FanPost

Give Up The "We Can Get An ACC School" Delusion

No, Virginia Tech is not coming. Neither is Georgia Tech. Neither is Clemson. Neither is FSU. Neither is Miami. Neither is North Carolina State, Maryland, or anyone else that you can throw out. No matter how hard we pursue them, they aren't going to come. No matter how long we wait, they aren't going to change their minds. Not when or if conferences go to 14, 16, 18, 32 or whatever teams, and not if the SEC promises a TV contract that is 5 times the size of everybody else, and not if joining the SEC means filling their programs with All-Americans, their stadiums with fans, and their trophy case with titles.

Why? Because with the addition of Pitt and Syracuse, the ACC is probably now the #1 academics conference in America, and at the very worst is only slightly behind the Big 10 at #2. (The SEC by contrast is no better than #4. If the Big 12 still had Colorado - or Nebraska or Texas A&M - the SEC would be no better than #5. And if the Big East still had Syracuse and Pitt, it would be difficult to claim that the SEC was definitely #6, and the SEC's case against the Big East would consist of having better schools at the bottom, not at the top. See the athletics conference breakdown by U.S. News and World Report (sorry, 2010 was the latest year I could find).

So, who cares about academics, since these are athletics conferences? Well, the people who make these decisions: the university presidents, who lest we forget have to look out for the entire university, not just the football team. And even if you put aside the idea that a university president should do what is best for academics because universities are supposed to be about higher learning, there is this fact: academics bring in much more money to a university than athletics does. As a matter of fact, it isn't close. The top athletics department in the country, the University of Texas, earned less than $90 million in athletics last year. Sounds like a lot, right? First, when you consider that Texas only actually made a profit of $7 million dollars in athletics and most universities don't come anywhere near that much (Auburn only turned a profit of $122,000 last year!) ... well that puts it into context, doesn't it? 

And how about this for even more context: The University of Texas took in $642 million in research - mostly federal and state grants - in 2010. Now think about it: athletics: $90 million. Profit: $7 million. Research: $642 million. And that is just research, only one source of revenue for a school that had an operating budget of $2.2 billion, only $318 million of which came from the state! And why are schools able to get so much academics-related cash? The strength of their academic programs, true. But also the reputation of the school (which makes it easier to win grants and contracts and raise top dollar from big donors, and oh yeah charge a premium on tuition ... the first thing that FSU did upon joining the ACC was make a huge increase in their tuition, and tuition accounts for over 1/3 of the revenue to Auburn University!), and the reputation of the school that you partner - as in be in a conference - with is also extremely important. Basically, you can take two schools where everything else was equal but the academic reputation, and the school with the better academic reputation will bring in much more money. 

So, by leaving the ACC, a combination of some of the most respected public universities in the south (Georgia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland), outstanding southern private research schools (Duke, Miami) and respected northern universities (Syracuse, Pitt, Boston College) plus other strong, respected schools (Clemson, N.C. State, Wake Forest, Virginia Tech ... consider that the #14 school in the ACC academically, FSU, would be #7 in the SEC!) a university would cost itself many millions. They would lose much much more in academic revenue than they would gain in athletics revenue. And since athletics is basically a "break even" proposition (Ole Miss literally broke even last year, with ZERO net revenue from athletics!) where even a powerhouse like Florida didn't even reach $4 million in profit last year, an ACC school would basically just be throwing away millions upon millions from academics without getting any significant (unless $3 million against a $1 billion operating budget somehow counts as "significant") financial benefit from athletics. 

Now of course, SOME SCHOOLS do actually use successful athletics programs to drive their academic success ... gridiron accomplishments brings in publicity to the school, which increases enrollment, donations, money from the state, tuition, and may even result in a research grant or two. But those are schools that need the exposure from athletics because they lack a strong academic reputation. So, where joining the SEC would mean more money for USF's academics programs, it would mean less for FSU's. That's why USF would accept an SEC invite tomorrow, but FSU won't, and neither will Virginia Tech or anyone else that is being bandied about.

So why did Texas A&M join the SEC? Simple: because life in the Big 12 was so bad for them that they were willing to lose money on the deal. Also, even though there are - or were - a bunch of schools in the Big 12 that had good academic reputations as individual institutions, the Big 12 in and of itself did not have a reputation as a "strong academics conference" (like the Big 10, ACC and Pac-12), plus there really wasn't a lot of cooperation in the Big 12 on research (or much of anything else, which is why so many teams are leaving or trying to). So, there really wasn't much of an academic benefit to being in the Big 12 that A&M is giving up, and that is precisely the reason why Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech wanted to go to the Pac-12 so badly last year and this year (and Texas, despite what they want you to believe, badly wanted to go to the Pac-10 last year too). That is not the case with the ACC, where everyone gets along beautifully, there is a lot of institutional cooperation, and mere membership alone enhances an institution's reputation and puts them in a better position to gain greater academic dollars.

So, there are two things that SEC fans should take away from this. 1. Stop rooting for the SEC to pick off an ACC school, because it isn't going to happen. 2. Start rooting for the SEC to become better and stronger academically. (Not necessarily more like the arrogant, elitist ACC, whom FSU basketball star Sam Cassell famously called "a wine and cheese crowd." Just better academically.) Academics matters, and it is past time that fans of SEC sports recognize it. Believing that the SEC's BCS dominance would make it more attractive to ACC schools (for instance) totally ignores how the business of running universities works.  

A FanPost gives the opinion of the fan who writes it and that fan only. That doesn't give the opinion more or less weight than any other opinion on this blog, but the post does not necessarily reflect the view of TSK's writers.

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