By John Mundy
As rumors continue to swirl about the Atlantic Coast Conference’s inevitable demise, I’ve kept an ear to the ground for the latest realignment talk.
In particular, any talk surrounding what Clay Travis and others believe to be the ACC’s most SEC-worthy applicants. And by “SEC-worthy applicants” I mean N.C. State and Virginia Tech.
Let’s start with this fact: The SEC, if following the same blueprint that landed them Texas A&M and Missouri, will only be looking to expand into new television markets. That leaves Virginia Tech, Virginia, North Carolina State, North Carolina, Duke and Wake Forest as potential SEC applicants from the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Of those, only N.C. State and Virginia Tech are remotely qualified for membership in the Southeastern Conference. Nobody else is close. That being said, I believe that N.C. State is the most SEC-worthy of the two, based on nothing empirical or scientific at all. Let’s take a look at the Wolfpack and see how much SEC-ness is already there.
The Wolfpack has a great and vibrant fan base, clad in a sea of red that shakes Carter-Finley Stadium at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds on Fall Saturdays. They also travel well, although as the ACC has expanded its geography, it has gotten awfully hard to part with all the cash it takes to go see the Pack play Boston College in November. Who wants to do that?
Carter-Finley is a raucous, noisy venue located right off of Interstate 40. The Pack shouldn’t be penalized for not having an on-campus facility, though, since they are master tailgaters and beer swillers (and that’s just the kids). The Fairgrounds is also home to their state-of-the-art basketball arena. It’s perfect for tailgating, with plenty of trees for when the port-a-potties become intolerable. Also, I don’t think there’s been a shooting there in at least three years.
Like most SEC schools, Wolfpackers put way too much stock into recruiting reports and think that they’re always one player away from a conference/BCS Championship. This is perhaps their most SEC-like quality.
Bonus points are awarded for: North Carolina barbecue, attractive coeds who say “y’all” in several dialects and a national championship bass fishing team. Did I mention the barbecue?
For some reason, N.C. State wants to be good at basketball. Really good. As a matter of fact, hiring Mark Gottfried a couple years back has raised the basketball profile in Raleigh quite significantly. New Athletic Director Debbie Yow has put the Wuffies on track to be winners in both football AND basketball, which makes the fans in Raleigh deliriously happy.
This will most certainly clash with the views of SEC member schools, who are more than happy to be great at one revenue sport (read: football) and be irrelevant in another (read: basketball). Don’t believe me? Despite hardwood success, Vanderbilt made over their entire athletic department and image, while bringing James Franklin in to make the ‘Dores good at football. Kentucky, who really doesn’t need a football team except to fulfill their conference contractual obligations just hired Mark Stoops and found a zillion dollars to finally update ancient, nondescript Commonwealth Stadium.
For the Pack to succeed in Mike Slive’s kingdom, they’re going to have to make some concessions in mindset. All the SEC needs is for one or two teams to be great at basketball (just to keep up appearances) and Florida and Kentucky are doing just fine, thank you. Oh, and before you start saying, “But, but, the Gators 2006 and 2007 basketball national championships!”
Ask 10 Gator fans which material they want making up their national championship trophy, and 9 will say crystal, not wood. Let me ask you this: If UF really cared about basketball, would they still play at the godforsaken O’Connell Center? Think about it.
Sure, let them in. Why not? The Wolfpack faithful love their football and would sell their signed Phillip Rivers jerseys to get in. They’d be very polite and not kick up quite a fuss over money. Also, moving the vibrant State tailgate scene to the SEC is like moving from High-A baseball to the National League. This could be fun. The Wolfpack in Death Valley on a Saturday night? Yes, please.
However, I’m not so sure that Pack fans understand what’s about to happen to their football fortunes. Yes, the checks will clear and help build you a new library (wink, wink) but that ass is about to be roundly kicked until you can get used to how things get done around SEC-ville. Remember, the Wuffies lost to both Tennessee and Vanderbilt during the 2012 season, and neither was close. If Derek Dooley opened up a can, what do you think Nick Saban is going to do?
In any event, although they are often whiny, delusional and revisionist, I believe the Wolfpack would do fine in the SEC. However, they’re going to miss those Saturdays in Wallace Wade and Kenan for a long time, kids. A very long time.