On Tuesday morning, the Atlantic Coast Conference signed a 12 year contract with the Discover Orange Bowl set to begin following the 2014 season. The ACC has sent its conference champion to the Orange Bowl since 2006, and the new agreement guarantees that this affiliation will continue.
This offseason, the BCS announced that conferences with “Automatic Qualifying Status” will be stripped of this privilege. Prior to this declaration, champions from the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, Big East, Pac 12, and SEC were all guaranteed spots in BCS bowl games regardless of ranking and record. This is no longer the case, and all BCS bowl participants will now be hand-picked by the BCS in an “at-large” fashion. By signing this contract with the Orange Bowl, the ACC secured themselves a form of AQ status, as their conference champion will always have a BCS game to participate in regardless of their ranking and record.
In 2014, when college football embarks on its four-team playoff championship format, the Discover Orange Bowl is destined to be in the rotation to host one of the semifinal games along with five other bowls (likely the Sugar, Cotton, Rose, Champions, and Chick fil-A). According to this contract, during seasons when the ACC champion is not selected as a member of the four-team playoff and the Orange Bowl is a host site for a semifinal game, the ACC champion is guaranteed a spot in one of the five aforementioned bowl games not in the playoff rotation for that season. For example, if the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl are hosting semifinal games, the ACC champion would likely play in the Chick fil-A Bowl if they are not chosen to be part of the four-team playoff.
If the ACC champion is selected as a participant in the four-team playoff, the ACC runner-up would then play in the Discover Orange Bowl (or one of the other major bowls if the Orange Bowl is in the playoff rotation that season). If two ACC teams are selected for the four-team playoff, the conference’s third best team would play in the Orange Bowl.
It’s unlikely that the Orange Bowl will sign a similar contract with another conference (like the Big East), and the ACC’s opponent in the Orange Bowl for the next 12 years will likely be an at-large team from a different conference or Notre Dame.
In addition to guaranteed participation in the Orange Bowl, the ACC also will own the television rights for the game and are free to negotiate a deal with any network they choose (ESPN, Fox, CBS, etc.).
What does this mean for the ACC? It’s a game changer; this agreement gives the ACC a seat at the table along with the four other power conferences (Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC). Just days ago, the ACC appeared on the verge of oblivion due to the disappointing television deal they struck with ESPN. Following this contract with the Orange Bowl, it’s likely that the conference will remain intact.
If ACC commissioner John Swofford is able to negotiate a respectable deal for the Orange Bowl with a major television network, it would make up for the lackluster contract he signed with ESPN. This could potentially raise each ACC school’s annual football-related revenue to Big 12/Big Ten type levels, therefore enticing the likes of Florida State, Clemson, and Virginia Tech to remain in the ACC. Also, if Notre Dame does give up its independence and joins a conference, the ACC’s chances of landing the Fighting Irish just increased dramatically.