Why Clemson must play in Waco, Ames

There are so many financial numbers to crunch, a Clemson fan could ride in the back of an RV from Charleston to Stillwater still not having enough time.

But digest this takeaway while wondering why Clemson might run away from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big 12 in order to compete with the Southeastern Conference: From 2010-2011, the SEC made $113 million in football television rights and the ACC $42.83 million, reports veteran ACC analyst David Teel of the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press.

No wonder shrewd Clemson Board of Trustees chairman David Wilkins says the school has a “responsibility” to entertain Big 12 offers. If a proposal arrives in Pickens County and includes Florida State as part of the transfer deal, Clemson has little choice but to say yes.

This is the school's biggest athletic department decision since it hired John Heisman (the man, the myth, the trophy) to run the football program. That was in 1900, as Clemson was held scoreless in losses to Georgia and Auburn and was desperately trying to keep up with those present-day SEC schools.

You flunk geography putting Clemson in a sports league with Texas Tech.

But it doesn't take a Clemson math major to know the bottom line is the bottom line. It might include a Big 12 television pie that's worth $3 million more per school than ACC slices.

Things change quickly. In 2004, undefeated Auburn, the SEC champion, was left out of the national title game. The day the ACC added Miami and Virginia Tech in 2003, ACC commissioner John Swofford bragged that those programs plus Florida State and Georgia Tech had won, tied or played for the national championship since 1990.

The final 2002 AP poll included six ACC teams.

“We're here to celebrate,” Swofford said.

But Clemson is at a football competitive disadvantage against South Carolina and other SEC programs, and it remains so as long as conference economic trends continue.

The ideal solution is lawmaker intervention in which our nutty politicians realize football is one of the few things we all agree on and that a 64-school major college football system split into four geographically sensible leagues is just swell.

Until that happens, Clemson fans must embrace road trip options such as Waco, Texas, and Ames, Iowa.

It's a tough adjustment. Atlanta would go from Clemson recruiting base to airport stopover.

Clemson's 2012 ACC road games: Florida State, Boston College, Wake Forest, Duke.

The Tigers' less travel-friendly conference road schedule some season soon: Florida State, Oklahoma, TCU, Kansas State.

There is a best-case scenario for the ACC: Conference management gets blood-oath loyalty commitments from current members, signs Notre Dame for future entry, has Florida State and Miami ?immediately return to football prominence and watches the SEC's national championship streak — six and counting — vanish. Meanwhile, maybe the new SEC/Big 12 bowl agreement falls apart, Nick Saban leaves Alabama for the Dallas Cowboys and Les Miles runs for governor of Louisiana.

Worse case: Florida State and Virginia Tech leave the ACC and Clemson fans eat bittersweet barbecue on the way to and from Winston-Salem.

When you get right down to it, football fan road trips and silly travel for non-revenue sport athletes are the biggest negatives in a Clemson jump to the Big 12.

But Clemson football home games are enhanced (and more valuable) if the foes are better and fans can't drive to as many road games.

Logic and cash flow seem to dictate a big move to the Big 12.

By the way, that 1900 season and the Heisman mega-move worked out very well, ?particularly as contrasted with competition from the present-day SEC. Heisman led Clemson to a 6-0 record, ?including easy wins over Georgia (39-5) and South ?Carolina (51-0). The season came to a triumphant end in, of all places, Birmingham.

Clemson 35, Alabama 0. Reach Gene Sapakoff ?at 937-5593 or on Twitter ?@sapakoff.