MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 04: A detail of the Orange bowl trophy is seen after the West Virginia Mountaineers won 70-33 against the Clemson Tigers during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 4, 2012 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
One of the very obvious drawbacks to Notre Dame joining the ACC in all sports but football and hockey is when it comes to the conference's bowl tie-ins. The Irish will soon be able to jump ACC teams in the conference's bowl pecking order if they are within a win of another, oftentimes more deserving, ACC program. The retort on behalf of Irish fans is that while Notre Dame may jump ACC programs in the bowl pecking order, the inclusion of the Irish will improve the conference's bowl options in the new college football playoff world.
Not sure about that. The Irish's Big East affiliation did little to improve the conference's bowl tie-ins, with the conference, when not facing off against its arch-nemesis, facing the Big 12 no. 7 selection, the SEC no. 8-9 or Conference USA picks no. 1 and 4. Other than the conference's BCS bowl option, the Big East's bowl destinations included Orlando (as the undercard to the Capital One Bowl), Charlotte, the Bronx (in a baseball stadium), Memphis, Birmingham and St. Petersburg (another baseball stadium, and not a particular nice one at that).
The ACC's bowl line-up is only marginally better at this point. Here is this year's line-up:
ACC Champ: Orange vs. BCS at-large (Miami Gardens)
ACC No. 2: Chick-Fil-A vs. SEC #5 (Atlanta)
ACC No. 3: Russell Athletic vs. Big East #2 (Orlando)
ACC No. 4: Sun vs. Pac-12 #4 (El Paso)
ACC No. 5: Belk vs. Big East #3 (Charlotte)
ACC No. 6: Music City vs. SEC #7 (Nashville)
ACC No. 7: Independence vs. SEC (Shreveport, Louisiana)
ACC No. 8: Military vs. Army (Washington, D.C.)
The Orange Bowl will improve marginally given the new lineup of Big Ten #2/3, SEC #2/3 or Notre Dame. The bowl game, which at one point was one of the few marquee bowl games in the sport, has lost an incredible amount of its luster over the last decade or so. The blame is equally shared between the ACC (which has produced weak conference champs) and the selection process itself (the bowl seems to have been saddled with more than its fair share of Big East champs and/or programs having to travel quite a ways to get to South Florida). Replacing the crapshoot BCS at-large opponent with Notre Dame or a named Big Ten or SEC opponent should help improve the game's TV ratings and attendance, which is all that really matters. In the end, the Orange Bowl is nothing more than a pure money grab for the conference in hopes to get closer to the power four conference's deals with the Rose and Champions Bowl.
However, outside of the Orange Bowl, I'm not seeing how Notre Dame dramatically improves the ACC's lot in life in terms of the bowl pecking order. Consider the current bowl line-up in terms of destinations (in order of selection):
PAC-12: Pasadena, San Antonio, San Diego, El Paso, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Albuquerque
Big 12: TBA (Dallas / Tempe / New Orleans), Dallas, San Antonio, Tempe, San Diego, Houston, New York
Big Ten: Pasadena, Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, Tempe, Houston, Dallas, Detroit
SEC: TBA (Dallas / Tempe / New Orleans), Orlando, Tampa, Dallas, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham, Shreveport
ACC: Miami Gardens, Atlanta, Orlando, El Paso, Charlotte, Nashville, Shreveport, Washington D.C.
Big East: TBA, Orlando, Charlotte, New York, Memphis, Birmingham, St. Petersburg
And by matchup (again, in order of selection):
PAC-12: Big Ten #1, Big 12 #3, Big 12 #5, ACC #4, MWC #1, Navy, MWC #4
Big 12: SEC #1, SEC #3-4, PAC-12 #2, Big Ten #4-5, Pac-12 #3, Big Ten #6, Big East #4
Big Ten: PAC-12 #1, SEC #2, SEC #3-4, SEC #6, Big 12 #4, Big 12 #6, C-USA #5, MAC #2
SEC: Big 12 #1, Big Ten #2, Big Ten #3, Big 12 #2, ACC #2, Big Ten #4-5, ACC #6, C-USA #1, Big East #5/C-USA, ACC #7
ACC: Big Ten #2-3 / SEC #2-3 / Notre Dame, SEC #5, Big East #2, PAC-12 #4, Big East #3, SEC #7, SEC, Army
Big East: TBD, ACC #3, ACC #5, Big 12 #7, C-USA #1, SEC #8-9, C-USA #4
I'm struggling to see where the improvement in the bowl lineup is going to come, either by destination city or matchup.
In terms of conference pairings, will the Big 12, missing from the ACC's current bowl line-up, ditch one of its existing bowl tie-ins (Pinstripe Bowl vs. Big East) in order to hook up with Notre Dame and ACC programs that are regular staples of college football's bloated postseason? How about the Big Ten, which doesn't have any ACC ties but will when the new Orange Bowl deal kicks in? Does this open up the possibility of the Big Ten aligning with the ACC more for posteason options?
The conference will soon have as many as four bowl tie-ins with the SEC so that conference is pretty well tapped out. Does the PAC-12 dare to venture east of the Mississippi to take on an ACC program now that the Irish are a possible bowl opponent?
I'm also unclear where the improvement comes in terms of destination cities. One thing that is apparent is for the most part, these conferences tend to stay within the geographic confines of the conference when hitching themselves to a particular bowl game.
The PAC-12 has three bowl tie-ins in California and doesn't venture any further west than Texas (El Paso and San Antonio). The Big 12 gets to New York City and southern California, but is firmly planted in the Southwest with games in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston and Tempe. Similarly, the SEC plays all 10 of its bowl games within the geographic borders of the conference's member programs with games in Florida, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana.
In general, the Big Ten hits the road for warmer climes in January with more than a couple bowl tie-ins in southern California (Rose), Florida (Capital One, Outback and Gator), Arizona (Buffalo Wild Wings) and Texas (Meineke Car Care Bowl and TicketCity). The conference saves the worst trip for last, sending the conference's number 8 selection to Detroit.
So where does this leave the fourteen member ACC (plus Notre Dame)? What will become of the conference's bowl tie-ins in cities such as El Paso, Nashville, and Shreveport? Where will the improvement come in terms of desirable bowl matchups?
I think the conference can do a few things to improve the bowl lineup. With Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame joining the conference, I think the ACC should take a long hard look at New York as a possible bowl destination (playing the game in the Meadowlands, not Yankee Stadium). I'd also like to see the conference make in-roads into getting into the bowl games in San Francisco and in Florida. If there are to be cuts, El Paso, Nashville, Shreveport and Washington D.C. should be the first on the chopping block.
What seems to work for other conferences is playing bowl games within or close to your member programs. Given this model, I would expect the ACC, in addition to maintaining its relationship with South Florida and the Orange Bowl, target bowl games in Atlanta, Tampa/Orlando, Charlotte, Washington D.C./Baltimore, New York, Boston and San Francisco (the lone exception to this rule). Breaking into Texas, with its obvious recruiting benefits, makes sense on some level, but I think the Big 12 and SEC will continue to hold onto a number of these games serving to lock the ACC (and to a lesser extent, the Big Ten) out.
Throughout this entire conference realignment drama over the last 7-8 years, if there's one thing I've learned, it's that just as you are ready to carry the tar and pitchforks to Greensboro calling for Swofford's head, he manages to ninja his way through adversity. Perhaps the same will come true with the conference's future bowl lineup after Notre Dame joins the fold, but right now, I'm just not seeing how and where the conference's bowl lineup will get appreciably better.