Following a very rough first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, the ACC was taking heat from all sides. ESPN, FOX and NBC started the troll deluge, and even SB Nation (and others) were happy to carry the narrative too -- though at least Mike Rutherford had far more substance in his reasoning (and his opinion comes from actually caring about the conference’s success).
Just a year after putting a record number of teams (six) through to the Sweet 16, the conference had just one make it in 2017: last year’s runner-up North Carolina.
The Tar Heels ended up making it to the Final Four yet again. For some reason, this season’s still considered a failure for the “top conference” in the land.
In part, it’s just a comparison to 2016’s excellence, which any conference would fall short of. It’s also a reaction to the historical dominance of the ACC and its top programs (some of which have been in the league longer than others). UNC, Duke, Louisville and Syracuse are hate-able to a lot of fan bases outside of the league. You could probably add Notre Dame, Virginia, Pitt and others to that list as well.
So while the ACC failed to hit last year’s high bar, it’s doing just fine. The Heels are back in the Final Four, which makes this the only conference that can claim three straight years of Final participants. The ACC’s also made six of the last eight.
This isn’t just about wins, either. Those wins also equal credits from the NCAA (one per win), and those credits equal dollars (each unit’s worth over $260,000 annually for five years) which are then invested into the league’s 15 programs.
The ACC’s collected the most credits for the past two years — 21 in 2015 and a record 25 in 2016. This year, they have 18 already (best in the country) and can get to as high as 20 with two more wins by UNC. The SEC can match them with two South Carolina wins, but that would also require a Heels loss in the semifinal.
While the wealth may not have been spread as evenly as last season with regard to NCAA Tournament wins, they still put more teams in the field than anyone else, and are a victory away from guaranteeing a third straight season of collecting more credits.
As mentioned, those credits — valued at over $260,000 each -- are actually worth far more than that, since they’re awarded annually for five years. So rather than $260,000, they’re each worth over $1 million. Even if you rounded down, this year’s output means over $18 million more in the ACC’s pockets. Last year’s, over $25 million.
How can this league be overrated when it’s still outpacing everyone else?
The ACC will also continue to do so, obviously, based on the money coming through on an annual basis. These credits are one of just a few revenue sources to grow in recent years for the conference, along with College Football Playoff revenue, increased bowl payouts with more successful teams, continual ESPN television revenue increases and the forthcoming ACC Network jump.
Just a few months ago, the storyline was that the ACC had put itself into the fight with the Big Ten and SEC atop college sports. One “down” NCAA Tournament (that still features a Final Four team) isn’t going to change that — or the financial wins that have come with it -- overnight.