Crazy like a Swofford? Is the ACC betting on an undervalued asset: college basketball?

NORTHWESTERN COMMAND – So the ACC added Louisville today, the sixth Big East program Swofford has raided since 2004.

Is this a smart move?

I know Louisville football has had its moments under the direction of strong football coaches like Charlie Strong and Bobby Petrino.

(As college basketball undervalued?)

But I think its recruiting footprint, which is hardly ideal, and its lack of a fan support per the Nate Silver study (though this was debated by Louisville folks on Twitter) will hold it back from being the consistent program.

At the end of the day, the only really piece on the board that can help the ACC in regard to football is Notre Dame, as I wrote about in the blog yesterday.

If I’m the ACC and ESPN, when Notre Dame’s TV deal with NBC ends in 2015 I put the full-court press on to compel it to join as a full member. I offer Notre Dame its own Longhorn-style TV Network (Texas earned a 20-year, $300 million deal from ESPN) in addition to a full ACC share of TV revenue. That’s about $40 million per year.

But the end of the day, Swofford and the ACC don’t have a lot of great football options. So what if they looked at the available pieces on the conference realignment board and said ‘Let’s double down on basketball. Let’s make a bold bet and return the focus of the ACC to being a basketball conference and hope Florida St., Clemson, Miami and Va. Tech do enough during football season to keep our head above water’

Let’s face it, the once basketball-first ACC has also had a down basketball product in addition to a down football product. The ACC used to be to basketball what the SEC is to football. It’s lost that.

But it has now eliminated its chief basketball rival in the Big East.

The ACC has raided Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and now Louisville basketball properties from the Big East. The ACC basketball product should be greatly improved.

John Swofford said after the ACC added Pittsburgh and Syracuse that basketball used to account for about 50 percent of its television revenue, but it has declined to 20 percent.

*But what if an improved basketball begins to drive more fan and revenue interests.

*What if the NBA changes its early entry rules and forces college players to spend three years in school?

*What if concussions erode the quality and number of athletes playing football over the next 20 years?

College basketball might very well be undervalued.

Improving college basketball could pay off for the ACC in its next TV deal, and perhaps it can bring stability in a way other than strong football, through a basketball identity.

This is a risky bet, though.

College football is king. College football drives 80-90 percent of revenue in TV deals. There’s been no signs of this slowing. The ACC has to be better in college football or else risk becoming vulnerable. And I’d suggest the ACC really do everything creatively possible to get Notre Dame to join in football, which is the one brand that could guarantee long-term viability.

But as one Twitter follower noted Swofford is doing the best he can playing a 2-7, unsuited poker hand.

Perhaps the ACC’s best option on the table, perhaps its only option, is going back to its first identity – being a basketball-first conference.

2 thoughts on “Crazy like a Swofford? Is the ACC betting on an undervalued asset: college basketball?

  1. If the ACC doesn’t improve the viewing public’s perception of its football programs, Clemson needs to find another home. Clemson has ALWAYS been a football school (going back as far as the 1940′s and beyond). This is NOT going to change. As long as ESPN, CBS, NBC & Fox are making $$ billions more on college football vs college basketball; college football will continue to be the $$ engine powering conference revenues. Adding more basketball schools to the ACC is not gonna fix this problem. But it will hasten the exit of those few football schools the ACC currently claims but seems to undervalue.

  2. RD, there’s no doubt football is the driver of revenue and realignment. There’s also no doubt there were few attractive football programs available to the ACC (outside of compelling ND to join as a full member).

    Clemson and FSU want more football focus, I think Louisville was an attempt to appease CU and Florida State …. though I have my doubts about the long-term viability of Louisville football.

    All that said, I don’t think basketball will ever trump football unless in 50 years the concussion issue leads to the end of football as we know it.

    But I do think basketball is somewhat undervalued and the ACC perhaps thought it was best to go back to its identity of a basketball-first conference.

    It’s a risky bet. We’ll see.

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