Teel: Hokies' AD Babcock on ACC football investments and losing Miami as annual opponent

BLACKSBURG — In documents submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, the ACC’s 14 football members reported approximately $361 million in total football expenses for 2020-21, ranging from Clemson’s $43.8 million to Georgia Tech’s $19.6 million. The average was $25.8 million.

Accounting practices vary, but the question remains: Are ACC schools spending enough on football?

A committee of four athletic directors selected by league commissioner Jim Phillips is efforting an answer.

Virginia Tech’s Whit Babcock serves on the panel, and in a wide-ranging interview last week he discussed that process and other ACC issues. This is the second of two pieces detailing our conversation — the first centered on Hokies-centric matters.

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Given the revenue gap between the conferences, no one should expect ACC schools to spend SEC-like amounts on football. Indeed, the SEC’s average football expenses in 2020-21 were $34.7 million, about 35% north of the ACC.

Babcock sits on the ACC football investment committee with Clemson’s Graham Neff, Duke’s Nina King and Georgia Tech’s Todd Stansbury. The group’s charge, Babcock said, is to “find some ways, apples-to-apples, where we can compare the investments every school is making in football.

“That’s a lot of trust, to put your information out there but we feel like there’s a way to do it through an independent party where it [shows] just as schools 1-14. It’s an attempt by the commissioner, and at the request of some of the ADs, so they can know, quite frankly, what some of the benchmarks are. And maybe some of the administrations at some of the schools can see that as well.”

With the sport generating 75-80% of revenue, the laser focus on ACC football starts with Phillips and includes the ACC Network and the conference’s athletic departments. Improving the on-field product is paramount if the league is to close the revenue gap, and that progress will hinge, in part, on sound investments.

“Is it X number of employees?” Babcock said. “Is it recruiting budget? … I think it will be a good peer comparison, and that’s what we’re working on, not to call anybody out or give away any trade secrets. But the way people count analysts, quality control [staffers], trying to get all that together.

“It’s just a collective effort on the ACC’s part to be even better in football. We have been good, just not enough teams and not enough depth — yet.”

ANOTHER COMMITTEE of athletic directors is studying the feasibility of disparate revenue sharing in the conference, and given his experience as an administrator at Missouri when the Tigers competed in the Big 12, Babcock is not sold on the practice.

ACC schools have long divided league revenue into essentially equal shares. But some advocate rewarding success, particularly in football, as well as the brand power that enhances television revenue.

Fair as that might sound, the Big 12’s catering to Texas caused resentment that helped push Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC, and even then, the Longhorns eventually bailed, also to the SEC.

“We’ll see,” Babcock said. “Maybe there’s a way to make it work. There is something to be said for [rewarding] competitive success. [But] there are other schools that come at it and say we [sponsor more sports] and should get more. That one will an interesting discussion, and I truly have an open mind. But I’m cautious about it. …

“But again, I applaud the commissioner and the league for continuing to turn over every rock to keep us as competitive as we can be.”

The ADs on the revenue panel are Neff, Boston College’s Blake James, Florida State’s Mike Alford, Miami’s Dan Radakovich, North Carolina’s Bubba Cunningham, Wake Forest’s John Currie and Pittsburgh’s Heather Lyke. They have yet to present any alternative formulas.

BABCOCK SHARES the disappointment of many with the end of Virginia Tech’s annual football series against Miami. The programs will clash for the 31st consecutive season in 2022, but that frequency will change to twice every four years with the ACC’s new scheduling model.

Adopted in June for 2023-26, the format ditches the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions — the Hokies and Hurricanes compete in the Coastal — and assigns each team three annual rivals. You play your 10 other ACC opponents twice every four seasons, once at home and once away.

Virginia Tech’s three annual rivals are Virginia, Wake Forest and Pitt. The Cavaliers were a given, and Babcock said the pairing with the Deacons was based on proximity — Winston-Salem is about a two-hour drive from Blacksburg.

That left one other yearly opponent, and while Babcock lobbied for Miami, he views Coastal Division and former Big East rival Pitt the next-best alternative.

“That was something we worked for and horse-traded a little bit to get” after learning Miami was out of the mix, Babcock said. “The third [opponent] went round and round, and not too many people were totally satisfied with the draw. Everyone had to sacrifice.”

Under the new model, math dictates that eight teams rotate onto your schedule in alternate seasons. Two others rotate on for two years and off for two years. For Virginia Tech, those opponents are Miami and Louisville, meaning the Hokies and Hurricanes will play in 2025 and ’26, but not in ’23 and ’24.

“I hate to take a two-year break on that,” Babcock said. “… I know how much that game means.”

Twitter: @ByDavidTeel

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