This week, college football universities revealed their true intentions-- money and exposure-- not the principles the the sport was founded on-- tradition and education. The Big Ten poached Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East. Most people were surprised by Maryland's departure, an original stalwart member of the ACC, especially because they have been only mildly successful in basketball and football in recent years. This move exposes the vulnerability of the ACC. And poses an even greater threat for Wake Forest sports.
Out of all teams in the ACC, Wake Forest is in the worst situation. The entire landscape of college football has endured seismic changes, while Wake wants everything to remain the same. The university still cherishes its rich ACC roots and the education of its players
As an institution of under 5,000 students-- the smallest BCS school-- it does not have the alumni or the fan support of its conference opponents.
As we all witness, the Deacs fail to sell out their 35,000 seat stadium. They fail to bring opposing fans in the stadiums, either, both FSU and Notre Dame did not sell out against us.
The Demon Deacon fan support (I hate to say it) is ranked among the worst. There are certainly many passionate Deac fans, but they are far less in shear numbers compared to its competitors. According to All-American mathematician Nate Silver-- the guy that predicted the presidential election--has the smallest football fan base of any member of an automatic qualifying conference.
Although ranked at #58, Maryland is so appealing because it is a large, strong academic public university that has a proud alumni base. It expands the Big Ten's marketability eastward, providing the conference a step in the door into the D.C. and Baltimore areas.
Wake Forest has Winston-Salem and the greater Piedmont Triad, not exactly a marketable area.
Wake Forest benefits the most of all universities from what the ACC provides. In recruiting, the university emphasizes "we play a top-tier ACC schedule. We participate in top rivalries against in-state schools." The ACC divvies up the television money equally to all schools-- much to the chagrin of the Seminoles--receiving approximately $19 million a year.
The implementation of the $50 million buyout earlier this year made the mass exodus of the ACC appear impossible and assured the longevity of the conference. But with the Terrapins' exit, the conference's future is at stake.
What do Florida State and Clemson-- who can smell the seared barbecue tailgates of the SEC-- feel about the Terrapins leaving for greener (monetary) pastures? Or Virginia Tech? Or NC State? Or (sigh) UNC?
Would the SEC be able to entice these schools? Virginia Tech AD Jim Weaver stated, "I'd like to defer my comment for right now, but there may potentially be some interest."
Overall, the ACC has strengthened in the past year. The ACC augmented its east coast imprint into Pennsylvania and New York with the additions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The conference even brought in Notre Dame for all sports but football-- and will play the Irish in five games. These additions outweigh the most recent loss of the middling Terrapins. But Maryland's departure just reveals that schools still have the option to leave the ACC. It sets up the possibility for disaster.
If the SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten look to expand further-- like vultures-- they eye the opportunities in the ACC. The cataclysmic circumstance is that Clemson, Florida State and other major schools leave for these conferences.
Where does that leave Wake Forest? The closest comparison to our situation is Duke-- a small private academically-driven North Carolina school without big football-- yet a major conference would pounce on the university because of its transcendence in college basketball.
Out of the current 12 ACC schools, the Deacs would be the last pick for other conferences.
Wake Forest do not attract top conferences because today's college football revolves around grossing money and expanding markets-- the Deacs do not help much in either way.
If the expansion continues and the Big Four conferences become 16 team conferences, Mr. Wellman's phone will remain silent.
So where do the Deacs go from here? Maybe a top conference-- like the SEC-- in non-football sports. Conference USA and the Southern Conference would get on all fours and pout like a dog to bring in Wake Forest. But ironically, the Deacs might be best fit elsewhere. A basketball-driven conference that focuses on academics.
The Big East. With Georgetown, Marquette, Saint John's, Villanova and several others, the conference will remain relevant in basketball.
Coach K added, "For my own conference," he said, "its time to circle wagons and take attendance and make sure we have who we have."
For the state of tradition and strong educational ties-- and for Wake Forest's sake-- lets pray the ACC can keep its constituents happy. Here's to a stable present and future of the ACC.