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Opinion Week: For Georgia Tech and the ACC, 2017 Will be Pivotal

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NCAA Football: TaxSlayer Bowl-Kentucky vs Georgia Tech Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

“Oh come on, you say that every year!” It’s a fair sentiment. It seems each year, pundits label this season “pivotal” for Georgia Tech. Prior to 2015, it was all about building on 2014’s success while in the national spotlight. Prior to 2016, it was all about redemption for the program and for Coach Johnson. Maybe it’s all hype, maybe every year is pivotal in a sport where winning gives you everything and losing gets you nothing. But it’s not just one factor making this year critical for the program, it’s several, and this column will explore each of them.

Exposure on the National Stage

If a tree falls in the forest If a team wins 9 games, and nobody is around to hear it and none of those games are played during prime time, does it make a sound? did it really happen?

Let’s face it, nobody watched Georgia Tech last year. Coming off a historically bad year for the program, the team wasn’t exactly slotted for the most coveted TV spots by the worldwide leader. After kicking off the year while the entire country was asleep, Tech put together an impressive string of noon games that were not televised nationally. The biggest opponent of the year was played on a Thursday, and COFH was relegated to noon on the SEC network. Hell, even the bowl game was played at 11 AM at the same time as a game featuring the Heisman winner and an LSU team with several future 2017 NFL Draft picks. On top of that, ESPN essentially used the game to advertise the Peach Bowl that would follow.

This tweet from SBN’s Bill Connelly after COFH really sums up how little exposure the rest of the country had to this year’s Georgia Tech team:

This year will be far different. All eyes will be on Tech opening weekend, as they participate in the Chick Fil A kickoff against a large-market team from the SEC. Clemson isn’t on a Thursday this year. COFH won’t be on the SEC Network. Tech is coming off a 9-4 record instead of a 3-9 record. Without a doubt, more eyes will be on Tech this year. It would certainly be hard for there to be fewer.

The Apparel Deal

Ah yes. This again. We at FTRS have discussed the apparel deal many, many times. From the preferred provider to contract details, this discussion has dragged on for the better part of the past 5 years. After much angst, the time has finally come to shed Russell Athletic forever.

That said, the timing makes this year all the more pivotal. This is Tech’s last chance to show its value to the “big three” companies, and a big season on the national stage could give Todd Stansbury that extra ounce of negotiating power he needs to get the best deal possible.

COFH

Before the 2016 edition of Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate, Joey wrote that with a new coach in Athens, it was time to usher in new era in the rivalry. It wasn’t pretty, but Tech did just that, serving a loss to Kirby Smart in his first year. One fact, however, still remains. Tech hasn’t won in Bobby Dodd this Millennium. In 1999, Tech won on Grant Field in what would become the second of a 3 game winning streak in the rivalry. A 3 game streak that would get Jim Donnan fired in Athens. The rest is history that doesn’t need to be discussed right now.

A win this year would mark the first back-to-back wins and the first win in Atlanta since the turn of the century, and would make the new guy 0-2 against the Jackets. After a decade and a half of an awful, lopsided rivalry, it’s time for Tech to stand up and say it’s over.

Winning in 2016 was a statement, A win in 2017 would be a declaration.

The ACC and its Shiny New Network

If 2017 is a big year for the Jackets, it’s a huge year for the conference. The ACC was the nation’s best league in 2016, boasting the national champs and an impressive bowl record of 9-3, which tied the 2015 SEC for the most bowl wins in a season. The ACC also boasted a 17-9 record against Power-5 teams on the season, spearheaded by Clemson(4-0), Florida State(3-0), and Georgia Tech(3-0).

It seems like ages since the conference feared a mass poaching by the SEC, Big 10, and Big 12 before the last major realignment. It has since retained its valuable members, while expanding to 14 teams and adding Notre Dame in a partial capacity.

But it will take more than great seasons to place the conference at the top perennially. The ACC is still 4th in average revenue per school, way behind the pack-leading SEC. The ACC will likely never be the top grossing conference in the land, and that’s ok, but the revenue gap does need to close significantly.

Which brings us to the hot topic for this year: The ACC Network. The long awaited standalone channel has the potential to close the “revenue gap” for many ACC schools. The channel won’t launch until 2019, and it’s still not apparent how much the network will be worth to the league. While the ACC has already signed on to give exclusive rights to ESPN for the next 20 years, the final dollar figure pulled in by the network will largely depend on the revenue the channel generates. With cable subscriptions plummeting in recent years, extracting value from a cable channel has become increasingly difficult. ESPN is hemorrhaging money, so how will the ACC be able to cash in like the SEC has over the past few years? By expanding its presence on the national stage.

It won’t happen overnight, but a string of good seasons leading up to the network’s launch will increase the network’s appeal to different cable markets. Additionally, there almost certainly be a couple of rounds of realignment during the next 20 years, and strong performances from the league’s members could lead to an expansion of the conference’s footprint.

Make or Break

Sustaining success has been difficult for Georgia Tech and the ACC for the better part of the last decade, but with a variety of factors converging on this season, now would be an opportune time to right the ship for good. College football is a game ruled by money, plain and simple. In this dash for the cash, the strategy for this team and this conference is simple: Just win, baby.