The decision is flawed, the addendum pointless and the roll out odd. Otherwise, the ACC’s announcement Monday that the league is retaining an eight-game conference football schedule was a little slice of heaven.
No sooner had league officials convened at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island, Fla., for their annual spring meetings — had anyone found time to scout the top-shelf tequilas at the oceanside bar? — did the ACC tweet the news that commissioner John Swofford is recommending that the status quo prevail. Moments later, Swofford emerged from behind closed doors and discussed the matter with several reporters in a hallway.
Not exactly SOP for XXL news — the ACC has debated for years whether to play eight or nine conference games. And certainly no way to lend any drama to proceedings that extend until Thursday.
Granted, a closing business session must vote on Swofford’s recommendation, but that’s a mere rubber-stamping. Swofford knows the temperature of the room and unveiled the decision only after conferring with the league’s 14 athletic directors, who were far from united — the vote was 8-6, according to a source, with Virginia’s Craig Littlepage preferring nine games, Virginia Tech’s Whit Babcock eight.
Much like the Southeastern Conference last month, the ACC tempered its eight-game choice by requiring that every team, starting in 2017, play a non-league game against Notre Dame or an opponent from the SEC, Big Ten, Pacific 12 or Big 12.
Four of the ACC’s 14 football programs — Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Louisville — already have annual dates with state rivals from the SEC, and most everyone else schedules credibly.
The only ACC teams that don’t meet the standard in 2014 are Wake Forest and North Carolina State, who have combined to win one conference football title in the last 30 years. The Deacons’ four outside games are against Louisiana-Monroe, Gardner-Webb, Utah State and Army, the Wolfpack’s are versus Old Dominion, Georgia Southern, Presbyterian and South Florida.
Similarly, Duke and N.C. State were the lone holdouts in 2013, with nary a marquee non-conference game. In 2012, when the Big East was among the power leagues, every ACC team complied.
So spare us any sense of innovation or ambition here.
Virginia Tech and Virginia will see little, if any change. The Hokies already have at least one power conference opponent booked for eight of the next 10 seasons, with two such dates in six of those eight years. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are set in seven of the next nine seasons.
Actually, with games against Brigham Young scheduled for 2019 and ’20, Virginia may be in compliance all nine years. Swofford told reporters Monday that the ACC hasn’t decided whether BYU, or perhaps even Army and Navy, would satisfy the scheduling mandate.
That was yet another peculiar element to Monday. Why go public with incomplete news?
Regardless of the BYU verdict — no way on Army and Navy — the ACC’s scheduling partnership with football independent Notre Dame figures to fill some of those voids for Virginia Tech and/or Virginia, and Monday’s decision may finalize a proposed 2017 game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., between the Hokies and West Virginia.
Now perhaps an eight-game format will serve the ACC best as college football this year enters the playoff era. Perhaps greater non-conference scheduling flexibility will enhance ACC teams’ access to the playoff and the other major bowls the playoff controls. Perhaps a larger inventory of non-conference games, as opposed to league contests, will fast-track the ACC’s push for an ESPN channel dedicated to the conference.
I doubt it, and indeed, this issue has split much of major college football.
While the ACC and SEC have elected to remain at eight conference games, even as they’ve expanded to 14 teams, the Pacific 12 and Big 12 are remaining at nine games, with the Big Ten moving from eight to nine in 2016.
Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany gave a rousing, spot-on endorsement to nine in an interview last week with USA Today’s Nicole Auerbach.
Replacing a tame (lame?) non-conference game, especially those against Championship Subdivision opponents, with a league date would help everyone’s strength of schedule, a critical component for playoff access. Moreover, growing the conference schedule from 56 to 63 games annually would provide additional programming for a potential ACC channel.
As important, a ninth game would increase the frequency of interdivisional matchups — annual crossover rivalries such as Virginia Tech-Boston College, Virginia-Louisville and Florida State-Miami excepted — from once every six years to once every three.
In short, a ninth game would guarantee anyone who played four seasons of ACC football at least one regular-season contest against every conference opponent. With eight, Virginia Tech’s incoming freshmen this year will never face Louisville in the regular season, and Virginia’s will not play Clemson.
Don’t know about you, but to me, that defies the very concept of a conference.
Scrapping divisions or the annual crossover games would solve the frequency issue, but there appears to be minimal support for either measure among league officials.
Some have maintained that a ninth league game and the subsequent loss of scheduling flexibility would have led some or all ACC programs to curb marquee non-conference dates. I don’t buy it.
First, given the weight strength of schedule will carry with the playoff selection committee, there’s no chance championship aspirants such as Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech would go soft.
Second, other ACC programs wouldn’t ignore the collective financial benefits the league’s overall schedule strength could provide in terms of playoff/major bowl access.
Third, fans wouldn’t tolerate consistently weak opponents, even if they produced the 6-6 record required for some low-rung bowl.
But the deed is done, and only extended time will tell whether the slim majority was right.
I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP
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