Last week — sorry that we’re only now getting wind of this — The Raleigh News & Observer reported the following: “Emails show UNC doubts about ACC after Maryland’s departure.” You know the drill from there — the paper did an open records request and then scanned all of the email communications of North Carolina’s top brass, looking for any talk of the ACC and conference realignment.
The gist of their findings is simple: Yes, Carolina officials were worried about the ACC’s television revenue when long-time rival Maryland jumped to the Big Ten. UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham emailed one Tar Heel fan last November to say: “We are looking at all options. But keeping the ACC strong is our number one choice.”
Nearly 12 months later, the Atlantic Coast Conference has added Louisville and re-worked its own television deal with ESPN. Pittsburgh and Syracuse have become official members. And perhaps most importantly, a grant-of-rights agreement has been inked between the league and its 14 members.
So for the moment things look pretty stable, if not particularly lucrative, along the Eastern Seaboard. But We know what you’re interested in learning. After Maryland’s move, did UNC peek longingly toward the SEC or any other conference while “looking at all options?”
Not according to Cunningham’s emails. The News & Observer’s report only mentions the SEC a couple of times:
1. A financial adviser in Athens, Georgia emailed Cunningham about a meeting he had had with an SEC athletic director. (We’ll guess that he met with UGA’s Greg McGarity.) The financial adviser, Joe Frierson, wrote: “He said the SEC pays out around $20 (million per) team right now. Thinks it will approach $35 (million per team) when TV contract is renegotiated in a couple of years. He said the SEC just signed a contract for the Sugar Bowl (between teams from the SEC and Big 12) for 2015 that will pay $40 (million) to each conference… That is ridiculous money.”
Cunningham’s response: “It really concerns me. If these trends continue I’m not sure how the ACC (can) compete financially.”
2. The report also states that “the overwhelming majority of fans preferred moving to the SEC” if there was a choice to be made between Mike Slive’s conference and Jim Delany’s Big Ten. Panicky Tar Heel fans began to email Cunningham just as soon as Maryland announced its departure. One fan wrote: “If we end up in the (Big Ten) and NCSU goes to the SEC then we may as well pack it in when it comes to football.” Another wrote: “I am so tired of hearing ‘UNC-Cheat’ and other derogatory comments from our ‘loyal’ (ACC) partners… I would find this ‘holier than thou’ attitude a little less likely in the SEC.”
And that’s it. According to email records of North Carolina’s athletic director, the SEC’s money was mentioned by a financial adviser (though that person was not pushing for an SEC move) and the SEC was brought up via fans. Period.
There were no, “Hey, wanna grab a coffee?” emails from Slive to Cunningham. There were no encrypted messages from Florida president Bernie Machen. Email-wise there was bupkes.
That doesn’t mean folks didn’t text or make phone calls to one another, but from the looks of Cunningham’s emails, Carolina never really looked long and hard for a new conference partner. The goal was to keep Florida State and Clemson from leaving for the Big 12 (which turned out to be nothing more than an overblown rumor itself) and solidify the Atlantic Coast Conference in terms of cash flow.
Moving forward, if there is another grand realignment quake to come — and we believe that will depend on how the NCAA addresses full-cost-of-tuition scholarships — at least SEC fans now know the mood of the UNC fanbase. They prefer the SEC to the Big Ten and other options. Just file that one away for now.
CORRECTION — Initially, this post referred to The News & Observer as being Charlotte’s newspaper. Actually, it is The Raleigh News & Observer. As a former resident of Charlotte — which is home to The Charlotte Observer — my synapses must have fired off some mixed up signals. Apologies.