Dreaming of ACC-SEC Football Matchups

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Here’s a thought spurred by a message board conversation:
Could the SEC and ACC leverage the 12th football game, starting in 2006, into a
yearly ACC-versus-SEC bonanza that TV networks and sponsors would drool over?
Sure, the 12th game is perceived by cynics like myself as leading to a regular
diet of home games against D1-AA teams or D1-A cupcakes, but is there a sliver
of hope that something more imaginative, and also lucrative, could come of it?

First, the back story: the NCAA has approved a 12th
regular season football game, starting in 2006. They (not coincidentally) also
passed new legislation that says a victory against a Division 1-AA team can now
be counted towards bowl eligibility requirements every season, not just once
every four years, as used to be the rule.

This combination – play a 12th game every year, and wins
over D1-AA teams now count towards bowl eligibility every year – leads cynics
like myself (or are we realists?) to immediately chalk that 12th game up as a
home revenue-generator against a cupcake, most likely a Division 1-AA team. It’s
unlikely, in the cynic/realist’s opinion, that the 12th game would be used for
juicy home-and-away matchups between high-profile programs.

But there are other ways to generate revenue than just
having a home game. Television comes to mind. If there’s one thing TV loves,
it’s a special event, something outside the norm that they can hype … and more
importantly, charge extra advertising dollars for.

Marketers also love special high-visibility events,
because they can pitch them to sponsors and get the lucrative "title
sponsor," as in Dr. Pepper paying big money to sponsor the ACC, SEC, and
Big 12 football championship games.

Knowing these facts, and swimming against the tide,
message board poster "Fore Hokie’s" floated the idea of an SEC-ACC
challenge in football, similar to the annual Big Ten-ACC Mismatch, uh, Challenge
in basketball. Set up 12 games pitting the ACC against the SEC, Fore Hokie’s
said, and rotate them as home-and-away matchups.

While a great idea in theory, it’s not likely to get off
the ground because, as noted above, BCS schools are going to use that 12th game
for a seventh home game every year, not rotating home-and-away contests. A
school like Virginia Tech, with a stadium capacity in the neighborhood of
65,000, will reportedly net $1.5-$2.0 million per home game, while only getting
a guarantee of $300k-$500k to play on the road (a lot of which is spent in
travel costs).

So it’s unlikely that ACC and SEC presidents and ADs would
agree to this ACC-SEC Challenge format, not to mention football coaches, who
like to play as few tough games as possible. A homer against FAMU beats a road
game at Florida every time for coaches who have to coach their way through tough
league schedules and a conference championship game.

But let’s dream anyway, okay?

Let’s dream that every season, on the Labor Day weekend,
the SEC and ACC clash in a 12-game extravaganza called the Mydol ACC-SEC
Challenge. Ha, just checking to see if you were paying attention – let’s call
it the Viagra ACC-SEC Challenge instead, because Viagra ads are omnipresent
during sporting events anyway, so why not embrace it?

Pit the ACC’s Atlantic Division against the SEC’s Eastern
Division, and the Coastal against the Western, with matchups based on where the
teams finished the previous season. In 2006, the ACC’s Atlantic and SEC’s
Western get to host games, and next year, it’s the Coastal and the Eastern.

It’s hard to know what those matchups would look like in
2006, but you could wind up with something like this, using the 2004 SEC
standings and the 2004 ACC standings (with the teams split into their
and BC’s 4-2 Big East record thrown in as a hypothetical ACC
record, projecting the Eagles as second in the ACC Atlantic Division):

ACC Coastal at SEC Western
(CBS Games)

SEC Eastern at ACC Atlantic
(ABC Games)

Virginia Tech at Auburn

Tennessee at FSU

Miami at LSU

Georgia at Boston College

Virginia at Arkansas

Florida at Clemson

UNC at Alabama

South Carolina at Maryland

Georgia Tech at Ole Miss

Kentucky at NC State

Duke at Miss. State

Vanderbilt at Wake Forest

Now we’re talking. Notice the "CBS Games" and
"ABC Games" notes? For this to work – for ADs and presidents to give
up a home game – you’d have to pitch this clash not just to sponsors, but as
separate value-added contracts to CBS and ABC, the networks that have broadcast
rights to SEC home games and ACC home games, respectively.

Your first thought is "No way ABC or CBS pays extra
when they already have the broadcast rights to those conferences." That’s
simple to address. If I were the SEC and ACC commissioners, I’d say to the
networks, "If you pay extra, we’ll package some great games for you on
Labor Day weekend, but if you refuse, we’ll just go schedule Furman, Alabama
State, the Citadel, and James Madison. It’s your call, and oh-by-the-way,
Viagra’s ready to pay money as part of the deal."

CBS and ABC would have to work out the scheduling so the
games wouldn’t trample each other throughout that weekend, and you probably
don’t want to nationally broadcast all 12 games, maybe just eight or ten. No one
wants to see Vanderbilt at Wake Forest.

Get the networks to pony up a few million extra and a
weekend-long sponsor to pay a few million extra for exclusive title sponsorship
rights on both networks, and you’ve got a cash cow. To make it feasible, this
cash cow has to pay enough to make up for the loss of a home game every other
year, which probably isn’t doable, given that 12 teams each year would give up
home games that would probably net each of them an average of $1.5 million (way
less for Duke, way more for Tennessee, but maybe $1.5 million on average).

That means the two networks and title sponsor would have
to pay about $18 million a year, so that an average of $1.5 million could
trickle down to the 12 road teams, assuming that you paid just the road teams,
again an iffy assumption. That’s a lot of money, but hey, the ACC Championship
game, one single game, pays $6 million to the ACC. What would 8-10 good matchups
in a weekend-long extravaganza be worth?

Ultimately, this scenario uses a lot of positive thinking
and simplistic math, and it probably isn’t possible to make it happen. But hey,
the offseason is for dreaming and what-if scenarios, and the Viagra ACC-SEC
Challenge is a lot of fun to dream of.

On another note…

Congrats to the Hokie softball team, which earned its
first-ever NCAA Tournament bid in its ten-year history this past weekend. Seeded
seventh in the seven-team ACC, the team stormed into the ACC championship game
against top-seeded Georgia Tech, where they fell 1-0. Nonetheless, the Hokies
(43-23 overall) were given an at-large bid to the NCAA’s and will face the
College of Charleston (51-16) in the first round on Friday at Knoxville, Tenn.,
at 5 p.m.

Six years ago, the softball program looked as if it had a
very promising future, one full of many trips to the NCAA Tournament. In the
1999 season the Hokies at one point strung together 26 straight wins and 35 out
of 36. They finished 54-16 that year, sadly losing to UMass in the A-10
tournament and not receiving an at-large NCAA invitation, due to the weak status
of A-10 softball.

The Hokies did it in 1999 with two freshman pitchers,
Clarisa Crowell and Ashlee Dobbe, who finished 25-8 and 29-8 respectively,
Tech’s only two pitchers of record that year. It looked as if the duo might
dominate for years, but it didn’t work out that way. Crowell finished her career
65-25, and Dobbe 93-41, but in their last three years, the Hokies slipped to
41-22 (2nd in the A-10), 36-23 (5th in the Big East), and 42-18 (4th in the Big
East), failing to make the NCAAs. It got worse in 2003 (21-29, 10th in the Big
East) and 2004 (36-23, 7th in the Big East).

This year, VT has again risen far above .500, this time on
the back of freshman pitcher Angela Tincher, who compiled a 21-7 record with a
0.92 ERA, tying Dobbe’s 1999 single-season record (against better competition).
Tincher missed a large chunk of the season with a stress fracture, and one
wonders how good the Hokies could have been with her healthy all year (Tech’s
other pitchers, Katie Maynard and Karie Morrison, went 22-16, with ERAs of 3.28
and 3.58).

With Tincher on board, strong ACC conference affiliation,
and upcoming NCAA experience, the future is again promising for VT softball
under Scot Thomas.

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