Growing pains are deserved by ACC

November 16, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

Fans of Maryland, Boston College and Wake Forest ought to savor the next two weekends of football, because they will decide which team will get a berth in Atlantic Coast Conference championship game No. 2 and a shot at a Bowl Championship Series bid.

They might be the only ACC fans feeling good about this, though.

Worse, they might be the only fans in the entire country paying attention.

That is what expansion has wrought. The ACC's chickens have come home to roost. They left the yard in 2003 with dollar signs in their eyes, but come back now with dazed expressions, possibly from getting a helmet smacked across their skulls.

The powers that be in the conference were warned. Heck, the powers that be were among those doing the warning, only to find out that they didn't have the power they thought they did.

Don't do this - we'll all regret it, implored Gary Williams and Mike Krzyzewski, the elder statesmen of the best and most historic basketball conference in the land. Those two had championship rings. The decision-makers heard only cash-register rings.

Now ... silence.

Those "cha-chings" get awfully faint when in mid-November the highest poll ranking of any of your football teams is 14th and the highest BCS ranking is 16th, which means it doesn't even appear in the grid that runs in most papers and on TV. And when that team is, no disrespect intended, Wake Forest. And two schools, Duke and North Carolina, are dragging the bottom at a combined 1-19.

And when Florida State makes its biggest news after the embattled head coach's embattled son finally steps down as offensive coordinator, three days after the program's first shutout at home since Nixon was president.

And when the only news coming out of Miami involves words like "brawl," "homicide" and "housecleaning."

And when basketball season begins with the coaches criticizing the conferences perceived to be blocking them from their rightful March Madness berths. You know, like the Missouri Valley Conference and the Patriot League.

Don't misunderstand. This isn't a logic-and-reasoning lesson. Expansion did not cause the demise of the two programs around which the expansion proposal was built. Nor is this a putdown of the Terps, Eagles and Demon Deacons, who could have curled up in the fetal position the day they realized they'd now have to pass Florida State and Miami to get to the top of the ACC in football.

That's what everybody expected. It was all about the 'Noles and 'Canes, bringing viewers and sponsors and BCS bucks week in, week out, right through January every year.

The ACC wanted money and exposure. Well, it sure got exposed. Just not in the way it thought it would.

Around here, we're into the Terps game Saturday at Chestnut Hill, Mass., and next week's game at Byrd Stadium against Wake. But to the rest of the college football world, it's all Ohio State-Michigan, Notre Dame-Southern California, the Southeastern Conference title game, even Rutgers-West Virginia. Big-time games with more meaning than this nice little regional get-together the next couple of weeks.

The ACC? The nation couldn't care less. For the second straight year.

And that's the real lesson - in world religion. Karma, to be exact.

Attention and exposure were supposed to secure money, the kind only football can generate. The ACC wanted it all. The greatness of its basketball legacy wasn't enough. Having a program such as Florida State making the conference instantly relevant in football wasn't enough.

Nope, had to have Miami, too. Had to snatch it away from another conference. Had to pad the league with two more, to get those divisions and a football title game. Had to inspire lawsuit threats, had to create a bitter rivalry for all the wrong reasons with the Big East Conference. Had to twist and jerk basketball in different directions and alienate the programs and people that had put the league on the map in the first place.

It's a crying shame, literally, what has happened in Coral Gables, Fla., this year, with all the stomping on logos, helmet-swinging brouhahas, questionable leadership from the top down and, now, a player's homicide.

But the fact that it's dragging down the reputation of the ACC with it, that's nobody's fault but the ACC's.

And that the nose dive taken by their marquee football schools taints not just the programs but also the image of excellence the league was so desperate to elevate - that's the ACC's fault, too.

Oh, and if NCAA basketball committee members, in their unprecedented snub of the ACC last March, even subconsciously took into consideration the cold-blooded, arrogant, greedy way the conference obtained those three expansion teams - guess whose fault that is?

Thus arrives another less-than-cheery holiday season in what once was the most respectable conference in the land.

At least it will be well-fed, from all those chickens coming home to roost. david.steele@baltsun.com

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