The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

ACC realignment points to a shift in conference identity away from basketball

sports-acc-realignment-conference-identity .png

Editor's note: This is a part of the realignment series. Read part one, part two, part three and part four here.

When picturing North Carolina and ACC athletics, basketball is often the first thing to come to mind — but that's beginning to change.

The ACC voted to extend invitations to Stanford, California and SMU, expanding the ACC to 18 teams, on Sept. 1. This is a move that, according to multiple former athletic directors at ACC schools, demonstrates that the conference has started to move away from its basketball identity to accommodate football and the increased revenue that comes with it. 

“The tradeoff [of moving away from basketball] is a hope that the football programs are going to add a greater value,” former Boston College athletic director Brad Bates said. “So maybe there’s a shift from the historical emphasis on basketball into a more successful football conference.”

A shift in the 'gold standard'

It’s been 11 years since Stanford men’s basketball head coach Jerod Haase coached in the ACC, where he spent nine years working with Roy Williams at UNC. 

But now, in 2024, Haase will presumably make his return to the conference when California, Stanford and SMU become its newest members.

Still, despite the conference's shift, the ACC's identity as the “gold standard” of basketball isn't gone yet – at least not in Haase’s opinion. And that's why he's excited for the Stanford Cardinal to join the conference.

“Bottom line is the ACC is really the gold standard for many, many years of college basketball," Haase said. 

Despite Haase’s optimism, and despite being just two seasons removed from North Carolina and Duke facing off in the Final Four, the ACC's prevalence in the postseason is on the decline. For the past two years, only a third of ACC men's basketball teams have made the big dance, the lowest percentage since the 2012-2013 season. That was back when the conference had only 12 teams, prior to the addition of Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse — and the departure of Maryland.

Cal, Stanford and SMU all had losing records in men's basketball last season. Former N.C. State athletic director Todd Turner called the basketball traditions at those schools "not very great."

“Clearly [conference expansion] devalues the competitiveness of the ACC basketball from top to bottom,” Turner said. “It’s a lot of schools now. If you look at the traditions of Cal, Stanford and SMU in basketball, they’re not very great.”

UNC donors, former ADs oppose expansion

Despite the money that conference realignment will likely bring the ACC, many UNC fans, alumni and donors  —  including a member of the Rams Club Executive Board — expressed their concerns in emails to University officials that were obtained by The Daily Tar Heel.

“The ACC is not and never will be a 'football conference,'" wrote John Dunlap, a Rams Club member and UNC graduate, in an email to North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham on Aug. 7.  "The football is good, often great. But the ACC has not, and should not, sell its soul for football.”

While North Carolina voted no in favor of adding Cal, Stanford and SMU, the move went ahead as the conference continues to try and find a way to keep up with the Big Ten and SEC in the college athletics revenue race.

"There's this insatiable need for more and more revenue because expenses keep accelerating so fast," Bates said.

Of course, it is nothing new for the ACC to try to improve its football reputation through realignment.

In 1991, the conference added Florida State, whose football team had been ranked in the top five for four straight years.

It was a move that former UNC athletic director and ACC commissioner John Swofford called "visionary" in a 2001 interview with the Florida Times-Union.

Then again in 2004, the ACC added Miami, a team that was two years removed from a national championship, and Virginia Tech, a team that was four years removed from a national championship appearance.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

This time, the ACC is not adding teams that are fresh off of national championship appearances. The three newcomers haven’t finished the football season ranked in the AP Poll since Stanford finished the year at No. 20 in the 2017-2018 season.

While the dynamics within the ACC look to be slowly shifting away from basketball, into a more football-centric conference, Haase said that it's too early to know how successful the move will be for the ACC. 

“I think time will tell,” Haase said. “There’s a lot of moving parts and different dynamics, but I sure hope we can add to the value of the conference.”


@dthsports |