CHARLOTTE — Three full years is plenty of time to work on the debut script and mine archives. No need to rush the B-roll for the 2019 launch of the ACC Network.
But the preamble might sound something like this:
“Good afternoon, and welcome to Dean Smith Studio A here inside the John Swofford Center at ACC Network headquarters in Charlotte where today we celebrate the three straight national football titles won by Clemson, Florida State and Louisville with ‘ACC Storied: The Glory Years’ before we go to the Mike Krzyzewski retirement news conference in Durham. To discuss all this is our panel: former North Carolina head basketball coach Roy Williams, Virginia head women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley and — kind enough to join us via remote from Tuscaloosa — Alabama head coach Dabo Swinney … Roy, your thoughts?”
In officially revealing 2019 ACC Network plans at 2016 ACC Football Kickoff, ACC Commissioner John Swofford couldn’t help but brag on this “remarkable time” for a conference suddenly flexing.
Peaking while peeking ahead, the ACC has Clemson and Florida State as solid College Football Playoff candidates, unquestioned men’s basketball superiority and seemingly sustainable success. If not to the 2036 end of the digital deal heard ‘round college athletics, at least to 2019.
The timing is a coup, both because the long-awaited agreement caught the ACC in a football growth spurt and came before ESPN accountants could convince management that cutting might be better than expanding. ESPN, after all, laid off 300 employees last October amid soaring rights fees and declining sales tied to distribution issues.
“The strength of our schools, our sports, our coaches, our players and our fans is at an all-time high,” Swofford said. “We’re very, very well-positioned for the future.”
Take a bow, Dabo Swinney.
Thanks, Deshaun Watson.
Now the hard part.
The ACC must maintain basketball excellence while realizing icons Krzyzewski, Williams, Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino will be retired or close to it by 2019.
Football progress must continue, and not just at Clemson and Florida State. The ACC badly needs quality depth.
The insatiable cable need for live sports content is the obvious driving force here, and Swofford and ESPN President John Skipper stressed that the ACC Network and ACC Network Extra are aimed at more than just couch potatoes. Mobile device entertainment is the future, and some people think a Wake Forest-Pittsburgh baseball game followed by Duke-North Carolina lacrosse is the answer for steady springtime streaming.
ESPN gets gobs of content rights options for 20 years at 2016 prices. The ACC gets at least some exposure for all 27 of its sports.
Still, football and men’s basketball will wag the network with Notre Dame an added draw in everything except football.
“We know that cumulatively ACC football and men’s basketball regularly generates more viewers on an annual basis for ESPN than any other conference,” Swofford said.
That’s why the ACC simultaneously announced a jump from 18 conference basketball games per team to 20 starting in 2019. Note that the ACC’s 36 NCAA Tournament victories over the last two years are more than any other two conferences combined.
Football, encouraging signs and all, is less certain. Perhaps not coincidentally, Swofford’s announcement Thursday was followed by an ACC Football Kickoff order that began with Mark Richt, the head coach assigned to get Miami back into the national spotlight.
Is there a 2016 way in which Clemson and Florida State both make the College Football Playoff? Probably not; the system begs for a representative from four of the Power Five conferences. But any ACC dream scenario must include several other programs pitching in with non-conference victories beneath The Big Two.
Last perceptions of the ACC’s 2015 season include Florida State losing to Houston in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and North Carolina losing to Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
First impressions in 2016 are important.
The ACC has three grand opportunities on Sept. 3: Florida State vs. Ole Miss in Orlando, North Carolina vs. Georgia in Atlanta and Clemson at Auburn. A week later Pittsburgh plays host to Penn State and Virginia Tech plays Tennessee inside the NASCAR oval in Bristol, Tenn. Winning games like this builds conference muscle, strength of schedule credibility and playoff arguments.
“Wolf Pack Nation, the Denizens of Death Valley, Cameron Crazies, you all know what that is,” Skipper said. “That is why the ACC Network will be a triumph, because of the passion and commitment of its fans.”
Even if you haven’t met a self-described Denizen yet, you get the point. The ACC Network is counting on rabid interest to translate into advertising revenue across known and unknown platforms from 2019 through 2036, when Deshaun Watson is a 40-year-old retired quarterback with a talk show live from Charlotte.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff