games and three away games or vice versa which was a yearly issue at meetings and one that was never solved....). Yeah, that is going on here. And then you have teams like Clemson upset that nine games not only makes scheduling nonconference games a nightmare, it means you can't load up your nonconference schedule too much and so they have gotten out of games with teams like Oklahoma State and will no doubt replace them with, oh, I don't know...Elon... So yes, this scheduling issue is going to present some problems as some teams are not excited about having an odd number of conference games and the issues that present.
** Swofford said the conference was not going to help Pitt or Syracuse pay the $7.5 million each school will pay the Big East as an exit fee, which is not a surprise given the financial windfall both schools will get when they go from the Big East payouts to that of the ACC. But he is excited about adding them and said he is really excited about the "fit" both are with the rest of the conference in terms of academically, institutionally and athletically. He said they close the footprint by filling in the gap geographically between Maryland and Boston College. But he was most excited about what they add in terms of academic institutions and he said that anyone who doesn't think that is a major component just doesn't get it - especially with the way academics are now being stressed in terms of the APR and the way schools are being punished for poor graduation rates and whatnot.
** Finally, I will leave you with this and blog a little bit later as there is a banquet getting ready to start with some speakers and whatnot - as if Pitt fans haven't had their fill of that Catholic school located in North Central Indiana (yes, Notre Dame) - the ACC is in discussions with Notre Dame about possibly becoming one of the teams in the mix to be an opponent for the ACC in the Orange Bowl. That's what they are saying publicly, at least, but here is something else to chew on: The ACC members have been vehemently opposed to partial memberships in the past and have had the attitude of "all in" or "not in" but Swofford said today he's not sure if that is still the case and of course, he wouldn't say it but others already have - that subject is indeed being considered with respect to Notre Dame. So don't be shocked if in the near future Notre Dame is an ACC member in all sports except football and has some sort of scheduling agreement to play X-number of ACC schools in football each year. Sound familiar?
So let's review -
-- Pitt is leaving a conference that has shaky membership and joining a conference where two of the three most prominent football programs are waffling to some degree about their commitment, and
-- Pitt is leaving a conference that has bent over backwards to make concessions for Notre Dame and joining a conference that appears willing to do the same,
-- Pitt is leaving a conference with annual scheduling issues due to having an odd number of conference games and joining a conference that has an odd number of conference games and several teams not enthused about it, and
-- Pitt is leaving a conference which could never gain much respect nationally because it didn't win enough on the big stage and joining a conference whose record on the big stage is even worse and whose commissioner acknowledges needs to win more in order to gain national respect.....
Am I missing something here?
(I'm being somewhat facetious obviously, as they are in a much better place, but it does raise some question, don't ya think?)