March 14, to some, is known as pi day, but at Clemson University it’s the beginning of softball season.
“Softball is a tremendously popular sport among young women in the state of South Carolina and around the nation,” Director of Athletics Dan Radakovich said. “We’ve evaluated our sports offerings over the past few years and believe this is our best path forward. Among other considerations, softball will allow us to provide an opportunity to compete quickly with the other 13 softball-playing schools of the Atlantic Coast Conference, for increased exposure with our television partners and allow for our continued compliance with Title IX participation ratios.”
The addition of Clemson excites ACC Associate Commissioner Brandon Neff.
“It’s great for the league and we are fortunate enough to have two programs within two years of each other add softball, which is kind of unheard of,” said Neff. “It puts us up to 13 teams and the coaches and I will go to the drawing board and figure out how we are going to do scheduling and different things starting in 2020. We are all pretty excited.”
In 2015, Duke University announced the launch of its softball program for the 2018 season. The addition of the Blue Devils forces the ACC to go from an eight-team end-of-season conference tournament in 2017 to a 10-team tournament in 2018. When Clemson joins in 2020, it will make the conference that much more competitive.
“My first year here was three years ago and we got a record of seven teams into the NCAA Tournament,” said Neff. “Every year has been building off each other. The metric we look at is RPI as a coaching group and as a conference and we’ve been finishing in the fourth spot and the addition of Clemson will hopefully propel us to the one or two spot in the future and that’s our goal.”
The ACC has seen some great players come through over the past several years. From Angela Tincher to Jessica Burroughs to Kristen Brown. The additions of Duke and Clemson set the conference up to compete in the recruiting game and the potential to host more early season tournaments.
“Being that the softball season starts when it does, Duke and Clemson are two southern schools in our conference that help me as a person create the schedule. When it’s cold in Boston in early March we have another option to host early season series with the weather in North and South Carolina.”
College softball has a rapidly growing audience. This season, the ESPN family of networks is broadcasting over 600 games. This will only help the ACC with its network being a part of that family.
“Our coaches have kind of led the way with some of the experimental rules that speed up the game to fit within those TV windows,” said Neff. “With our new network coming in 2020, it’s a great product for them to have and a great time to do it.”