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The ACC Has Chosen Its Future; Soon, UNC Must Do the Same

A perspective from Lyon Teesdale


Shortly before the ACC member institutions met to discuss adding Cal, Stanford, and SMU to its conference, the UNC Board Of Trustees released a statement making their opposition to the move clear. As with any press release, there’s a lot of fluff. UNC claims to oppose this primarily on the basis of travel concerns, but the real reason for UNC’s opposition is made abundantly clear in the last sentence of the statement, stating “Without ironclad assurances that the proposed expansion serves the interest of UNC-Chapel Hill, we believe it should be voted down.”

The reality is that self-interest has always driven these kinds of decisions, and that self interest is often defined by these universities identities. The conferences that exist today are because of universities having similar identities and shared interest 50-100 years ago, when regionalism was far more relevant to how we thought of ourselves and shaped what these institutions wanted as a result. By contrast, the transient and connected world we live in today means that regional identity is a far less relevant part of that equation. Unfortunately, once Media rights contracts created a large enough rift in money earned by each conference, regionalism was much easier to drop for the sake of a quick buck.

It’s easy to view this as college sports becoming a husk of what it once was, but the optimist in me wants to view it as a shift from geographic lines to cultural lines. The SEC is still broadly “southern” and the slogan of “It just means more” speaks to the cultural niche they are trying to occupy. Likewise, the Big Ten champions tradition in a way that, depending on your persuasion, comes off as extremely classy or extremely snobbish; and their additions on the West Coast only bolster this. The ACC’s additions could allow it to brand itself as a sort of “Power Conference Ivy League” with elite academic institutions and nationally competitive athletics. But without Big Ten/SEC level money, it’s a lot harder to get all members rowing in that direction with the same fervor.

UNC remains a natural fit in this reimagined notion of the ACC, but UNC certainly wouldn’t seem out of place with the way the Big Ten and SEC present themselves either. It seems likely that conference realignment will settle down for the time being. But by the time the next round of realignment comes, UNC will have to make a choice about its identity just as the ACC did.

(featured image: AP Photo/Ben McKeown, File)

“Viewpoints” on Chapelboro is a recurring series of community-submitted opinion columns. All thoughts, ideas, opinions and expressions in this series are those of the author, and do not reflect the work or reporting of 97.9 The Hill and Chapelboro.com.