RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — There’s a lot for the Atlantic Coast Conference to sort out between now and December — on and off the field.
Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson have the inside track in a compelling Atlantic Division race, and No. 15 Miami sure looks like the team to beat in the Coastal.
But the biggest question looming over the league is where those two division winners will meet in the title game, after it was pulled from Charlotte over concerns about a state law that limits the protections of LGBT people.
Where, when and how a replacement will be selected and announced is unclear.
League athletic directors referred questions about the process to the ACC office, and league officials declined multiple interview requests to discuss the topic.
Nobody from the ACC has spoken publicly about it since the league’s council of presidents voted last week at a regularly scheduled meeting to relocate 10 neutral-site championships from North Carolina until the law known as HB2 is repealed.
Signed into law earlier this year by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, HB2 requires transgender people to use restrooms at schools and government buildings corresponding to the sex on their birth certificates. It also excludes gender identity and sexual orientation from local and statewide antidiscrimination protections.
In announcing the decision to relocate the title game, ACC Commissioner John Swofford said the process of making such a move in only 2½ months “our next challenge.” The league also must find new homes for the women’s basketball and baseball championships, among others.
Among the issues that must be addressed:
— Making sure there are enough hotel rooms available for the teams, their fans and the conference officials who will attend.
— Arranging the activities surrounding the game.
— Issuing refunds to those who already purchased game tickets for Charlotte.
“Certainly, there’s a short timeframe in transitioning some of our championships, the football championship logistically being the most difficult,” Swofford said. “But when you’re making decisions on principle, you don’t pick and choose in terms of specific championships.”
Charlotte had been a convenient, successful host the past six years, drawing an average crowd of nearly 70,000. With four ACC teams in the Top 25 — No. 3 Louisville, No. 5 Clemson, No. 13 Florida State and Miami — this year’s matchup figures to be worthy of its prime-time slot on either ESPN or ABC.
“They put on such a great show,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said of Charlotte. Fedora’s Tar Heels lost to Clemson last year.
Now that Charlotte is out, the question everybody is asking is where the game will be held.
Swofford said when he announced the move that the ACC had reached out “in a small way” to potential hosts, saying there were “probably limited possibilities” while not identifying them.
“We’re not there yet, but we feel like we can move reasonably quickly,” he said.
They can probably rule out both of the two previous sites in Florida — Jacksonville and Tampa — because they’re already booked that weekend: South Florida plays Central Florida in Tampa on Dec. 3, and the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars play at home on Dec. 4. The ACC title game was played in Jacksonville from 2005-07, then in Tampa for two years before moving to Charlotte.
One obvious possibility is Orlando, Florida. That city annually hosts two bowl games with ACC ties — the Citrus and Russell Athletic bowls have agreements to take its teams — and this year an opening game between Mississippi and Florida State was played at 65,000-seat Camping World Stadium.
A spokesman for Florida Citrus Sports, the group that organizes those games, declined comment, referring all questions to the ACC.
The Washington area also could be a candidate. The ACC is no stranger to the metro D.C. area — its men’s basketball tournament was held in downtown Washington in March — and FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland, has hosted a handful of college games, with West Virginia playing BYU there this weekend. Plus, the stadium will be available: The Redskins don’t have any home games between Nov. 20 and Dec. 19.
When asked about the possibility, team spokesman Tony Wyllie said his focus was solely on the Redskins’ next opponent, the New York Giants.
Another option for the ACC would be to follow the lead of the Pac-12, American Athletic Conference and Conference USA, and play the title game on campus, perhaps at the home field of the highest ranked team. That would put even more at stake for Louisville next week when the Cardinals visit Clemson — which still must play at Florida State on Oct. 29 to complete the Atlantic Division’s brutal round robin.
“I don’t have any thoughts other than I hope we’re in the championship. We’ll go to Pluto and play, wherever,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Just tell us where it’s at and we’ll go play.”
That seems to be what everyone is waiting for from the ACC.
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