June 2, 2003 CHAPEL HILL In the weeks leading up to the ACC's official vote on expansion, a long-time league administrator was asked what his recommendations would be if he were advising each of the nine conference schools. If I'm Duke or Wake Forest, I would vote against, the administrator said, without hesitation. If I'm anyone else, I would vote in favor.
The final vote was indeed 7-2 in favor of expansion, and the ACC then began the formal process of pursuing Boston College, Miami and Syracuse. Duke, as expected, was one of the dissenters. Wake Forest, to the surprise of many, voted to expand.
Of the conference's seven larger, public universities, only North Carolina joined the Blue Devils in casting a negative vote. Georgia Tech and Florida State, the league's two most recent additions, have been pushing the expansion issue for many years. Clemson, another southern school that often competes with the SEC on the football recruiting trail, got the final push it needed in 2002 when Terry Don Phillips replaced old-guard skeptic Bobby Robinson as athletic director. Maryland, N.C. State and Virginia were closer calls, but all lined up with John Swofford after the commissioner's impressive, detailed, pro-expansion presentation at the ACC's annual meetings in mid-May.
Yet UNC voted no.
You asked me how I would advise Carolina, not what I expected Carolina to do, the ACC administrator said. Most of us expected Duke and Carolina to be the two dissenters. The question was whether they would find a third, and that's why nobody was sure ahead of time how this was going to play out. Carolina was a no all along, or at least that's the impression everyone had.
Carolina is Carolina. They do things their way. They're unique. I don't always understand them, but I respect them. I admire their intentions, but I don't often reach the same conclusions. I'm not sure they would have voted to expand if you offered them Miami, Notre Dame and Kentucky. Everyone else would be tripping over each other to vote in favor of that, but not Carolina. I sensed that they had a pretty extreme anti-expansion position, but I can't speak for them. I'm not sure how else to explain it. Carolina is Carolina.
Even in this era of extensive commercialization in college athletics, North Carolina always has embraced a unique philosophy on money matters.
Financially, the Tar Heels certainly play with the big boys. Philosophically, however, they often make decisions that take into account other, less tangible factors that sometimes directly limit their revenue streams. Chancellor James Moeser and athletic director Dick Baddour have used the words aesthetics, culture, teaching and collegiality in announcing major athletic decisions, and UNC long has spoken of doing things the right way.
Carolina spent almost $38.8 million on athletics in 2001-02, the highest amount in the ACC by more than $3 million, and its $39.6 million in revenue for that same academic year surpassed all other league members by at least $5 million. (Those numbers are from the Equity In Athletics Disclosure Act reports.) The 2001-02 averages for the 117 schools with Division I-A football programs were about $24.7 million in expenditures and about $26.2 million in revenue. The ACC averages were about $31.6 million and $31.4 million.
Whether noble or naÔve, however, UNC officials often attach socially conscious issues to monetary matters and other athletic decisions. When the Tar Heels forced the resignation of basketball coach Matt Doherty this spring, for example, Moeser and Baddour repeatedly compared coaches to professors and spoke of the healthy teaching environment they expected and demanded in their athletic programs. According to UNC sources, Doherty's inability to create such an environment was the No. 1 factor in his termination.
That's not an act, the ACC administrator said. They really do think in those terms. It rubs some people the wrong way, because some interpret it as a holier-than-thou attitude, and they probably do go overboard sometimes. But there are many examples where I think Carolina has been an example of doing things the right way, and where this conference has been an example of doing things the right way.
When UNC signed its most recent contract with Nike, a landmark eight-year deal (through 2010) worth more than $28 million, it used its leverage to include in the agreement a clause relating to the shoe and apparel company's sometimes controversial international labor practices. The deal calls for Nike to abide by the university's Code Of Labor Conduct, to disclose all manufacturing plants that produce UNC merchandise and to finance trips by university officials to examine some of the company's overseas facilities.
When contractors presented school officials with initial ideas for the expansion of Kenan Stadium in the 1990s, one of the first items on the agenda was the preservation of the stadium in the pines look that has become a program icon. Meanwhile, as other schools have dramatically increased the amount of corporate signage displayed in their basketball and football facilities, Carolina so far has resisted the urge to join the trend, passing up potential millions despite an on-going budget crunch for the entire university community.
On the expansion issue, too, Carolina seemed to cling to non-monetary factors much more firmly than others. As others focused largely on budget considerations, Moeser and Baddour spoke of the potential impact of increased travel on student-athletes, the preservation of long-held league traditions, even the potential devastation of the Big East.
My position on expansion has been consistent, and that is I think we're at a good number, Baddour told the Raleigh News & Observer prior to the ACC's vote. I think we have a really strong culture, and I enjoy the round-robin in basketball and enjoy playing everyone in football. I would be on the side that we should be very careful about doing anything that would alter the culture of the league.
Skeptical Of Financial Numbers
In the end, of course, even Carolina officials admitted that money was a primary factor if not the No. 1 factor in their decision-making process on expansion.
We're not interested in a scenario that provides less support, Moeser said. The budget implications concern us. We're not sure we see a significant institutional advantage for (UNC). Will what is now the best payout in America for nine schools be the same for 12 schools?
Throughout the expansion discussions, according to several league sources, UNC repeated that and other familiar themes: If ACC members made an average of $9.7 million each last year, and that number was the best in the history of college athletics, why mess with a good thing? Why take a chance on the speculation of some TV executives, or on the potentially inaccurate assumption that a 12-team league automatically will have a more powerful role in college athletics than a very stable nine-team league?
One conference official said most schools' decisions came down to which set of numbers they believed the more optimistic ones offered by Swofford at the ACC meetings, or the more skeptical ones offered by Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, some TV executives and other unaffiliated parties. Even with the bigger numbers, pro-expansion voters admitted, league schools should not expect an immediate financial windfall.
One (TV executive's) crystal ball says we'll make $20 million more on our next (football TV contract), and somebody else's crystal ball says it'll probably only be $5 million more, and both of them admit that there are no sure things, one Carolina source said. From (UNC's) point of view, a bunch of highly speculative revenue projections, along with some known cost increases and a lot of other complications, did not constitute a good enough reason to expand. We were dealing from a position of strength as a conference, so we didn't see the urgency.
It may be five or 10 years before we know who was right and who was wrong, and there are things we'll never know for sure. But for better or worse, after the vote (to expand) we decided we had little choice but to go along for the ride, and we're looking forward to making it work.