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UNC has endless possibilities with new ACC Network

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ACC Network will have multiple effects on UNC involving recruiting, programming, and conference expansion

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The ACC is finally catching up to the SEC, BIG10, and PAC 12, and forming its own television network. (Word is still out on whether the Big 12 will eventually figure out how this whole Power 5 conference thing works.) The full version is still three years away, and in the meantime, the ACC and ESPN are going to partner up with digital/mobile-specific options revolving around their Watch ESPN app and ESPN3. That will be labeled the ACC Network Extra.

Some media types around the Triangle have insinuated that the digital stipulation was the key component to the deal. There are hundreds of people who are smarter on the specifics than I am, but we can delve into what this might mean specifically for UNC. Our own Daniel Bayer wrote a great in-depth article (shameless promotion!) about the effect it would have on Olympic sports — an area in which UNC has historically performed well. To keep things light and fun, we'll focus on three areas: recruiting, programming, and ACC expansion (where the good idea fairy takes over). To be clear, I fully acknowledge each of these three areas are more complex than what is laid out.  Maybe we'll explore more in-depth on another day.

Recruiting

Recruiting is always a fun buzzword that is thrown around when discussing television deals, but what are the actual effects?  In the case of the PAC 12, SEC, and BIG10 networks, it essentially meant a dedicated program on most cable packages showcasing that conference's events. In theory, each conference is more accessible to athletes, recruits, families, and fans across the country — specifically in areas that may have been dominated by other schools. More exposure leads to opportunity, and that opportunity leads to a larger pool of talent.

Now the ACC can get a piece of that action and arguably be even more prevalent if their digital platform is a success. I stress "if" because there is still much to be worked out. The early details indicate that once ACC Network Extra launches, it will be responsible for approximately 600 live events during the first year. I'd argue that number should expand exponentially as more infrastructure is put in place.

There is a possibility that now instead of ACC Network Extra playing one game at a time, or focusing on a different game in different markets, every single ACC game can be available, no matter who the opponent is. Depending on each school's video programming capability, almost every single game, match, or competition can be broadcast for a specific school, using ESPN as the main vehicle, as opposed to each school or conference providing it themselves from their official athletic websites.

That capability is crucial for UNC football as they try to continue to make headway with the historical powerhouses. It could also dent UNC's advantage in basketball — a very small chance, but it should at least be mentioned. A major recruiting tool has always been, "Well, you'll be on TV 465 times this year." The digital package may help negate that disadvantage and/or advantage. That may seem silly now, but with an uncertain future in the television industry, the ability to stream-as-you-please will open new doors for some schools. Depending on the sport, UNC could gain (football, baseball, women's basketball) or lose (men's basketball) an advantage.

I'd also argue it's a huge boost for other sports that may be "non-revenue", but aren't a slouch either. Baseball and softball are the two that immediately come to mind, as it seems that each spring, those two tournaments increasingly flood our screens, leading to potential revenue and valuable brand recognition. The ability to reach recruits in other parts of the country will gain importance.

Programming

Programming also remains a mystery. Will there be a focus on current games and classic games? Is there a plan to find weekly talk-shows with debate and regionally or nationally known pundits? Will each coach received a dedicated time block each week to host their own show? I have no clue, but I do think there are a few avenues to explore.

Keeping with the digital platform theme, I'm curious if there is a way to keep a historical archive of each school's classic games. Want to watch the double-OT win against Duke in ‘95? That 1996 defense was a thing of beauty during their 45-0 beat down of Clemson. Heck, maybe you're a sadist and want to look back on Matt Doherty's last year and wonder how on earth that eight-win team earned a title just two years later. And who wouldn't want to play Gio against N.C. State on a continuous loop? Just log-in, do a quick search, and enjoy.

The same could be done with specific documentaries in the same format the SEC currently provides. UNC and ESPN could explore Charlie Scott and his trials, tribulations, and successes during his time as the first black scholarship athlete at UNC. A deep dive looking into the history of basketball in the state of NC, focusing on the Big 4, not just Duke and UNC, would provide hours of entertainment. To be honest, an in-depth look at how Anson Dorrance built his powerhouse is probably long overdue in light of the current spotlight that is shining on women's soccer as a whole.

Additionally, as briefly discussed above, when dealing with actual game programming, various schools and ESPN currently do a decent job of making most games available via their platforms. Yet, not all are available, nor are they all given primary focus. A targeted digital capability potentially provides an outlet that the other conferences don't necessarily have yet. Increased production, marketing, and availability should be expected. Each school could even try and form their own school-specific broadcasting teams, a la TBS and TNT during the Final Four this year.

Expansion

Ok. Stick with me. This is where things get interesting. Expansion tends to be one of the more emotional topics discussed. Inevitably, the new TV deal is going to bring this topic to the forefront across the country. In large part because the Big 12 continues to play Go Fish in the nursery while everyone else is playing Texas Hold'em at the high stakes table.

The new deal locks every member into the ACC thru 2036, including Notre Dame. If Notre Dame actually decides to join a conference during this time period, it would have to be the ACC. The grant of rights was reportedly one of the largest sticking points with a few schools, and understandably so. Yet, everyone is on board. It just feels...a bit suspect. (Obviously, these things are never set in stone. Everyone wave at Maryland.)

With that said, provided the Big 12 does its part and raids the AAC, as many expect to happen, there is one no-nonsense, rational school that should be ripe for the ACC's picking: UCONN.

It's not an uncommon topic, and UCONN is always mentioned as a possibility. In fact they were a strong candidate during the original rounds of re-alignment but Boston College blocked them from joining because of some dormant ill-will and the desire to own the New England market. But it's time to stop being a petulant child, because truth be told, going winless in ACC football and basketball isn't helping anybody. Adding UCONN helps everyone.


What does that have to do with UNC? In two words, "nothing" and "everything". The new network is going to push the ACC basketball schedule to 20 games. By adding UCONN, the ACC would be in position of gaining a powerhouse basketball school who also fields a football team. Imagine these two divisions:

FORMER BIG EAST SCHOOLS

ORIGINAL ACC SCHOOLS

Boston College

Clemson

Louisville

Duke

Miami

Florida State

Notre Dame

Georgia Tech

Pittsburgh

N.C. State

Syracuse

UNC

Virginia Tech

UVA

UCONN

Wake Forest



Congratulations ACC. With this alignment you now not only own, but flat out dominate, the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, East Coast, and parts of the Southeast markets. The ACC could corner every major television market east of the Mississippi with the exception of Birmingham, Nashville, and maybe Atlanta. More than that, you've just tapped into 90% of the nostalgia that disappeared when this whole goat rodeo started 15 years ago.

Ratings. Bonanza.

Marketing. Gold.

Cash. Flow.

For basketball, it would mean 14 round-robin divisional games with six extra games with which to tinker. Old rivalries galore. Wake Forest is no longer the red-headed step-child of the Big Four. Potentially old-school Big East-styled brawls. No more multi-day byes in the ACC tournament. Six teams should be the least amount of teams selected to the men's NCAA tournament in a given year. It may make an ACC title a little harder for UNC, but going from 9 to 15 teams hasn't hurt so far. One more team probably won't hurt either.

Football, of course, depends on Notre Dame giving up independence, and is largely a separate discussion. Yet, it is becoming clear they will be on the outside looking in as the College Football Playoff evolves. College football doesn't need Notre Dame as much as it used to — but the ACC sure could use them. As far back as 2013, John Swofford even mentioned that wrapping ND's exclusive NBC contract into the ACC fold would not be a showstopper. Plus, Notre Dame's NBC contract is rumored to have an out clause if they decide to join a conference full-time for football.

A division consisting of VT, ND, and Miami? Against a division that includes FSU, Clemson, and, dare I say it, ...an up-and-coming UNC? While it's no SEC-styled dominance, it certainly adds a level of potential respectability that the ACC continually seeks. And, it provides a specific targeted marketing and branding option as opposed to the current division alignment that exists...which nobody really seems to enjoy or fully understand. AND! It still gives room for either an eight or nine game conference schedule.

All of which is to say, I'm prone to one conspiracy theory in all of this. It's supposed to take three years to get this whole shebang in place. The ACC and ESPN are saying all the right things about needing time to plan and build infrastructure. But for a conference that has acted with Hall of Fame level stealth and secrecy, I don't believe for one second that there are no other factors at play. I think the above scenario is the goal.

I have no sources. No inside information. No rational reason for putting this much thought into it. But the above layout just makes too much sense. For a conference that has prided itself on deliberate, long-term vision, this would just be another step in providing stability for the next 20 years.