Seasons of change define current Atlantic Coastal climate
The calendar may read July, but the arrival of high-revenue college sports season is almost here again.
Things are about to get busy on the gridiron, as student-athletes take the field for preseason preparations in the sweltering heat. Their return will give fans their first glimpse at a new-look Atlantic Coast Conference, with Syracuse and Pittsburgh set to join the fray. Far from the nine-school league which was once steeped in a tradition of excellence, the ACC is now a hodgepodge of geographical misfits like the other megaconferences in this era of realignment.
Fallout from the dynamic shift — which occurred when the conference dipped into the Big East pool, again, to nab Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame basketball — remains a mystery. Football continues to linger as an area of weakness, but that should see vast improvement with the addition of Louisville in 2014.
Charlie Strong has the Cardinals on the cusp of contention for a national title after defeating his alma mater and feared SEC foe, Florida, in the Sugar Bowl last season. Perhaps the most crucial element of the conference's reconstruction is keeping Strong around.
Urban Meyer's former defensive coordinator is sure to be a hot name mentioned in certain SEC circles when the coaching carousel imminently gets cranked back up next offseason. One has to figure Strong will eventually bolt for a more glamorous gig in the deep south, where so many former coordinators find their way back after previous head coaching stops abroad.
Commissioner John Swofford missed, at least temporarily, on the largest coup of all last year in failing to secure a commitment from the Fighting Irish football program to join the ACC. Instead, it will play an ACC schedule in football and compete as a full member in basketball.
Holdovers Clemson and North Carolina will be strong contenders in the fall with the return of key pieces from last year's division winners. With another season under his belt, it is possible Tar Heels' coach Larry Fedora could have the program out of the woods from the dark days of Butch Davis and in contention for the next several seasons.
None of the league's additions, however, help the primarily coastal-centered schools gain a fortified foothold in the southern regions of the country. Clemson and Florida State will continue to bring in a respectable number of recruits from South Carolina and Florida, but the nation's richest talent pool will likely produce even more national championships for the SEC. If anything, realignment seems to reestablish its dominance on the gridiron.
Fortunately for basketball fans, net gains seem to outweigh the takeaways. Losing Maryland to the Big Ten in 2014 is a setback for purists who see the school as Duke's other true rival (no offense, State fans) but the up-and-coming Terrapins under Mark Turgeon still seem seasons away from competing for a conference championship. From a competitive standpoint, the tradeoff from Maryland to Louisville is a win in both sports.
Gaining the defending national champion and Rick Pitino's Hall of Fame credentials, as well as the $238 million, 22,000-seat arena the Cardinals christened in 2010, can only be seen as a plus. Throw in the perennial top 20 programs of Syracuse and Pitt, and ACC basketball appears to be in good hands for the foreseeable future.
What does all of this mean? It really says more about the state of affairs in collegiate athletics than about the ACC. John Swofford seems to have done a commendable job adapting in the midst of a tumultuous time.
Like it or not, change is here to stay for college sports. It may take some getting used to, but if it's true what they say and players really do make the game, expecting the best is within reason.
Staff Writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 888-3575, or firstname.lastname@example.org.