Ideas to solve ACC schedule imbalance, including the wait and see approach
Posted July 15
Updated July 16
Charlotte, N.C. — Divisional imbalance. Creating new rivalries. Schedule integrity.
Sit around a college football campfire long enough and the subject of football schedules — which school’s is harder, which division is tougher — is bound to come up. And, that’s fair because who you play and where you play them matters greatly in the fabric of each season.
Here in Charlotte where the Atlantic Coast Conference staged their annual Kickoff, as well as in Hoover, Ala., at the SEC’s bloated, 4-day event, this was a topic of discussion. When asked on Thursday how the league could create new rivalries when teams from opposite divisions meet just one time every six seasons, Commissioner John Swofford was honest. “I don’t know," Swofford responded. “It’s one of those challenges that any league with 14 teams has ... there’s no easy solution.”
The commissioner is 100 percent correct.
The solution, assuming that there is one that would satisfy every single member of a 14-team conference, may be a unicorn, and at the very least is complicated and wrought with potholes. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
9-game league schedules
This is probably the easiest remedy, and one used in the Pac-12, Big 10 and Big 12. The downside includes an imbalance of home and road games that could impact the outcome of division races. With just three non-league games and the presence of Notre Dame on each school’s slate every third year (on average) you can see the problems.
Most schools want at least seven home games per year. For those schools with annual games against SEC schools, it’s even more of an economic challenge in those seasons when you’re on the road five times in league play. On the plus side, television loves conference games, and it’s never a bad thing to throw your TV partners a bone.
Swofford, however, told us yesterday that there has been zero discussion about moving to a 9-game conference schedule. Remember, the league had agreed to add a conference game to the slate, but then reached the partial membership arrangement with Notre Dame and reverted to the current format.
Before we continue, let’s understand that the reason to shift teams from one division to the other is NOT because one side appears to have a higher level of competition. Wake Forest and Boston College won three of the first four Atlantic Division titles, so if you think dominance is forever, you’re not as smart as you think. For instance, remember when the SEC used to be the best conference? The reason for altering the division makeup is to benefit the overall schedule of the conference.
So, what about this ...
Atlantic: Florida State, Clemson, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Boston College and Wake Forest.
Coastal: Virginia Tech, Miami, Louisville, NC State, North Carolina, Duke and Virginia.
This alignment moves NC State and Louisville to the Coastal with Pitt and Georgia Tech going the other way. Again, this isn’t to make it easier for the Wolfpack or Cardinals by removing the daunting Clemson/Florida State barrier to a division title. Georgia Tech in the Atlantic reinforces regional rivalries with the Seminoles and Tigers, the latter of which has been their permanent crossover partner from the Coastal Division since the league grew to a dozen teams more than a decade ago. This also restores some old Big East battles with Pitt, Syracuse and Boston College in the division, while also giving the Wolfpack annual games with traditional foes Virginia and Duke, a program less than 30 minutes up the road.
If the league insists on maintaining permanent crossover partners, FSU/Mia, Clemson/VT, Wake/NC State, GT/UNC, BC/Duke, Pitt/Louisville, and Syracuse/UVA make sense for almost everyone. There are always going to be complaints, but this makes more sense than the current set up, in my opinion. That VT and Boston College have been annual opponents across divisions has been a head scratcher from the beginning. The Hokies and Tigers should never go six years between meetings.
Change the scheduling model
Where is it written that teams must play every team within the same division and two from the other side? Would it be a criminal act if — using the current alignment — once every five or six years State and BC didn’t play? Same with Pitt and Duke? Would the league implode? Hardly. Whereas currently, State and Duke would play just once every six years, this method would halve the time between matchups across division lines.
To put it in equation form, rather than 6-1-1 (six within the division, one permanent crossover and one rotating out of division opponent), we could allow 5-1-2 to comprise the 8-game schedule. Is it a bit radical? Maybe so, but it does address the issue of frequency.
Do nothing, sit tight and wait for the final shoe to drop
I’ve been saying it for more than a decade, but Notre Dame will eventually be a full-fledged member of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Independence (blah), culture (blah), we’re special (blah), we have our own network (blah) ... are you done?
It’s going to happen, and it will be before the college football playoff contract runs out in nine years. And, when it does, the Irish will come in with a 16th school. and the league will then be neatly grouped into four 4-team pods that can be rotated changing the makeup of divisions every third year. That is, if the league is willing to think that far outside the box. Consider…
A: North Carolina, NC State, Duke, Wake Forest
B: Virginia Tech, Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech
C: Florida State, Miami, Louisville, Syracuse
D: Notre Dame, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Texas
Wait, did that say “Texas”?
Yeah, why not. Those Big 12 schools have to go somewhere when their league disintegrates. If not, I’ve long argued that Navy would be an acceptable dance partner as well. Honestly, the identity of the 16th school doesn’t matter as much as that the 15th is based in South Bend, Indiana. You may want to quarrel with the makeup of the alphabet groupings, that’s okay. I’m not here to debate their merits. The larger point is that by employing a set of smaller groups and rotating their pairings, you guarantee that there will be fewer gaps between meetings for all member institutions, and isn’t that the main issue facing the conference if they maintain their 8-game schedule format?
In the end, none of these suggestions are perfect. Some are probably better than others, and in some ways significantly so. But, as Swofford told us on Thursday in Charlotte, “If you ever get to the point where you say ‘there’s not a better way to do this’ ... that’s not a good place to be. I don’t care how well things are going, you need to be looking at whether there’s a better way to do it.”
How creative is the conference willing to be in attempting to solve a puzzle that may have no perfect solution? The answer to that question will go a long way towards determining whether the 14 schools truly believe this is a labyrinth worth navigating. In the end, it may not.
As long as the league fully explores all viable alternatives, the status quo is an acceptable outcome. And why not, it’s put ACC football on top of the college game. If it ain’t broke…