The Clemson Tigers play the Alabama Crimson Tide for the Title. Would a win or a loss be better for the ACC as a whole?
The Atlantic Coast Conference is going for its second national title in three years tonight when the Clemson Tigers take on the Alabama Crimson Tide. While most discussions of that game include game tactics and matchups, the important question for the North Carolina, Duke, NC State, and Wake Forests of the world is whether a Clemson victory is more helpful or hurtful to the growth of their football programs.
There are two views to look at here. One is that what is good for Clemson is good for the conference. The other is that Clemson will simply become too big too close for the other schools (not named Florida State) to mount a real challenge to it.
1. Clemson Winning is Good
A Clemson national title would bring credibility to the ACC as a conference since a second team from the league would have emerged as a national champion in the BCS/Playoff eras. Nationally, the observers would not be able to say it was FSU and the twelve dwarfs. Recruits may consider the conference to play for the Tigers or possibly against the Tigers.
The ACC would be able to claim 2 titles in three years.
The problem with this view is that national observers would still not credit the conference. Clemson and FSU are considered in a league of their own for those guys. This was shown by the reluctance of the committee to open that club to a third member by keeping North Carolina out in their poll all of the way through.
2. Clemson Winning is Bad
Only Danny Ford has won a title at Clemson. A win would raise the profile of Dabo Swinney to new heights. Already a recruiting machine, Clemson would become the recruiting magnet for the region. FSU would still be a threat because it has an independent recruiting base, but it would be harder for North Carolina, NC State, Duke, and Wake to get the best NC kids to stay home when Clemson would just be right down the road.
There is also the problem with lack of parity. The rise of SEC had a lot to do with the talent equality at LSU, Auburn, and Alabama. They had to maintain greatness because their neighbors would simply snatch it from them. Clemson built its success in competition with Florida State, not the other teams of the Atlantic. The SEC had to build up against each other. The ACC has a couple top programs, but they are not bringing the league with them.
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The ACC Coastal had shown some potential as a proving ground, but no combination of teams have mastered it to show its value. The Tar Heels went 8-0 but the rest of the division did not sort itself out behind them so that only Pitt was a true quality opponent.
So we have to look at the elevation of Clemson as a localized event that may not spread to the rest of the conference since there is not a view of the ACC as being the place to go to win titles. Clemson will get good mileage of that event, but it is a much longer road for North Carolina, Duke, State, or Wake to benefit.
The game should be playing right now.