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Ratcliffe: UVa, ACC looking at Europe

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Posted: Saturday, May 4, 2013 9:15 pm

The ACC in Europe? Mike London in London?

There’s no question that ACC commissioner John Swofford intends to connect the 15-team conference with opportunities to play football and basketball in Europe and there’s no question that if the right opportunity opens for the University of Virginia, the Cavaliers will gobble it up faster than you can say “Cheerio.”

Swofford recently said that the ACC is always looking to expand its brand and believes that there’s enough interest in England, Ireland and Germany to test the waters.

“We need to think big,” Swofford said. “The NFL is going to London as is the NBA with some regularity. The Olympics are so successful over there. Basketball is an international sport. Football is not, but there is a growing interest in it in Great Britain.”

Virginia fans were somewhat surprised a few months ago when the school revealed that it had considered playing a football game against Oregon in London in 2017. That was the initial conversation until the two schools agreed to play a home-and-home beginning this season in Charlottesville.

“My job at that time was to find a place that would host the game,” said Jon Oliver, UVa’s executive associate athletic director. “We were working on it. Both parties were excited about the possibility.”

Oliver believed London made the most sense for the game if the right situation presented itself and said that if that possibility arose again in the future, there’s no question that Virginia would seek out the event.

“It’s not just about your football program or about sports,” Oliver said. “It’s an opportunity for your institution to reach out to Europe. A lot of institutions are doing that because it’s a great opportunity from an academic perspective, your program and your student-athletes.”

Oliver was correct.

When Notre Dame played Navy in Ireland last September, the football game was only a part of a huge celebration that also included academic opportunities.

An array of academic events were conducted in the days leading up the football game, including a program entitled “The Future of Energy: Dreams and Responsibilities,” held at Dublin’s Trinity College, which attracted energy experts from around the globe. Notre Dame sponsored another event at Dublin’s Royal Irish Academy, and brought in some of the world’s most noted intellectuals to discuss the 1916 Irish uprising.

More than 10,000 fans celebrated at a pep rally for the game the night before, drawing a national television audience and featured musical performances. There was also a mass of Thanksgiving at Dublin Castle, with the Notre Dame band marching from the castle to the streets of Dublin for a rather unique tailgate experience. Notre Dame’s men’s tennis team took on the Ireland Davis Club team, and various tours of the Irish country side were available for the more than 35,000 American fans who made the trip.

“It made sense for Notre Dame to play in Ireland,” Oliver said. “We were thinking London.”

Oliver believes that if two ACC teams are interested in moving a mutual game over the pond that it would be a great opportunity for both institutions.

“If it’s early in the year, say the first or second game against a nonconference opponent, I think that would be a great opportunity for our program as well,” Oliver said. “Everybody’s looking for more brand exposure and an educational experience for your student-athletes.”

The Pac-12 began discussions a year ago about taking some of its games in the other direction, to Asia. There has already been some talk about Boston College playing Notre Dame in Ireland in 2015.

Oliver said that when Virginia and Oregon began exploring a possible game in England, that he checked with Notre Dame about its experience in Ireland and received great feedback about the success of the trip.

Swofford will likely bring up the European potential when the ACC conducts its spring meetings this month.

“When you look at this collection of schools and markets, all our institutions are international in one degree or another,” Swofford said.

The ACC has enjoyed an academic collaboration between all its members for several years, which was one of the key points in selling the various school presidents on conference expansion. Most every ACC school has strong connections overseas, particularly in Europe.

So, you might want to start working on your passports and brushing up on your British slang.

Mike London in London. Headline writers will have fun with that. London in London. It makes sense, although Tom O’Brien might be pushing for a side trip.

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