The Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) was born on June 14, 1953, after seven members of the Southern Conference struck out on their own.
The charter members of the ACC were Clemson, South Carolina, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke, Wake Forest and Maryland. Later that year, Virginia was admitted into the conference, so they’re practically, if not technically, founding members in my book.
Since the ACC was founded, only two schools have left, South Carolina in 1971, and more than 40 years later, the University of Maryland decided to jump ship for the Big Ten Conference.
The loss of Maryland, which probably stings more on a symbolic level than any practical one, was the latest of a slew of moves due to what is dubbed “conference realignment.”
It can be exhausting to keep up with the changes when proposed conference shifts differ from day to day. It leaves pundits and talking heads with plenty of fodder to dig into and hypothesize about, but for those of us who don’t have time to do (constant) research on how happy which universities are where and why, it can be a bit much.
But even after the ACC’s loss of Maryland, it arguably has come out on the better end of conference realignment than some other conferences.
Take the Big East for example, which for all intents and purposes is dead as a conference.
The Big East faced a problem similar to other conferences early in the 2000s, where it tried to balance its conference and appease all of its member institutions, whether they were football- or basketball-centric.
It’s not an easy task.
For fans of the ACC, which has traditionally been and continues to be a strong basketball conference and a weaker football conference, the problem is all too familiar.
It was in 2003 that the ACC grabbed three Big East schools in Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College. The Big East, in turn, grabbed schools from Conference USA in Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, Marquette and DePaul.
One of the oldest clichés in the book is that history has a way of repeating itself, but they’re clichés for a reason.
In 2011, the ACC struck again, taking Syracuse, which was one of the founding members of the Big East and a huge basketball asset, along with Pittsburgh, a fairly well balanced athletic program. Texas Christian University (TCU), which had accepted an invitation to join the Big East the year prior, reneged on its decision and felt like the Big 12 Conference was good enough.
After the loss of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, things went from bad to worse for the Big East.
The Big East went recruit-happy by inviting Boise State and San Diego State, each from the Mountain West Conference, to join for football, and they also brought in the University of Central Florida, Southern Methodist University and the University of Houston, each from Conference USA (sensing a pattern?) for all sports effective 2013. Loyola from the Patriot League also announced it would join as full members in 2013.
Then Notre Dame left, announcing it would follow fellow Big Easters Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC for all sports other than football. Rutgers followed suit and jumped ship for the Big Ten Conference.
The Big East responded by raiding Conference USA once more for Tulane in all sports and East Carolina for football.
The ACC then took Louisville from the Big East.
And finally, what might be the nail in the coffin for the Big East, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova, seven basketball-heavy Catholic schools, announced they would be leaving en masse in 2015 to pursue a new basketball friendly conference scheme.
Since then, Boise State has said ‘no thanks’ to the Big East offer and decided to stay put in the Mountain West Conference.
While the Big East is on the verge of complete collapse, what can be said about the ACC, which appears to have benefited from most of the departing talent from the former great league?
The ACC has four future members to look forward to — Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville and Notre Dame. All are former Big East members, and between them, they account for 39 NCAA team championships. Louisville and Notre Dame’s first appearance in the conference is still in the air, but Pittsburgh and Syracuse will be seeing ACC action this year.
In terms of college basketball, which should be taking up at least some of your waking hours these days, the ACC is looking stronger than ever, particularly considering the new blood.
All of the new ACC schools are currently ranked in the AP Top 25. If they were in the conference right now, the list would look something like this: Duke (1), Louisville (4), Syracuse (7), Notre Dame (21), North Carolina State (23) and Pittsburgh (24).
Not too shabby.
Something else to consider when thinking of the league’s basketball prowess, Jim Boeheim, head coach of the Syracuse Orange basketball team, just reached his 903rd career victory as a Division I coach, surpassing Bob Knight for second all-time.
Yes, the same Boeheim and Syracuse, which is joining the ACC.
And Boeheim trails only one on the all-time list, that being Mike Krzyzewski from Duke, who, as of this column writing, has 940 career wins.
Yes, the same Krzyzewski and Duke, which is currently No. 1 in the country, founding members of the ACC.
It looks good.
And while the ACC won’t be stomping the SEC on a regular basis anytime soon in football, the new schools are still going to help the conference’s football profile.
Sticking with the Orange for a moment, Syracuse finished its season at a solid 8-5 mark. After starting the season 4-5, Syracuse beat Louisville 45-26, Missouri 31-27 and Temple 38-20 to end its season strong. The Orange’s success earned them a trip to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl as extreme underdogs against West Virginia. Syracuse crushed West Virginia 38-14.
How about Louisville?
Louisville had a fantastic 2012 season, finishing 11-2 overall. Despite suffering a bad overtime loss to Connecticut 23-20 on Dec. 24, the Cardinals squeaked by Rutgers 20-17 to set up a showdown against Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Much like Syracuse, Louisville played the role of extreme underdog, and again embarrassed the competition. The Cardinals stomped the Gators 33-23 in an upset that few predicted.
While Pittsburgh did not have as prolific a football season as the other soon-to-be ACC member, finishing the regular season 6-6, the Panthers will be seeing bowl action against the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday. Only two years ago, the Panthers had a solid 8-5 season and finished tied for first in the Big East.
And then there is Notre Dame.
I’m not delusional, I know that Notre Dame is not joining the ACC as a football member. The Fighting Irish, who are undefeated this season and have an opportunity for a national championship against the premier college football program in the country in Alabama, are still getting their time in the spotlight.
And Notre Dame will still be playing ACC teams in football.
That type of exposure is nothing but good for the conference as a whole.
While the ACC will need to continue playing the game of conference realignment to keep up with the rest of college sports — and in doing so should pay particular attention to boosting the football brand, which is where the money is — the conference has survived the latest round of changes.
And it appears to have come out stronger in the process.
(Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @nhallccnt)