History of the Atlantic Coast Conference

Jim Tatum
Jim Tatum

Eddie Cameron
Eddie Cameron

The ACC is renowned as the NCAA's best basketball conference, year-in and year-out. However, the conference began in 1953 primarily because of football.

The Problem

We start the story in 1951. The 30-year-old Southern Conference, fourth oldest in the U.S., consisted of 17 schools: Citadel, Clemson, Davidson, Duke, Furman, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Richmond, South Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, VMI, Wake Forest, Washington & Lee, West Virginia, and William & Mary.

At the end of the 1951 football season, 9-0 Maryland and 7-2 Clemson received bids to the Sugar and Gator Bowls, respectively. The Terrapins, ranked #3 in the final AP poll, had a chance to play #1 Tennessee. One problem: the Southern Conference presidents had instituted a bowl ban. However, the two invitees defied the conference and played on New Year's Day. Jim Tatum's Terps upset the Volunteers 28-13 but Clemson lost to Miami 14-0. As a result of their actions, Maryland and Clemson were suspended from the conference for a year. They couldn't play any conference schools. (Losing those lucrative games against Davidson and Washington & Lee must have really hurt!)

The Solution

Clearly, the unwieldy Southern Conference could not satisfy the needs of such diverse schools especially in the two major sports – football and basketball. So on May 8, 1953 representatives of seven schools – Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, and Wake Forest – met in Greensboro NC to draw up the by-laws for a new conference. Newspapers asked for fan suggestions for the name of the new league and got these.

Dixie, Mid South, Mid Atlantic, East Coast, Seaboard, Colonial, Tobacco, Blue-Gray, Piedmont, Southern Seven, and Shoreline

However, Duke's Eddie Cameron (yes, he of Indoor Stadium fame) proposed the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the motion passed unanimously. Each member school was assessed all of $200 to pay for conference expenses.

In December, 1953, Virginia joined as the eighth member. The conference stayed intact until 1971 when the first – and so far the only – withdrawal took place: South Carolina. The ACC reverted to seven members until 1978 when it accepted Georgia Tech, which had left the SEC in 1965 and played as an independent in football for 13 years.

New Members

The next change took place in 1991 when Florida State joined. This move was widely viewed as an attempt to upgrade the level of ACC football to a status rivaling basketball's. Nine members allowed for complete round-robin scheduling in football with four home and four road games for each team and a full 16-game basketball schedule.

Today's ACC was completed with a "raid" on the Big East. Miami and Virginia Tech joined in 2004 and Boston College in 2005. This expansion was considered a victory for the ACC schools who wanted football to be #1 and a dilution of the ACC's basketball strength. These changes triggered realignments in not only the Big East but also Conference-USA, the Mid-American Conference, and the Western Athletic Conference.

Since the three Big East "traitors" gave the ACC the required 12 members, it split into two football divisions and inaugurated a championship game on the first Saturday in December. Thus far, three have been held: Florida State upset Virginia Tech in 2005, Wake Forest surprised Georgia Tech in 2006, and Virginia Tech defeated Boston College in 2007.

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