Wednesday, December 2, 2009

ACC needs to stop the bleeding

There’s a lot riding on the five ACC-Big Ten Challenge games to be held tonight in men’s basketball.

Simply put, the ACC needs momentum in what’s been a difficult year for the conference, to put it mildly. North Carolina, which provided the ACC with its shining moment in the spring, came through Tuesday night with a marquee, 89-82 defeat of Michigan State that helped even the ACC-Big Ten Challenge at 3-3 heading into tonight’s games.

It’s up to Duke, Clemson, Boston College, Florida State and Miami to come up with three wins between them to avoid the ACC’s first loss in the 11 years of the made-for-ESPN challenge with the Big Ten. A Big Ten breakthrough would be the second major blow to the ACC in a week.

On Saturday, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Florida State combined to go 0-3 in high-profile games against their in-state rivals in the SEC in football. The ACC had performed respectably against non-conference competition this season until that debacle.

Now Saturday’s ACC title game between Clemson and Georgia Tech in Tampa, Fla., has become a meeting between two less-than-elite teams while the SEC steals the show Saturday in Atlanta.

The SEC’s domination in football has become a huge problem for the ACC and every other Bowl Championship Series conference. Florida and LSU from the SEC have combined to win the last three BCS championships, and Florida and Alabama are both 12-0 as they head to Atlanta to decide which team will participate in this season’s BCS title game.

That football success helped the SEC land blockbuster TV deals with ESPN and CBS that began this season. They’re worth a reported $2.25 billion and $825 million, respectively over 15 years, or an average of $205 million a year, according to the Sports Business Journal. They are so lucrative that ACC commissioner John Swofford has conceded that other conferences aren’t likely to equal them.

The revenue isn’t the only problem there. While the SEC seems to be gobbling up the prime TV slots on Saturdays, ACC games often are relegated to ESPN-U (which still doesn’t reach many households) or (which is available only over the Internet).

That’s probably appropriate in view of the comparative stature of the football programs in the two conferences. But it doesn’t help the ACC recruit as it tries to catch up in football.

There may be some hope for the ACC on the TV front, though, in the future. If you look hard enough, you can see a possible challenger to ESPN’s domination of sports broadcasting in the headlines of this week’s business sections.

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, is planning a takeover of NBC Universal that could eventually provide a competitor to ABC/ESPN. It’s not difficult to imagine the new conglomerate changing MSNBC, for example, into an all-sports network.

That would give Comcast a long-standing over-the-air network in NBC plus an all-sports network, just like ABC/ESPN. In addition, Comcast would control the delivery mechanism that sends cable into approximately 24 million homes, according to reports. This could put ABC/ESPN at a competitive disadvantage, because it doesn’t control the cable wires.

This might all be fantasy. The folks running NBC decided to put Jay Leno into the 10 p.m. slot five nights a week, so they might not be smart enough to figure all this out. And the feds might have something to say about how anti-trust laws apply to one company cutting such a broad swath in the communications industry.

But it’s possible the sports broadcasting industry will get much more interesting in the near future.

That’s a long way off, though. Tonight, meanwhile, on the ESPN family of networks, the ACC needs to stop the bleeding in a difficult year with at least three wins against the Big Ten.

Ken Tysiac


Anonymous said...

SEC football is to ACC football what ACC basketball is to SEC basketball. The ACC has nothing to match Florida-Alabama in football and the SEC has nothing to match Carolina-Duke in basketball. Neither side is even close.So let's just enjoy the best of both. I could give a rat's ass about conferences anyway. Who cares?? I just enjoy watching the best athletes compete.

James said...

Well said, Anonymous. I agree 100%.

Anonymous said...

Ditto!! I am a Carolina fan and love watching their title runs every year in basketball. But unless Carolina is playing, I seldom watch an ACC football game and prefer to watch the top SEC teams play.By the way that does not include USC, I said the "top" SEC teams. Why would anyone other than alums want to watch Clemson/GT instead of UF & Alabama.