CLEMSON — While rumors and speculation this spring centered around whether Clemson would be better off in the Big 12 conference, geography suggests Clemson’s best long-term affiliation remains the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Geography impacts travel costs, recruiting and historical rivalries. All of those aspects favor Clemson remaining in its conference home of the last 59 years.
Based on Clemson’s actual travel expenses for football and projected costs had the Tigers played in the Big 12 last season, the team would have spent $750,000 more in the Big 12.
Those travel costs would negate a significant portion of the Big 12’s greatest draw — television revenue. The Big 12’s deal with ESPN will pay its programs about $3 million more per year than what the ACC’s deal with ESPN pays out.
Clemson’s chief financial officer Katie Hill told The Post and Courier she had not been asked by any university official to estimate travel costs associated with playing in the Big 12. But Hill did provide a document showing pre-expansion travel mileage to Big 12 schools would have doubled ACC mileage.
The one-way distance from Clemson to Big 12 schools on average is nearly 1,000 miles while, while the one-way distance from Clemson to all ACC schools is 5,972 miles.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney noted another geographical problem for Clemson when considering life in the Big 12 — recruiting.
Swinney, who called the rumors tying Clemson to the Big as 12 as “irresponsible” and “distracting,” said the majority of Clemson recruiting targets would prefer to play in the ACC. Most of Clemson’s recruits are from the Southeast.
“I’ve had to spend all my time re-recruiting guys just because of people putting things out there that aren’t even close to reality,” Swinney said. “Leaving the ACC is the worst thing we could do.”
Because South Carolina has a small population, recruiting nearby states like North Carolina, Georgia and Florida is key for Clemson. Swinney indicated leaving the ACC could potentially damage Clemson’s ability to recruit in the Southeast.
“We have a tremendous footprint to recruit in and play in,” Swinney said.
Swinney also cited last year’s rise to a No. 5 ranking in the BCS standings in October as evidence Clemson can accomplish all its goals in the ACC.
“Look at us last year. We weren’t even ranked (in the preseason), we weren’t even on the radar, and we went to fifth in the country,” Swinney said. “That just goes to show you what we can do in this conference. Certainly we have to build our brand from an ACC football standpoint but this is an outstanding conference, a conference on the rise.”
Florida State had been the most vocal program in the ACC about exploring the possibility of joining the Big 12. But in recent weeks even the sentiment about leaving the ACC in Tallahassee seems to have cooled.
FSU athletic director Randy Spetman recently told the school’s board of trustees that ACC revenues for the 2011-12 fiscal year will exceed expectations, rising 25 percent, and put the athletic department back in the black.
Florida State president Eric Barron said last week he did not expect Florida State to leave the conference by the Aug. 15 deadline.
“We are not seeking anything, we are not expecting anything, there are no conversations that are going on,” Barron told Warchant.com in the middle of June. “But as my board chair (Allan Bense) said, all boards that are responsible would take any opportunity presented and study it. OK, that’s not an invitation, that’s just a statement of fact.”