John Swofford has a B1G problem
Posted November 19, 2012
Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford has a full-blown crisis on his hands.
In spite of the fact that the ACC, under his guidance, has consistently answered every rumored defection with a show of strength -- if not measured aggression -- the latest news is likely going to prove to be a blow that could have long-term consequences. Maryland's board of regents is voting on whether or not to accept an invitation to join the Big Ten Conference, which would put an end to a 59-year relationship between the folks in College Park and the ACC. This is not a joke, it's not an internet rumor and it certainly isn't the ranting of an unstable member of the board of trustees.
This is very real.
Maryland's athletic department is swimming in red ink, with a $5 million budget shortfall that is estimated to reach nearly $17 million annually within the next five years. They eliminated seven varsity sports in the summer and the sport that is supposed to pay the bills for almost everything else, football, is dying on the vine. Football revenues have been in steady and alarming decline since 2006 which was the number one reason why longtime coach Ralph Freidgen was moved out just weeks after being named the league's coach of the year. Season ticket sales are dwindling, luxury suites aren't selling and there have been huge swaths of empty seats -- no, sections -- at Byrd Stadium in the last few years.
Now, that doesn't explain why new Director of Athletics Kevin Anderson replaced Freidgen with the Wonder Bread of football coaches in former U-Conn head coach Randy Edsall, but that is another matter for another time. Either way, Maryland is struggling on the field and at the box office and, well, you know what they say about desperate times. However, the real reason Maryland, a charter member of the ACC, is about to leave behind nearly 90 years of relationships should be the fear that keeps Swofford awake at night.
It is absolutely the right thing for The University of Maryland.
In fact, it would be for every other school in this conference if faced with the types of financial challenges they're dealing with in College Park. The Big Ten is cranking out more money than the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Last year, each school received roughly $25 million annually in shared revenue, about $8 million more than their counterparts in the ACC, mostly coming from television contracts. But, the biggest reason why the Big Ten can outpace the Southeastern Conference on the ledger sheet, in spite of the SEC winning the last 378 national championships in football, is that the Big Ten has it's own television network. And, the Big Ten Network is growing faster than my pants size at Thanksgiving. Take away the Big Ten Network, and there isn't a lot different between the ACC and the B1G when it comes to the shared revenue.
But you can't do that now, can you?
This leaves John Swofford in a very uncomfortable position. Whereas over the last decade it was the ACC playing the role of corporate raider, the tables have suddenly, unexpectedly, been turned. Why it wasn't detectable is a different matter all together as Maryland -- along with outwardly angry Florida State -- were the only two schools to vote against an increase in buyout fees from $20 to $50 million. How does Swofford fight this seemingly inevitable move? Does he? Does he simply say to Maryland, 'mail the check to Greensboro and you're free to go', or does he hold them in the league for a lame duck season. According to the conference bylaws, any school can leave the league as long as they notify the conference and its members by August 15 of any given year. They would then be free to leave following the end of June the next year -- providing they come up with the $50 million.
Wait, Maryland has no money, right? Didn't they just cut a fourth of their varsity sports because they're broke? How can they possibly get $50 million for a conference buyout?
You don't think West Virginia paid their $15 million to escape the Big East on their own, do you?
Even if Maryland was held to the strict $50 million exit fee -- call it ACC duty, which is how many people refer to the league's football product in the first place -- I'm fairly certain that the Fortune 500 companies that populate the B1G could help out their new BFFs and take it out of the Terrapins' share of future TV money. Oh, and did I mention that the B1G is about two years away from renegotiating their television contracts? Yep, while the ACC is sitting with deals that won't run out until well into the next decade, the Big Ten is headed to the trough again in four years. Think adding the Washington, DC and Baltimore markets -- not to mention the state of New Jersey, assuming the rumored move of Rutgers would follow -- will be attractive to the networks?
Not to worry, the University of Connecticut could easily be tabbed as a logical replacement for Maryland. They stink at football too, but at least they'd never think to leave the conference. Of course, if U-Conn was so attractive, wouldn't they have been in the league already?
John Swofford certainly didn't sound like a man who was worried about anyone leaving the ACC when they announced the addition -- at least partially -- of Notre Dame two months ago. We'd heard all the squeaky wheel stuff emanating from Tallahassee, FL during the summer, but brushed it off as typical jealousy and (TV) contract envy. But, now that one of the schools on the conference's original charter is flying the coop, it's fair to wonder whether this is the end, or just the beginning.
Intercollegiate athletics is expensive -- even with the free labor. Schools in better position to pay the bills stand a much greater chance of on-field success. In the end, for Maryland as well as others, the question won't be, 'how can they afford to make that move?' The question will almost certainly be, 'how can they afford not to?'
Your move, John. Again.
As you might have expected, there are no winners this week, so we'll just go game-by-game and sort of synopsize.
After not winning in Charlottesville since Ric Flair first won the WWF heavyweight title (Beating Dusty Rhodes), the Tar Heels have now won the last two following their 37-13 beating of Virginia. Quinshad Davis caught 16 passes for 178 yards and Bryn Renner had his best game of the year throwing for 315 yards and 3 scores without a turnover. Now, all that's left in the season is a non-conference game against Linebacker-turned-Quarterback U.
Florida State held Maryland to 32 first half yards and led 27-0 at the half en route to a 41-14 win and clinched the Atlantic Division title. This will be the third time that the Seminoles have reached the ACC Championship Game and the second time in three years under Jimbo Fisher. Meanwhile, they've been 10th in each of the last three BCS standings and would need a quarantine situation to get back in the national championship picture.
Georgia Tech had the ball for more than 38 minutes, ran 86 plays -- 72 of them runs -- and scored 6 touchdowns. They also beat Duke 42-24 and set themselves up for a spot in Charlotte should the Blue Devils snap this 3-game losing streak on Saturday against Miami. If the Blue Devils win, Tech is the Coastal champ and would meet Florida State in the title game. Plus, it would continue an interesting conference streak. Since the inception of the conference championship game, only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech have represented the Coastal Division.
Virginia Tech needed a late field goal and then overtime to win at Boston College 30-23. If you need any more proof that this group of Hokies isn't any good, I'm not sure what you're watching on Saturdays. The Gobblers trailed 13-3 at the half and needed a 62-yard drive for a Cody Journell field goal to force overtime against 2-9 Boston College, whose only 1-A win came against Big Ten bottom-feeder, Maryland. Not even the half-naked guys standing out in front of Abercrombie and Fitch have enough cologne to cover up the stench of this season.
Miami had three different 100-yard receivers, Stephen Morris threw for 418 yards and 3 scores, and the Hurricanes became eligible to decline a bowl bid for the second straight year with a 40-9 pasting of hapless South Florida. The Hurricanes can win their first Coastal division crown since joining the ACC with a win at Duke on Saturday.
Notre Dame had touchdowns on each of their first three possessions and you could have done your souvenir shopping at the student bookstore in South Bend after 15 minutes. The Irish led 21-0 after the first, 31-zip at halftime and won it 38-0 setting up a trip to Southern Cal for a spot in the national championship game. Meanwhile, Wake Forest can still gain bowl-eligibility with a win over Vanderbilt.
Michael Glennon threw for nearly 500 yards and 5 touchdowns and NC State piled up 600 yards of total offense and GOT BLOWN OUT. Huh? That's because Tahj Boyd was super human. Boyd, the only competition for Giovani Bernard in the race for ACC player of the year honors, had 530 yards of total offense and had a hand in all 8 touchdowns! This was a see-saw game from the start as Clemson jumped out to a 13-0 lead. But, NC State scored the next 24 points to take the lead and, it felt, control of the game. Alas, I forgot what games in the ACC have been like this year, and the Tigers were far from finished. They scored touchdowns on six of their next seven possessions and by the time the referee could step in and stop the fight, it was 55-24 on the way to a 62-48 final.
But wait, there's more! The Wolfpack wouldn't go away. They actually closed to within 14-points on a Niclas Sade field goal with just under eight minutes to go, but instead of trying an onside kick, Tom O'Brien opted to play the field position game. they never saw the ball again. 14 plays, 50 yards and 7 minutes and 35 seconds later, the Tigers handed the ball to the referee and that was the ballgame. Well, at least the basketball team is off to a hot start, right?
Yeah, about that.