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Is a seat at the table with Orange Bowl enough to keep ACC together?

Clear some space there, Slive.

Commissioner John Swofford was talking like one of college football’s big shots Tuesday following the announcement that the ACC had inked a 12-year deal with the Orange Bowl:

“There are five conferences that separate themselves to some degree in the FBS when you look at indexing from a marketplace standpoint.” (Emphasis added.)

A few months ago, his conference appeared to be on the brink of football oblivion. Yet, while everyone else had been setting four places at the grown-up table, the growing consensus seems to be that Swofford somehow found room to squeeze in another chair. With the Orange Bowl in the bag, it would be crazy for a school like Florida St. to still consider leaving for a league like the Big 12, according to SBNation columnist Jason Kirk.

Given that a deal between the Orange Bowl and ACC was expected, hailing the announcement as a major win for the conference comes off as a prisoner-of-the-moment response. Much like the knee-jerk reaction to the announcement of the ACC’s new TV contract with ESPN, I suspect this new bowl agreement won’t smell so sweet with more time to breathe.

Details about the ACC-Orange Bowl deal remain scarce. What is certain is that the conference has an alliance with a New Year’s Day bowl game that will play a role in the new playoff structure. We also know with certainty that a second ACC team will get a spot in the Orange Bowl should a team from the conference reach college football’s Final Four. The ACC also stands to make substantially more cash as the owner of the bowl game’s television rights than it would have under the previous postseason regime.

Unfortunately for the ACC, one thing we don’t know about this new deal is really important.

As of now, the game will pit an ACC team versus TBA. The top teams in the Big 12 and SEC will square off in the Champions Bowl. Likewise, the Rose Bowl will get the cream of the crop from the Pac-12 and Big Ten. That seemingly leaves a hodgepodge of also-rans from those conferences, a date with Notre Dame once every four years, and teams from leagues such as the Big East and Mountain West as opponents.

Add it all up, and the TV contract for this game will fall below what the B1G, Pac-12, Big 12 and SEC squeeze out of their respective deals. In fact, it probably won’t be close. (Don’t forget the Orange Bowl will be kicking off every year at 1 p.m. ET on New Year’s Day, which is still prime hangover time post-New Year’s Eve.)

Clearly, a deal with one of the six major bowls will have value for the ACC – the Big East, for instance, would trade places in a heartbeat. So, the Orange Bowl should help save the ACC from complete marginalization.

But if there truly are going to be five power conferences, all signs are that the ACC will be less equal than the other four. Power in college football is measured in dollars, and having a seat at the table doesn’t change the fact that the ACC will be bringing in fewer of them than the rest. Even for a school like FSU, the allure of being the prohibitive favorite in the conference can’t hide the realities that come with being at a financial disadvantage. In college football’s arms race, schools that aspire to be among the elite programs can’t afford to fall too far behind, no matter where they’re playing on Jan. 1.

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