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Stanford, Cal Go "Atlantic"

That huge sigh of relief you heard this morning came from at least three different places: Stanford, Cal, and the ACC office in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The ACC voted to invite Stanford, Cal and SMU to join the league. All three accepted in a New York minute.

Admittedly, this is a far-from-perfect arrangement. Travel costs and missed class time will be the negatives. Lots of teams from Stanford and Cal will be spending more time in hotel rooms and airports.

But given the alternatives, this was unquestionably the best result the Bay Area teams could've hoped for after the collapse of the Pac-12, the league they've belonged to for more than a century.

Stanford and Cal opted for the only alternative they had to remain relevant and viable in big-time college sports.

The Big Ten and Big 12 weren't interested. The other options--joining the second tier Mountain West or AAC, trying to patch together a Pac-whatever with Oregon State, Washington State and Group of Five teams (a league that wouldn't have achieved Power Five status) or going independent--were unpalatable.

They would've relegated two of the finest academic institutions in the world, two schools with rich athletic histories, two schools that are terribly important to the U.S. Olympic movement, to athletic insignificance and irrelevance. Their overall stature, to be sure, would also be impacted.

Sports would have to be cut. The teams that remained would play inferior opponents. Donations from many alums would disappear. Admission applications would decline. Top recruits would pull their commitments and go elsewhere.

And U.S. Olympic teams would be diminished. In the most recent Olympics (2021 in Tokyo), 32 American medal winners were current or former Stanford students and 16 were from Cal.

A few words about the ACC. I dealt with them for many years, as our bowl game was tied to the conference. We had Boston College, Georgia Tech, Miami, and Florida State in our game.

They're good people. John Swofford, the recently retired commissioner, and Gene DeFilippo, former AD at Boston College, are good friends. Bobby Bowden, the legendary Florida State coach, Randy Shannon, former Miami coach, and Frank Spaziani of Boston College were three of the best we had in the game.

The ACC has quality schools. Stanford and Cal will be joining a solid academic conference that includes schools like Syracuse, Duke, Virginia, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Boston College and North Carolina. And they'll be facing tough competition.

The ACC has historically excelled in women's sports and Olympic sports. Last year, ACC teams won NCAA championships in men's soccer (Syracuse), men's tennis (Virginia), women's tennis (North Carolina), women's golf (Wake Forest), women's swimming (Virginia), women's cross country (North Carolina State) and women's field hockey (North Carolina).

In women's basketball, Stanford's iconic program will be challenged by several top teams, including Notre Dame (a member of the ACC in all sports other than football), Louisville, and NC State.

For the ACC, this move not only brings in two world-class schools and top Olympic sports programs, but it adds two of the nation's largest television markets--the Bay Area and Dallas. By expanding to 18 teams, the ACC solidifies its stature as the No. 3 conference in American sports after the Big Ten, with 18 schools; the SEC, with 16; and ahead of the Big 12, with 16.

The ACC will also receive more TV rights fees from ESPN by expanding. Because Stanford, Cal and SMU have agreed to take less than full shares of league revenues, the ACC will be able to distribute a reported $72 million to the schools that perform best in football and basketball. So the whining from Florida State and Clemson may subside. If it doesn't, the league has a more solid sustainable core.

As the old saying goes, it's a win-win situation.

Not perfect, by any means. Yes, it's crazy to add two schools from the Pacific Coast to a conference with "Atlantic Coast" in its name.

But such is the reality of college sports in 2023, where nothing makes sense and everything is related to the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

In this new, often distasteful world, this was by far the best outcome Stanford and Cal could've hoped for.

Kudos to the administrators in Palo Alto and Berkeley for getting it done.


Gary Cavalli - Bowl and League co-founder, author, speaker 

Gary Cavalli, the former Sports Information Director and Associate Athletic Director at Stanford University, was co-founder and executive director of the college football bowl game played in the Bay Area, and previously was co-founder and President of the American Basketball League.

Get in touch//@cavalli49//

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