Realignment saber rattling and subsequent media hysteria don’t unnerve Jim Weaver and Craig Littlepage. The athletic directors at Virginia Tech and Virginia, they helped chart the ACC’s last two expansions, and they’ve observed from afar the machinations that led to dramatic changes elsewhere.
So when I asked them about the ACC’s latest drama, the possibility – certainty, according to the blogosphere – that Florida State, Clemson and perhaps others will depart for more well-heeled, football-centric conferences, I expected very measured, cautious responses.
That was not the case. If the ACC loses a school or schools for the first time in 41 years – South Carolina left in 1971 -- Weaver and Littlepage will be genuinely surprised.
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Littlepage: “I said this back a year-and-half ago when, whether it was Clemson or Georgia Tech or Florida State or Maryland or Duke or North Carolina, when there were these conversations about how these different institutions were going to be leaving the ACC, as I looked around the room and I looked all my colleagues in the eye and I heard the comments of the faculty reps and I had the opportunity to understand and to hear the pulse of the comments on the part of the CEOs, I never felt as though there were a serious threat of someone leaving the ACC.
“And I still feel that way.”
Littlepage and Weaver surveyed the room at the league’s annual spring meetings last week at Amelia Island, Fla. After speaking with his colleagues at Florida State and Clemson, Randy Spetman and Terry Don Phillips, Weaver gathered the same impression as Littlepage.
“Who knows?” Weaver said. “Crazier things have happened. But I don’t sense anything. … I don’t think anything’s going to happen.”
Weaver also believes the ACC's exit fee of $20-$25 million is a serious deterrent.
"That's a lot of jack," he said.
If the ACC does splinter, if Florida State leads an exodus to the Big 12, conventional cyberspace wisdom says Virginia Tech immediately marches into the Southeastern Conference. The Hokies would bring the SEC brand to new markets such as Hampton Roads and Washington, D.C., while the SEC’s lucrative media rights contracts would enrich Virginia Tech and, by extension, elevate the football program.
Or so the theory goes.
But Weaver said he has not discussed that option, or any other -- internally with staff or externally with any potential suitors.
“I have not,” he said. “We believe the (ACC) is very stable, and we believe in the leadership of the conference.”
Cynics will recall that in 2003 Weaver said he was working to save the Big East, then Virginia Tech’s home and poised to lose Boston College, Miami and Syracuse to the ACC. But that was only after a meeting at ACC headquarters in Greensboro, N.C., where Weaver was politely but firmly told, “No thanks.”
Weaver had no inclination at the time that then-Gov. Mark Warner and others would pressure University of Virginia officials into assuring Virginia Tech’s inclusion in the ACC.
A vibrant ACC is where Weaver, football coach Frank Beamer and university president Charles Steger want the Hokies to be, and it’s where they belong. If the conference declines, they’ll consider options, and thanks to Beamer’s program, they will have them.
A member since 1953, Virginia has far stronger ties to the ACC. Complete disintegration would push them out, likely toward the Big Ten.
This crisis started earlier this month when Florida State’s board of trustees chairman criticized the ACC’s new, 15-year media rights contract with ESPN. But although ACC schools will net millions less annually than those in the Big 12, SEC, Big Ten and Pacific 12, Weaver and Littlepage endorse the deal.
“I think it bodes well for all of us,” Weaver said, citing Year 5 and 10 windows for revenue enhancement.
“This is a very, very strong deal,” Littlepage said. “The only threat I think is the fact it becomes a public discussion and more credibility is given to these comments or criticisms.