When the Atlantic Coast Conference extended membership invitations to Virginia Tech and Miami in June 2003 and to Boston College four months later, ACC officials offered visions of soaring revenue and heightened national prestige for a conference known traditionally for men’s basketball. The plan was to make the ACC more like the Southeastern Conference and the Big 12, with conference championship games, opulent television contracts and national renown for its football teams.
In the five years since realignment was initiated the ACC, with its expanded roster of 12 schools, has signed a seven-year, $258 million contract with ABC and ESPN — which nearly doubled the annual income of its previous TV deal — and hosted three football conference title games at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
ACC Commissioner John Swofford said expansion “has met expectations in every way,” and several officials inside and outside the conference say the overall level of play of both football and basketball has improved. Others, however, say the benefits of growth have in many ways fallen short of predictions.
And in one of the most critical and unforeseen byproducts of the realignment, the rival Big East Conference — forced to expand in response to the flight of three of its schools to the ACC — has strengthened its standing as a big-time football conference and fortified the depth of its basketball programs to an extent the ACC has yet to realize.