Small Talk

by Adam Small | 10/15/03 5:00am

About two weeks ago, a good friend of mine, who hails from Virginia and who is as avid a North Carolina Tar Heel fan as I know, was discussing the addition of Miami-Florida and Virginia Tech to the Atlantic Coast Conference. He was not pleased with the additions, but he promised to me, a Boston boy, that, "Boston College will never join the ACC." I responded with: "It'll happen, and it'll happen within a couple weeks." For once, my sports braggadocio paid off. BC joined up over this past weekend.

"So what?" you may say. This decision is huge. On one hand, it cripples the Big East. In fact, it might be the conference's death knell. The Big East is now down to five football members, with a switch due to occur in football: Temple out, UConn in. This means to survive, the Big East will be forced to raid Conference USA in multi-sport teams, and perhaps the Atlantic-10 in basketball only to come back to 16 teams in b-ball. This will bring the conference system as we know it crumbling down and could have profound implications for the new Bowl Championship Series discussions coming up in the next two years.

However, the bigger deal is with the ACC. The huge complaints by teams within the conference were that football, which is the biggest money maker, was trumping basketball, the ACC's traditional marquee sport, in importance. The wavering ACC members -- Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and North Carolina State -- also were concerned with the degradation of traditional rivalries. Miami fits with Florida State and perhaps Georgia Tech but not with anyone else. BC and Syracuse (an original favorite to join the league) have no connection. But Virginia Tech does, and so does West Virginia (my friend's preference for an additional team). Those of you who have watched Black Diamond Trophy games between West Virginia and Virginia Tech, or the hell unleashed by either of them against UVA, know that the football rivalries would be intense. So why the heck is Boston College the 12th member of the league?

The answer, friends, is basketball. Plainly and simply, Miami sucks at basketball. I know they had a couple good years with Leonard Hamilton and Tim James, but it was an illusion. And if Miami sucks, Virginia Tech is definitely worse. The last time the ACC expanded, with Florida State, they got a lousy basketball team for football purposes. Admittedly, FSU had those Bobby Sura/Charlie Ward years of quality (and any Big East fan who remembers those days fondly has serious issues). Now they have taken a league of eight above average to phenomenal basketball programs and added three below average to lousy ones. And West Virginia? They are no better. Sure they once produced Jerry West and were a postseason fixture. But those days are LONG gone. They made the postseason in 1998 and managed to win 14 games last year. But they are no ACC team.

Enter Boston College. They are as good a football team as West Virginia and are getting better year after year and are gaining respect and prestige year after year. Oh yeah, and their basketball team has been to the post season four years running, including a couple of great runs, such as the three-loss regular season in 2000. Instantly, the ACC has gained in BOTH football and basketball. BC had begun to regularly play the ACC for the last few years scheduling Duke, UNC, NC State and Virginia in the days since the Eagles' improbable upset of top-seeded UNC in the 1993 NCAA Tournament. This made Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, Roy Williams at UNC and Gary Williams at Maryland (a former coach of BC) very happy.

Oh yeah. Then there's the money. West Virginia has a television audience smaller than the non-Dartmouth population of Hanover, N.H. Virginia Tech doesn't bring in any new fans, as they draw from the same basic pool as UVA. Boston College, however, is another story. The northeast is a HUGE TV market, and the only football teams in the area are BC, Syracuse, Rutgers, UConn and Army. That's slim pickings. In basketball, there isn't much more. Thus, the ACC has just gained huge market rights in New England. They have also picked up a major in for Northeast athletic talent. Perhaps not the most fertile region, but still quite solid. Whaddaya know, smart move!

In the end, this move made fiscal sense, it made basketball sense and no amount of rivalry talk or concerns over travel could out-weigh those two facts. There are still pending law suits, including a new one brought against Boston College, and fees to be paid. But the Atlantic Coast Conference has just made the first step to joining the Big 12 and SEC as the giants of collegiate athletics. And for all those whining in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and the rest of Big East country, all I can say is that it's survival of the fittest, and you desparately need Richard Simmons and Billy Blanks FAST.