Jun 18

ACC Title Game to be Prime-Time

Posted By:Brett Haynes  Tags:

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Photo: US Presswire.com

The Atlantic Coast Conference has clearly had the weakest conference championship games in recent years - not just in attendance and the national rankings of participating teams, but also in TV ratings. The latter of the three will hopefully improve in 2009 as ESPN has picked up the event, held in Tampa's Raymond James Stadium, for an 8:00 PM prime-time start on Dec 5th. But no matter the venue or the TV time, the game itself will depend on the quality of the two opponents.

The ACC's showcase game will not be going head-to head with the SEC Championship game as it is at 1:00 EST that day. The Big-12 title game is at 7:00 EST, so the ACC and Big-12 versions will overlap.

So while the big announcement is that the game is moving to prime-time TV, two other issues clearly need to be addressed to make this game as glamorous as the SEC and Big-12 versions. The first is location. The second is the quality of teams playing.

The location.

When the fruition of the ACC into twelve teams caused the formation of this game, Tampa and Jacksonville were chosen often as host sites because most quietly thought FSU and Miami would be in it nearly every year...As it turns out, Virginia Tech, Boston College and Wake Forest have been contestants - and Florida is a pretty good haul for those first two schools (Wake Forest just has a small following, anyway).

So the first problem with this game is the location. Florida makes no sense for a conference that is spread all along an 1,800 mile stretch of the Atlantic Coast. Charlotte, on the other hand, is centralized, and in the heart of the ACC. All but Miami and Boston College are a reasonable drive to Charlotte for the ACC schools. If the game were in Charlotte, and you pitted FSU against say VT or North Carolina, the place would be standing room only....I would like to see this game eventually find a permanent home in Charlotte.

In the Atlantic Division, with the game in Tampa this season, FSU or Clemson or N.C. State would obviously fill up their half of the stadium. I also think Maryland would bring about 15 - 20,000 to Raymond James if they made it. But Wake Forest and Boston College would have trouble bringing more than 10,000. I am not sure of the official numbers Wake Forest brought to the ACC Championship Game in 2006, and the Orange Bowl following that game, but I'm thinking they were less than 10,000.

In the Coastal Division, only VT and UNC would guarantee a good following. What about Miami you say!? Well, have you watched a Hurricane home game lately? They struggle to fill seats to say the least. But with a bigger game on the line, and that game being in Tampa, and the 'U' playing good ball, I suppose folks would be coming out of the southern Florida swamps to dust off their old Michael Irvin jerseys. But admit it - the 'Cane fan base is pretty weak in general. As for Georgia Tech and Virginia, I could see them taking around 15,000 max. And Duke, well, nevermind...

The main thing.

No matter the combination of teams involved, though, one key thing has not even been discussed yet: the quality of those two teams playing. If the ACC does not have a couple of teams become top ranked (top-10 at regular season's end), then the ratings - and the game itself - will probably not be all that different in the eyes of the nation's fans. If you look at the SEC and Big-12 title games, there is nearly always a top 5 team (or two) in each contest. Last year the SEC had the top two teams in the country playing for the conference title in number 1 Alabama and number 2 Florida.

And the only way you get to be top-ranked is for two teams to step up and win all of their out of conference games, and maybe slip just once within the conference. As tough as that sounds to do, that is the way you become a top-10 team at season's end - and right now there is nothing the ACC needs more than for a team to step up and be a national factor. In recent seasons, the conference hasn't even been able to sniff the national scene.

So basically, here is what the ACC is praying for as the game wiil now move to prime-time:

Clemson/FSU/ or NC State    vs.    UNC/VT/ or Miami

Any of those combinations would generate a full Raymond James Stadium and the chance for the ACC to put on a good show to an 8:00 EST national audience. If one of the above combinations is not met, then there is a very strong possiblity that prime-time America could see a stadium half-full.

But all can change, and the ACC could be set-up for a big 2009. Three teams come to mind right away as capable of being good in a major way. FSU, VT, and UNC all have some important pieces in place to have big seasons. Georgia Tech is another team that could be quite dangerous. Clemson - a team with talent that compares with top-10 programs - is under a new coach and a new quarterback, so they are a huge question mark. NC State could also be a surprise team under disciplinarian Tom O'Brien.

Moving the game to a 8:00 prime-time TV start is a step in the right direction, but the ACC teams themselves must start winning out of conference games for the value of this game to truly go up.



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