IT'S AWFULLY EASY to trash the ACC championship football game as one that lacks marquee attraction and that fans stay away from in droves. It's much more difficult to figure why the game has not been more successful.
About 55,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday's title game between Clemson and Georgia Tech at Raymond James Stadium. Clemson and Georgia Tech easily exceeded their respective allotment of 10,000 tickets sold.
But in what has typically become bad-luck fashion for the league, the weather forecast for kickoff is cold - at least by central Florida standards in the low-50s - with a chance of rain. As a result, expect many of the seats sold to Tampa area corporations to be empty at kickoff.
From poor matchups to unfortunate decisions on game locations to bad weather, the ACC championship game has suffered mightily from just plain old bad luck. Along the way, the title game also has endured the same growing pains as championship games in other leagues like the SEC and Big 12.
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At least the ACC has taken a major step toward rectifying the championship game problems by moving it to Charlotte in 2010 and 2011. That is where the game belonged all along, and should remain until another domed stadium is built somewhere in the southeast.
Like in real estate, location counts when it comes to championship football games. Charlotte offers the same central locale as Atlanta does for the SEC's championship game.
Fans tend to forget that even the mighty SEC had problems with its title game at the outset. The first two games - 1992 and 1993 - were played at dumpy old Legion Field in Birmingham, an obvious home field advantage for Alabama.
Any SEC official will tell you the league was fortunate to have Alabama playing in both those games. While the first game sold out with 83,091 fans, the second consecutive Alabama-Florida title game fell 7,000 short of capacity.
By 1994, the SEC game was moved to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and has been a virtual sellout every season since. It sells out, first and foremost, because of the quality of football played every season in the SEC. It helps that no participating team and its fan base must travel a great distance to the game. Finally, by playing in a dome, the league has no concern about the effects of poor weather conditions on local fan attendance.
The Big 12 Conference is the only other BCS member league to hold an annual championship game. Perhaps because it likes to move the game around, the Big 12 has never found a permanent home for its title game. Saturday's game between Texas and Nebraska will be played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the sixth championship game location in 14 years.
It took until the fifth Big 12 title game, in 2000 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, for the participating teams to play in front of a sellout crowd. Only a couple of other games since have sold out, and attendance dipped to 62,000 (17,000 short of capacity) for the 2004 game between Colorado and Oklahoma in Kansas City.
So, the ACC is not alone in its championship game problems. It just seems like the problems have been more acute for the ACC.
The decision to hold the 2005, 2006 and 2007 games in Jacksonville and the 2008 and 2009 games in Tampa probably was a sound one. Those cities offered warmer weather and attractive destinations for fans.
The league will not admit to this, but it also figured to have either Florida State or Miami playing in the title game every year, which would have solved any attendance problems much like Alabama did for the SEC in the early years of its title game.
Unfortunately for the league, Miami has not been the power program it was expected to be since joining the league for the 2005 season. Additionally, Florida State has fallen on hard times in the waning years of coach Bobby Bowden's career.
Miami has not appeared in the title game. Florida State's lone appearance was in the inaugural game and 72,749 nearly filled 77,000-seat Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville for the 2005 game.
The number of tickets sold for each of the past three games was 62,850, 53,212 and 53,927. The attendance for those games was much lower, particularly in 2008 when a Virginia Tech-Boston College rematch from the previous year drew only about 30,000.
A major problem for the ACC is few of its programs have huge fan bases like most SEC schools. Clemson, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Miami are the only programs that play in home stadiums with capacities in excess of 65,000, and Miami rarely fills its stadium.
While it was a wonderful story for Wake Forest to defeat Georgia Tech for the 2006 championship, it was not the kind of matchup the league wanted for attendance purposes. An equivalent matchup for the SEC championship would have Vanderbilt playing Mississippi State.
For the ACC championship game to take off, it needs a dose of good luck and a smattering of good fortune. Beginning next season in Charlotte, the ACC needs one of North Carolina's four schools to reach the championship game on a regular basis and be pitted annually against Clemson, Virginia Tech or Florida State.
Mix in beautiful weather every year and the league will then have the perfect formula for a title game that packs Bank of America Stadium and earns some much-needed respect in national football circles.