BASHING THE Atlantic Coast Conference, in football and otherwise, has become another sport in college athletics. Like taunting an opponent, it is not enough to show your superiority on the playing field. It seems part of athletics competition these days is to kick an opponent when he is down.
So it is with the ACC, which has not shown well in football over the past decade or so. In fact, the ACC has been pretty much anemic when it comes to competing for national championships and going head-to-head against the big-boy conferences.
It is difficult to defend a conference whose football champion loses the Orange Bowl one year while surrendering 70 points, then stands a chance of losing the same bowl game this season against Northern Illinois.
But the harangues against the ACC lose a lot of their validity when they compare the leagues football prowess against the SEC and when they torch the entire league in all sports as being pathetic and second-rate.
On the first charge, what conference does stack up in football to what amounts to a mini-version of the NFL? When SEC coaches begin comparing league opponents to NFL teams, you know the conference is playing at a different level from the rest of the competition.
The SEC will win its seventh consecutive national football title when Alabama steamrolls Notre Dame in the upcoming BCS National Championship Game. The SEC annually has more players selected in the NFL Draft and more players on NFL rosters than other leagues.
The SEC plays in the biggest stadiums, provides its athletes with the best facilities and pays its coaches the highest salaries. The result is a league that has six teams among the top 10 in the final BCS rankings.
No one would argue against the SEC as the best football league in the country, by a long shot. So why pick on the ACC because it does not compete at the same level? Neither does the Big Ten, or the Big 12, or the Pac-12, or the Big East.
Sure, the gap between the SEC and the ACC was shown most vividly on the final weekend of the regular season when the SEC won four head-to-head matchups, all by double figures. It is a gap not unique to the SEC and ACC. My guess is the same results would have come from four head-to-head encounters between the SEC and any other conference.
At most SEC schools, the football fan base boasts that there are three seasons in a sport that is followed year-round: the regular season, the recruiting season and spring practice. It is a message that clearly comes from the top, where administrative decisions almost exclusively are made based on what is good or bad for football.
That is fine, but what is wrong with another conference making decisions in the best interest of another sport, and wanting to build a reputation for excellence in another sport besides football?
Even though it was formed as a football conference in the mid-1950s, the ACC long has been known as a basketball league. The Dixie Classic tournament in the 50s and the ACC tournament to determine a league champion helped make the ACC synonymous with big-time basketball and the envy of all other conferences, much like the SEC is in football today.
Not much over the past half-century has altered the ACCs image as a basketball power, save for a couple of misfires in the never-ending realignment game that has overtaken college athletics. The leagues attempt to brand itself as more than a basketball conference worked with the addition of Florida State in 1991. It failed miserably with the additions of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College in the early 2000s.
Those latter additions added some luster to the leagues football reputation, but not much. At the same time, they damaged the ACCs basketball appeal, and the leagues old guard, mostly powerful Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, made it known they were not happy.
So, while other conferences continue to sell out everything for football in realignment, the ACC appears to be going in another direction. The league at least considered what more additions mean to its basketball persona.
The recent additions of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville and Notre Dame --- for all sports except football --- far outweigh the loss of charter-member Maryland to the Big Ten. Those four newcomers can only enhance the ACCs claim as the best basketball league in the country.
There also is the chance those schools will make the ACC a better football league, one that might field a team or two that occasionally challenges the SEC for a national championship.
If not, at least the ACC can fall back on its favorite sport, and what is wrong with that?