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Let's Just Drop This Not Pursuing Football Business

Pity the poor football team, ignored and shunned by their fellow students.
Pity the poor football team, ignored and shunned by their fellow students.

I spent part of the morning that should have been devoting to packing doing something much less productive — arguing over the internet. What set me off was Michael Felder's Bleacher Report piece saying "the conference has backed the wrong horse" in choosing basketball over football, and that UNC and Duke had "opted to tie themselves to basketball" but it's nothing that I haven't heard for years. Being traditionally good at basketball is sin; it drives football coaches away, it makes the TV executives sad, it upsets the natural order of things and leads to conference doom. Doom, I say!


These folks can never actually delineate the point when the ACC and its member schools "chose" basketball over football. Because it never happened. The best you can say is that in 1953, the member schools left the Southern Conference in part to participate in post-season play, and eventually established higher academic standards than the SEC. Beyond that, the ACC pursued football at every turn.

Almost every expansion move has been wholly football-related. Georgia Tech had one NCAA appearance before joining the conference in 1979; the same goes for Florida State when they signed on in 1991. Miami and Boston College were pure football plays, while Virginia Tech was forced upon the conference but still was only known for their gridiron performance. By the time of the last expansion, their weren't that many good schools willing to jump ship, and still the conference got the best regional football programs available.

Even in Chapel Hill, football success is constantly being chased. Kenan Stadium has been expanded twice in the last twenty years. The only time UNC has ever tried to hamper an athletics program was when... they hired an unknown Dean Smith, to de-emphasize basketball after Frank McGuire resigned over NCAA violations. (He eventually became coach at South Carolina, where he was influential in the Gamecocks leaving the conference because he was unhappy with the league's basketball policies.) Have the Tar Heels floundered in the fourteen years since Mack Brown left? Yep. So has football-mad Notre Dame, and both schools have gone through the same number of coaches in the interim.

Basketball gets more attention at UNC because the basketball team wins. When the football team wins, they get the same time in the spotlight. (Trust me, I was there in 1996 and 1997.) It's the same everywhere. To say the ACC "chose" basketball is only slightly less silly than saying the conference abandoned football to concentrate on field hockey and lacrosse. (Seriously, the field hockey talent in this conference is awesome.) The ACC is where it is right now because the marquee football programs have struggled, especially on the national stage, and college football is in the middle of a huge bubble. FSU and Clemson jumping to the Big 12 isn't going to change anything in Tallahassee or SC, and it won't change much in the ACC (besides making the numbers more manageable). Success in basketball doesn't preclude success in football, and whining about failing in football doesn't make your team any better.