Andy Staples' piece on the sale of college football media rights over the past three decades is an absolute must-read for any fan of the sport. From the opening quote about how college football was saturating the air waves in disastrous fashion in 1984 (a hilariously bad assessment) to the closing question about whether major conferences might go back to negotiating their rights collectively, Staples does a great job of describing how college football got from there to here.
My biggest takeaway from the feature is that John Swofford ought to be happy that the ACC is not a publicly-held company because otherwise, he would be facing some very angry shareholders.
The piece describes each of the other four major conferences making their own contributions to the current landscape through certain innovations. The SEC became the first conference to have its games covered by a major network on a national basis. The Big Ten formed the first conference network. The Pac-12 took the Big Ten's idea and then decided to form its own media company to keep the revenues from its network in-house. The Big XII was able to save itself when threatened with extinction by convincing ESPN and Fox to pay the same fees for a ten-team conference as they did for a twelve-team league.
The ACC does not appear anywhere in the discussion. It has not accomplished any great feats in terms of negotiating with media companies, nor has it taken any steps in terms of creating its own channel. Moreover, there have been a bevy of theories advanced as to why the ACC has remained stuck in the past by selling its third-tier rights to Raycom:
It's rather surprising that a conference would so willingly take less TV money - the core source of revenue in collegiate athletics - just to keep a broadcast company from folding. There are, of course, plenty of conspiracy theories to explain Swofford's irrational decision. Raycom Sports is based in North Carolina, and the ACC is often accused of favoring its four NC schools. Then there's Swofford's son, Chad Swofford, who is the Senior Director of New Media and Business Development at Raycom Sports (he was also employed by Boston College athletics when the school received an invite from the ACC). But regardless of what theory you choose to believe, the ultimate conclusion is that the ACC has not been the best at negotiating its TV rights contracts.
The ACC seems to be in the same position that the Pac-10 occupied before Larry Scott replaced Tom Hansen as the conference commissioner. The league is engaged in trench warfare while the other four big leagues are shooting past it with armored columns. Thus, the relevant question is whether Swofford will be replaced by a more commercially savvy commissioner before the league loses some of its most valuable members (read: Florida State and whomever wants to join the Noles on their way out the door). If FSU's tantrum earlier this summer leads the conference to step into the 21st century, then the rest of the league should thank their uppity, nouveau riche family in Tallahassee.