Conference champ-only format suits ACC

April, 24, 2012
4/24/12
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If you're ACC commissioner John Swofford, you've carved out a pretty nice life for yourself lately. Less than two years ago, you landed a long-term television deal with ESPN. Less than a year ago, you secured the move of Big East bedrocks Pitt and Syracuse, making your conference the unquestioned leader in men's college basketball.

If these upcoming BCS meetings take a couple of unforeseen turns, who knows, just maybe you can provide a safe landing spot for Notre Dame, expanding your conference's footprint to the Midwest and, to an extent, across the nation in a way no other league would be able to match.

But that's another issue for another day. For now, as we said, life is good as the ACC commissioner.

As sad a commentary as it might be on the present state of college athletics, the only tangible issue for the ACC now is, frankly, a minor one: The conference has not been among the best when it comes to winning football games.

Its champion from a year ago, Clemson, was run off the field in the Orange Bowl by West Virginia, a school that valued winning the Big East so much that it is now playing in the Big 12. The runner-up, perennial conference contender Virginia Tech, managed to secure a second BCS-bowl bid for the conference, something that had never been done before. The Hokies did that despite losing the league's title game by 28 points, despite finishing four BCS spots behind Boise State (No. 7) and three spots behind Kansas State (No. 8).

Both schools went on to play in smaller bowls, and the Hokies got a trip to New Orleans, ultimately losing a winnable Sugar Bowl against Michigan. The Wolverines, by the way, did not even reach their conference championship game — they actually lost to the team that lost that game, Michigan State. But, as we said, when life is good in college football, there are benefits to be reaped.

One of those may be on display this week in South Florida, where postseason meetings will take place among the 11 FBS commissioners and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. Here, the ACC can get greedy.

The future is secure, which is more than can be said for some other conferences. But the record in BCS bowl games is 2-12, a concern generally limited to fan bases whose teams are losing big game after big game. Virginia Tech, a model of consistency in this sport, can only be tasked with carrying the mantle for the conference so much.

If a playoff format involving only conference champions arises, though, this could be the breakthrough toward occasionally cracking the nation's elite. Despite strong annual recruiting efforts from Clemson and Florida State, the ACC has shown little sign it can put multiple teams in the national title hunt every year, which is what the home of the past six national-title winners — the SEC — has been able to do.

But have one team emerge every now and then, losing one or even zero games? That's far more likely, which makes cracking a four-team playoff decided by conference winners — and thereby entering the national title picture — all the easier.

Are six consecutive national titles on the horizon for the ACC? Not exactly. But with its future secure, and its base potentially growing, this could be one small step for a conference lacking only on the scoreboard.

Matt Fortuna | email

College Football

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