In the wake of its expansion, the ACC expects more television revenue from ESPN. The network, in turn, wants more conference football and men's basketball games.
How many more, and how newcomers Syracuse and Pittsburgh will affect the ACC's divisional format, were primary topics last week at the league's annual fall meetings in Charlottesville.
Decisions are months away, but the smart money is on the ACC retaining the current Atlantic-Coastal division structure and adopting a nine-game conference schedule for football, 18 for basketball.
The league has played an eight-game slate in football, 16 in basketball, since Florida State's 1992 arrival.
Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver makes a compelling argument for 10 conference football games, but he'll likely have a difficult time convincing a majority of his colleagues.
"If I was betting, I'd say we'll probably land on nine," Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage said.
Littlepage prefers nine because of contracts the Cavaliers have to play future non-conference opponents such as Penn State, Texas Christian, UCLA Ball State, Kent State, Richmond, VMI and William and Mary.
"From a practical standpoint, it will be difficult enough to offload one non-conference game (per year), let alone to think about the possibility of offloading two," Littlepage said. "Just looking at it through University of Virginia glasses, I would say that nine conference games would be better for us than 10, but certainly that 10 should be on the table."
The tint of Littlepage's glasses is also affected by the Cavaliers' struggles. With three consecutive losing seasons, Virginia has toned down its non-conference ambitions, and a 10-game ACC schedule would make the road to bowl eligibility more difficult.
The uneven home-road split of nine conference games is not ideal, but the ACC could juggle the schedule so that every team in a division played the same split. That way, a divisional race would not be compromised by one team having more home league games than another.
Weaver prefers 10 to nine for a couple of reasons. It would give each team five home and five road ACC games per season. Moreover, it would help schools avoid the exorbitant guarantees they pay visiting teams from smaller Bowl Subdivision conferences such as the Mid-American and Sun Belt.
"Guarantee games of half-a-million and three-quarters-of-a-million dollars just don't make any sense to me," Weaver said.
Since ACC members Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech are annually obligated to play Southeastern Conference rivals Florida, South Carolina and Georgia, respectively, Weaver advocates a "gentlemen's agreement" among all ACC members to play at least one non-league opponent per season from a power conference — such games don't involve guarantees. Again, this predicated on a 10-game ACC schedule.
Virginia Tech is the only ACC team not playing an outside game against a major conference opponent this season, but that's an aberration for the Hokies.
"We have Ohio State in '14 and '15, and Wisconsin in '16 and '17," Weaver said. "I think we all ought to do that. That way we're all doing the same thing.
"Then there's only one other game (to schedule) and … here at Virginia Tech we'd probably play a I-AA program because the guarantees are cheaper, and I still think we have an obligation to help those programs. …
"It's (half as) expensive, and there's a lot of good I-AA programs in the state. JMU, William and Mary, Richmond, Liberty. And Old Dominion now is playing pretty well."
Weaver didn't mention this, but there's another advantage of a 10-game conference schedule: Teams from opposite divisions would meet more often.
Whenever Pitt and Syracuse are excused from the Big East — the most likely date is 2013 — the ACC will grow to 14 teams. With a nine-game conference schedule, matchups from opposite divisions that aren't annual crossovers, such as Virginia-Clemson and Virginia Tech-Florida State, would occur twice every eight years. A 10-game schedule would narrow that to twice every six years, mirroring the current arrangement with 12 teams.
As for divisions, Weaver and Littlepage agree: Keep the Atlantic and Coastal, adding Syracuse to one, Pitt to the other.
"The reason is we've gotten brand identity with that model," Weaver said. "I don't know if that's the way it will go. I hope it goes that way. It doesn't make sense to me to start over."
Indeed it does not, especially since, as Littlepage noted, the Atlantic and Coastal have created uncanny competitive balance. Since the advent of divisions in 2005, the Atlantic is 61-58 against the Coastal.
A former chair of the NCAA basketball committee, Littlepage said expanding the conference basketball schedule from 16 to 18 games is virtually certain. Thirteen Division I conferences played 18 league games last season, including the Big East, Big Ten and Colonial Athletic Association.
"In order to fully integrate new members into the conference and allow some of these great matchups to evolve into true rivalries, playing the two extra conference teams, even though it's not home-and-home, give us a better chance of those rivalries getting some traction," Littlepage said.
ESPN and the ACC last summer signed a 12-year contract that's worth approximately $13 million annually to each conference school. Soon that deal will be renegotiated.
"If they're going to give us more money," Weaver said, "let's give them more inventory."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun