It’s Stanford’s fault it’s so easy for me to explain to all of you why it’s such a terrible idea for the Atlantic Coast Conference to consider adding the Cardinal, California Golden Bears and – maybe, for some unfathomable reason, the SMU Mustangs – because Google was conceived on the “The Farm” by a couple of the many brilliant minds that have studied on that lovely campus.
And, man, is Google handy in explaining how nondescript their revenue sports programs – the programs the ACC might drag all the way from the Pacific Coast – have been through most of the past several decades.
I don’t need to have handy the Stanford or Cal football and basketball media guides to examine their records and attendance and (lack of) achievements. Google does that all for me, with a few typed words and the simple push of a button.
There is the question of competence:
– Stanford owns only seven seasons of double-digit football wins in its history, with an average record of 7-5 (73-50) over the past 10 seasons. Cal has posted seven seasons with double-digit wins, also, but four of them were before 1950. Its record over the past decade is 49-66.
– Since 1980, such football icons as Bill Walsh (17-17-1 in his second stint as head coach, from 1992-94) and John Elway (15-18 in three seasons as regular starter, from 1980-82) failed to make Stanford a consistent winner. After a brilliant start to his time as head coach that included four major bowl appearances, David Shaw recently resigned after four consecutive losing seasons that saw the Cardinal go 14-28.
– Stanford has reached only one NCAA men’s basketball tournament in the past 15 seasons. There have been only five 20-win seasons since the great Mike Montgomery left the head coaching job to work in the NBA in 2004. Montgomery’s era accounted for 12 of Stanford’s 17 total NCAA Tournament appearances. California has been to the NCAAs six times in the past 20 years. Montgomery, who took the Cal job after the NBA experiment didn’t go great, was head coach for four of those. He was in charge for 20 of the two schools’ combined 36 NCAA Tournaments. The ACC has five members (North Carolina, Duke, Louisville, Syracuse, Notre Dame) with more NCAA appearances than Cal and Stanford combined.
There is the question of support:
– For the 2022 football season, Stanford drew an average of 29,965 fans to its home games, the 68th-ranked average in the NCAA FBS subdivision. And that’s with tickets available free to students who register in advance, online. Among the schools that drew better: Boise State, East Carolina, Fresno State and Navy. California’s average was not much better, the 59th-ranked total of 38,596.
– During the five-season period that preceded the pandemic, Stanford’s average attendance of 43,263 ranked 10th among the dozen teams in the Pac-12. Cal was No. 11, at 43,457.
– For last season’s “Big Game”, the annual rivalry between the Cardinal and Bears that once produced the unforgettable “the band is out on the field!” moment, there were more than 10,000 empty seats at California Memorial Stadium.
– For the 2022-23 men’s basketball season, Stanford drew an average of 3,518 fans to home games. That ranked 130th. That was worse than Wright State, Ball State, James Madison and Weber State. Three average Kentucky home games combined would exceed Stanford’s season attendance total. California drew an average of 2,155, which ranked 187th and was the worst of any school in a top-6 basketball conference, and a smidge behind Duquesne, Stony Brook and Kent State.
Google even served up the perfect anecdote to summarize all this, courtesy of Stanford alum Christian McCaffrey, who talked about the day he returned to his dorm after he’d almost singlehandedly destroyed the UCLA defense in a Pac-12 game at Stanford Stadium.
“I biked back to my dorm. I’m kid of on a high horse. I walk in, and six or seven people asked where I was!” McCaffrey told The Athletic. “I think I had something like 243 yards rushing, four touchdowns. And they didn’t know where I was!”
He had exactly 243 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
Google found me that, too.
Ross Dellenger of Yahoo! Sports reports the ACC’s contract with ESPN would produce roughly $24 million for each new school added to the conference, and with Stanford, Cal and SMU all apparently willing to accept a greatly reduced share of revenue, the ACC could have an extra $30 million to distribute to members by expanding to include the three schools. David Glenn of the North Carolina Sports Network reports on Twitter there also could be a bump in the fees gathered by the ACC Network.
No matter how you slice that cash, though, unless it’s winner-take all for whichever team wins the ACC Championship in football, an average of slightly more than $2 million per full member is not going to counterbalance the mostly mediocre (or worse) football and basketball teams that would be sullying what has long been a proud league.
Even with recent Final Four appearances by Duke and North Carolina, the ACC has declined so badly in basketball it ranked seventh in the NET rankings, according to WarrenNolan.com. Imagine how much farther off the map the league would have fallen by adding the teams ranked 97 (Stanford), 209 (SMU) and 313 (Cal).
If the ACC feels it might one day need more members to survive the departures of a few schools, there always are plenty of those hanging around. There’s a good chance that, by the time the ACC’s grant of rights and contract with ESPN expires in 2036, these three schools will still be searching for a home as plush as the one the ACC can offer.
It might be worth going all the way to Tokyo if the ACC could find a couple of schools there with the tradition and support that would enhance the league’s membership. There’s no reason, though, to stop that recruiting trip in the Bay Area.