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Boston College and the ACC

October 16, 2003 Columns No Comments

Boston College and the ACC

by Phil Kasiecki

Boston College leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference seemed inevitable in the spring. As such, it should come as no surprise that the school is now headed to the ACC after all, though there were some major developments in the interim.

Back in May, when ACC expansion was first being talked about, BC athletic director Gene DeFilipo admitted that the school would likely go if they were invited. This was fueled in large part by Miami being the ACC’s top target; as national title contenders every season, the Hurricanes have been the primary source of the Big East’s success in football. If they left, the reasoning went, Boston College would have to go as well if invited in the school’s best interest. BC was initially a prime target for the ACC as well, but at the last minute, Virginia Tech became the only school to join Miami in receiving an invitation to the ACC. The school wasted no time in accepting, which was hypocritical since they were involved in filing a lawsuit against the ACC, Boston College and Miami – clearly indicating that they wanted the Big East to stay put. When the tide turned and they were invited along with Miami, the school changed up.

The Eagles, in the meantime, recommitted to being part of the Big East – a Big East that would be severely weakened in football with the loss of its two consistent national powers. Boston College is a charter member of the Big East, founded in 1979, and there was some mending of fences since June came and went. The school’s loyalty to the Big East was in question after it seemed like a foregone conclusion that they were going to be a member of the ACC.

The ACC’s goal all along has had to do with football: it wants to have a lucrative championship game and get more teams in Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bowls. When they added Virginia Tech and Miami to get to 11 teams, they were still one shy of the 12 teams required to have a championship game by way of using two divisions. They petitioned the NCAA to allow them to have one with just 11 members, but it was denied. That left the ACC scrambling to add a twelfth member, and when it became clear that Notre Dame was not giving up football independence anytime soon, Boston College was the one they sought. On Sunday, Boston College was invited to join the ACC, then wasted little time in accepting the invitation.

The move has different implications for Boston College’s athletic teams. In football, it could be positive; the Eagles should still be a good team and now in a better football conference. The Eagles have never been national title contenders, but every few years they have a team capable of making the top ten in national rankings and going to a major bowl game. With this move, the football team might have more such seasons; if the NCAA gets it right and moves to a playoff system, we could certainly see them in some playoffs.

In baseball, the Eagles could have some hard times. The Eagles have not been consistent contenders in a Big East conference that was weakened by Providence having to shut down its baseball program several years ago; the ACC is a powerhouse conference in baseball. This past season, two Big East teams earned NCAA Tournament bids; five ACC teams earned bids, including national top seeds Florida State and Georgia Tech. With Miami (an independent in baseball and another of this past season’s national top seeds) joining, the ACC gets even stronger in that sport, as the Hurricanes are a national power. Additionally, this move will lead to a large increase in travel expenses in a non-revenue sport.

In basketball, the move could be mixed. On one hand, they may gain in recruiting in the southeast with players who grow up wanting to play in the ACC. But three things could offset the potential added advantage. Boston College is hundreds of miles from the other ACC members, so getting top-tier ACC-caliber recruits may be difficult. Additionally, the recruiting strategy employed by the Eagles’ coaching staff has mainly been to recruit talented players who have flown under the national radar but will fit into their system. A look at their most recent stars demonstrates this; Troy Bell was not ranked among the top 100 players in his class by most analysts; Craig Smith was generally rated even lower, and that was one reason his big freshman year was a big surprise to many; Ryan Sidney and Uka Agbai were nobody’s McDonald’s All-American candidates in high school despite being good players at good schools. Even this year’s recruiting class is much the same; not one player in the class was rated among the top 100 in the class of 2003, and late summer signee Jared Dudley is a late bloomer who was ready to attend prep school before visiting Boston College and being offered a scholarship after incoming freshman Dan Coleman transferred to Minnesota. (Ironically enough, Dudley could prove to be the best of the newcomers.) The Eagles also don’t have one or two metropolitan areas where their recruiting is particularly strong; Bell is from Minnesota, Smith and Dudley are from southern California, Agbai is from the New York City area, and Sidney is from Ann Arbor, Michigan. They have a couple of Boston natives in junior Jermaine Watson and freshman Steve Hailey, but the Boston area is usually not loaded with high-major talent and the Eagles have not fared well locally since the admissions scandal that helped lead to Jim O’Brien’s departure.

Recruiting effects aside, the Eagles only recently have a history of being NCAA Tournament-caliber on a consistent basis. They never made the NCAA tournament with Dana Barros in the 1980s; making it three times in the four-year career of Danya Abrams was an aberration in Chestnut Hill, although the Eagles did make three straight appearances between 1981 and 1983. The program had a couple of lean years after Jim O’Brien left under bad circumstances, but Al Skinner righted the ship faster than anyone expected. Now, they join a conference that has a deep basketball tradition, including the great programs at Duke and North Carolina. But the two big programs on Tobacco Road are just the start; Maryland won a national championship just a year and a half ago and has become a consistent national power under Gary Williams. North Carolina State may have finally snapped out of its funk as Herb Sendek preserves his job, for now. And Florida State is ready to become a contender under Leonard Hamilton, who is no stranger to the Eagles from his years coaching Miami in the Hurricanes’ early days in the Big East. We haven’t even mentioned Wake Forest, usually a contender and last season’s regular season champion.

The Eagles have recently been a good Big East team, and the Big East is right with the ACC in terms of talent level. In theory, the transition would seem easy enough, but they could easily struggle in the early going. With the ACC having added two football-first schools before BC – Miami has only recently had success in basketball and Virginia Tech has struggled mightily since joining the Big East – it will be watered-down in basketball. Additionally, the ACC will no longer have a true round-robin conference season, which they have had with nine members. This means there will be unbalanced conference schedules, which will involve crossover games if divisions are used in basketball as well. Ironically enough, Boston College was probably hurt by the division format in the Big East last season, as they were snubbed from the NCAA Tournament.

But before any of these become primary concerns, the time of the Eagles’ exit is in question. If the school departs with a notice of less than 27 months, the school may have to pay a $5 million exit fee – a very steep price. That could delay the move to the ACC until 2006; adding to it is the ACC entrance fee, which could be an additional $1 million. There are pros and cons to bolting sooner or later, and neither looks to be a clearly better move.

This move will also help to get the ball rolling on the Big East’s expansion plans, as the conference has a better idea now of how many teams they will seek for expansion. But there is still another question mark, which is whether Pittsburgh or Syracuse will consider a move to the Big Ten if the conference looks for a 12th team. Several months ago, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney said the conference was not looking for one, even as the ACC was trying to expand. (If it adds another team, is it still the Big Ten? It certainly can’t be renamed Big 12.) Regardless of what happens, the future of Conference USA – where several schools likely targeted by the Big East and the WAC are currently members – may well be in question more than any other one.


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