By JOHNNY MOORE
Special to GoDuke.com
GREENSBORO, N.C. – At the entrance to the Grandover Resort and Conference Center in Greensboro, home to the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff media days, there is a large banner with the words “Welcome to a New Era in ACC Football.”
Yep, it’s a new day for the ACC. This year there will be 14 members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, split into two divisions.
The Atlantic Division is made up of Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Maryland, N.C. State, Syracuse and Wale Forest. The Coastal Division consists of Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami, Pittsburgh, North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech. This will be the ninth season that the league has been split into divisions, with most fans still oblivious to which team is in which division. They may know what division of the league their favorite team plays in, but don’t have a shot at naming the other six teams in the division with them.
The newest members of the ACC are Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame....kind of. You see, while the Panthers and Orange will be full members of the ACC, Notre Dame will not be a full member, at least not in the normal thinking of a full member. Even as a “full member” this year, Notre Dame will not play any ACC schools in football and in 2014 when they begin to play their five ACC games each year, they will not compete for the ACC football championship but will be eligible to play in the bowl games with ACC ties; that is, if they aren’t selected as one of the four teams for the college football national championship playoff.
“Bringing Notre Dame in was the right thing to do at this point and time,” explained ACC commissioner John Swofford, who opened up his commissioners football forum by welcoming Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the league and then defending the partial ACC membership of the Irish. “It was a unanimous decision by our institutions and a very positive one that has already benefitted us. Notre Dame was a great addition and if they ever decide to join a conference in football through the 2026-27 year, they would have to join the ACC by contractual agreement. “
To add more confusion to the conference carousel, next year Maryland leaves the ACC for the Big Ten to be replaced by Louisville, and there is always talk about expanding to a 16-team league.
For months we have heard sport talk radio personalities, media types, bloggers on the internet, athletic administrators and coaches talk about and explain all of the intricacies of the conference expansion/realignment.
At the 2013 ACC Kickoff, we watched as players from teams walked through the lobby and sat down and talked with the media. Not just players in Duke blue, Carolina blue, Clemson orange and Virginia dark blue shirts, but players from Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The first time they have been to an ACC function.
It was interesting to see how the players would react to the new teams.
“We don’t think about it that much, the new teams are just another game on the schedule, another game to prepare for and try to go out and win,” said Duke redshirt junior quarterback Anthony Boone. “ In saying that I do know that the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse is great for the ACC, they each have a tradition of winning games, going to bowl games and putting a lot of talent into the NFL, so it’s great to have them as a part of the conference.”
Most of the players didn’t really feel the addition of Pittsburgh or Syracuse would have a direct effect on them, but they were all excited about these schools being a part of the league.
“I’m really excited for the ACC to have Pittsburgh and Syracuse joining us,” said Miami’s senior defensive lineman Shaynon Green. “At the same time it doesn’t have any effect on our team. Those teams coming into the ACC just make us a stronger league.”
Duke senior defensive back Ross Cockrell, a native of Waxhaw, N.C., looked more at the technical side of the new teams.
“The only thing that it affects is that you have new schemes that you have to go against,” he explained. “You play against the same teams each year for the most part in the league and get accustomed to their offensive plan. Unless they change coaches, most teams run the same style offense. It’s a different challenge for us. It’s fun going against different players from different areas of the country.”
For the majority of the players, Pitt and Syracuse are just two more games on the schedule.
“We saw that Pitt was on our schedule and really look forward to that game,” said North Carolina senior defensive end Kareem Martin. “We are glad to have them in the ACC, and I really think adding Pitt, Syracuse, then Louisville and Notre Dame next year will elevate the level of play in the league. It’s great for our fans in parts of the country where we never play to now be part of the ACC.”
The one thing that the players did all agree on was the most exciting part about the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff wasn’t the fact that a new era was about to begin, but that football games were just a little over a month away.