In the last 20 years, there has been one Heisman winner from the Big East and two from the ACC.
Mind you, all three of these winners were produced by traditional Heisman powers Miami and Florida State. Conference affiliation then, in this respect, really wasn’t an issue as it often is with other Heisman winners.
What’s going on with these conferences? Why can’t the rest of the ACC and Big East teams break through and start winning Heismans?
Here are the major conferences and how they break down as far as schools that have won Heismans (under current conference configurations):
Big Ten — 6 schools, 15 Heismans (Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Penn State, Iowa)
SEC — 6 schools, 11 Heismans (Auburn, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina)
Big 12 — 5 schools, 12 Heismans (Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Nebraska)
Pac-12 — 5 schools, 11 Heismans (USC, UCLA, Oregon State, Stanford, Colorado)
Independents — 4 schools, 13 Heismans (Notre Dame, BYU, Army, Navy)
ACC — 3 schools, 5 Heismans (Miami, Florida State, Boston College)
Ivy League — 2 schools, 3 Heismans (Yale, Princeton)
Big East — 2 schools, 2 Heismans (Pittsburgh, Syracuse)
Conference USA — 2 schools, 2 Heismans (Houston, SMU)
Mountain West — 1 school, 1 Heisman (TCU)
As you can see, if not for the relatively recent addition of Florida State and Miami to the ACC, that league would be below even the Big East as far as Heisman contributions go.
Otherwise, four conferences–the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12 and Big-12–have supplied the bulk of the Heisman winners, especially in recent years.
What is the explanation for the lack of Heismans coming out of the Big East and ACC?
A couple possible reasons:
1. Basketball is still king. These two leagues have built their sports reputations primarily on hoops. Being a basketball power is far more economical than being a football power and this seems to be the route many of these school have taken. As a result, the tradition has oozed in one direction–toward the hardcourt and away from the gridiron.
2. Poor Recruiting Bases. Some Big East and ACC schools are ensconced in regions that are somewhat lacking in recruiting talent. The Northeast and Mid-Atlantic schools–UConn, Syracuse, Connecticut, Boston College, Rutgers, Maryland–are at a bit of a disadvantage in this regard. And where talent does exist–the Tidewater areas of Virginia, North Carolina, etc.–the competition is fierce, with the other major conferences often swooping in to steal players away.
3. Lack of Top Flight Facilities. This goes back to the focus on basketball. There are a ton of well-known hoops arenas in these leagues, but few storied football stadiums. Only three schools in these two leagues have stadium capacities over 70,000, with Miami and Florida State being two of them. Big-time players want to play before big-time crowds.
4. Lack of Big-Time Coaches. The ACC and Big East just don’t pay what the other leagues pay. This goes back to an overall perception that the ACC and Big East aren’t that committed to winning at football. It also means that the coaching talent that does emerge is quickly snatched up by other schools willing to pay more money.
This is not to say that good teams don’t come out of the ACC or Big East, or that these conferences don’t produce talented players. But winning a Heisman requires the confluence of a few factors–team success, tradition, individual excellence and healthy publicity and name recognition.
As the leagues are currently set up, the Big East and the ACC lag well behind in these departments.