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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Is Virginia Tech next? 

College Football kicks off tonight in Raleigh, NC

The start of the college football season is upon us, and despite what some New Yorkers might disdainfully think, for much of the rest of the American nation, it is cause for wild celebration. Very few things are as universally popular in the lower 48 as college football.

It opens with a slate of nine games on a Thursday. College football having long emulated their older cousins in the NFL by playing on as many days and in as many time-slots as possible, tonight's games will be followed by one tomorrow night, a full day Saturday that runs from 12pm Eastern to past 12am, two Sunday games, and even two Monday night games. What a weekend!

In Durham, North Carolina, we are deep in Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) country. One of Thursday night's leading prime time tilts pits the ACC's North Carolina State against the Southeastern Conference's South Carolina and legendary yapper, Coach Steve Spurrier. In ACC country the perennial debate during college football season is about the conference's perceived relative weakness in football. Defenders of the ACC point to the number of players selected in the NFL's April Draft. Critics point to the ACC's abysmal bowl record, especially in the highly ranked battles of the so-called BCS games. The ACC has taken a pounding at the top level, 2-9 in their last eleven BCS bowl games.

The Clarion Content's editorial board, currently, transplants one and all, has long contended that the ACC is primarily a basketball league. We would concede it is almost unarguable, year in and year out, it is the premier college basketball league in the country. Despite public and private wishes to the contrary, this does not help the football programs in the conference. Across the competitive athletic college landscape, schools are identified as either a basketball or a football school. It is the extremely rare crossover that is Florida, Texas or Oklahoma. Much, much more common is the Penn State (great football, average basketball) and Kentucky (very good basketball, average football) side of the ledger, see also: Notre Dame, Indiana, Georgia, Alabama, UCLA, Arizona and so on. The ACC is no different, save that it is happening on a league wide scale, it is a basketball league, ergo it can't be a football league, too.

The Clarion Content would postulate that this a perception that is held largely in high school athletes collective heads, but by existing as a perception, it is actively made into reality through action. (Cinco Storey having long ago convinced us that perception is reality.) As we noted earlier there are exceptions and exceptional coaches who can overcome perceptions, there are schools that can succeed at both football and basketball. The question we posed in the title of this piece asked whether or not the Virginia Tech Hokies can overcome the ACC's basketball mindset and continue to flourish on the gridiron. The ACC has killed two of the premier college football programs in the country in the last decade plus in Florida State and Miami. As the New York Times noted today, Boise State versus Oregon pits two higher ranked teams against each other this week than does the game Sunday between Miami and Florida State. That would have been unthinkable before Miami and Florida State were crippled by the ACC.

The numbers are brutal. In the decade plus before joining the ACC Miami was a gaudy 149 up and 32 down (1989-2003). The Hurricanes won three national championships during that period. Since becoming a member of the ACC in 2004 the Canes are a mere 37 and 25, their winning percentage plummeting from over 82% of their games to under 60%. The results for Florida State took a little bit longer to percolate. When Florida State first joined the conference in 1992 for several years they used the rest of the ACC as their personal punching bag. Still, their winning percentage from 1979 to 1991 does barely trump their winning percentage post-ACC from 1992 to the present, 79% to 78%. However, when examined more detail, since the ACC expanded, Florida State's winning percentage has declined dramatically to 62.5%. Florida State has also done much worse in the biggest of games since joining up with basketball-centric ACC. From 1979 through 1991 FSU was 9-2-1 in bowl games, from 1991 to the present the boys from Tallahassee were a much more pedestrian 10 up and 7 down.

So the Clarion Content asks, are the Virginia Tech Hokies next to fall victim to the ACC's basketball center of gravity? And even if they are, before one feels too, too bad for them, recognize their basketball program is on the rise. One can also observe that nary an SEC (football conference) school had a basketball season of note this past year. Let the inter-conference rivalries and the debates begin, first tonight in Raleigh, and then again this weekend as Virgina Tech begins their reply to our query hosting #5 in the country, legendary SEC football powerhouse, Alabama.

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