When the ACC holds its spring meetings in two weeks in Amelia Island, Fla., the conference’s football scheduling will be a front-and-center topic, primarily whether or not the league will go to eight or nine games.
Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski is in favor of nine games, as initially reported by ESPN. It was an unexpected stance, given the thinking that the annual Georgia game plus a nine-game league schedule in addition to a game with Notre Dame roughly every third year would create perhaps an overambitious slate.
It is why, for instance, Clemson and Florida State were reported to be in the eight-game camp. Bobinski’s preference for nine games stems from response from fans, the increasing difficulty in finding attractive matchups and a desire to build the conference’s identity through an additional league game.
“We’re not afraid of challenges ourselves,” senior associate athletic director Ryan Bamford said. “And our fans have said that they want us to challenge ourselves.”
According to the ESPN report, seven of the league’s 14 members – including Louisville and not Maryland – were in favor of moving to a nine-game league schedule. Four were noncommittal and three – Duke, Clemson and Florida State – were in favor of staying at eight. A simple majority – eight votes – is needed to make a change.
Another benefit, if the league were to adopt a nine-game schedule in which teams played six games against division opponents and three against the opposite division, would be the opportunity to rotate through the teams in the other division more quickly. With the present setup in which teams play six games within the division, one against the permanent partner and the eighth against a rotating opponent from the opposite division, Tech played Syracuse last year, but is not scheduled to play the Orange again until 2020. The next two Florida State games are 2015 and 2022.
“So if a kid comes here, they’re going to see every ACC school at least once, if not both on the road and at home,” Bamford said of the nine-game format.
Also, another conference game would likely generate more fan interest than games against lower-echelon opponents, and serve to build the identity of the ACC.
“Those aren’t schools that, for us, generate any interest,” Bamford said.
Further, with the SEC going to the “eight plus one” model and the other three power conferences going to nine-game schedules, the inventory of available nonconference games against power conference teams has been reduced, making it more difficult to schedule such opponents.
The flipside, though, is the reason why Duke coach David Cutcliffe said the majority of coaches favored staying at eight games. The Notre Dame years would create a bear of a schedule for Tech, Clemson, Florida State and Louisville, which have locked-in games against SEC rivals. Tech is slated to play the Fighting Irish in 2015, the same year that the Yellow Jackets will play Florida State.
If the league were to go to nine games, presumably adding a third opponent from the opposite division, Tech could conceivably play Clemson, Florida State and Louisville from the Atlantic, all six Coastal teams, Notre Dame and Georgia in the same year, leaving one guarantee game against an opponent from FCS or a non-power FBS conference.
Clearly, some votes cast in the ESPN poll were made from self-interest. Syracuse’s preference for nine games, for instance, is at least in part due to a desire to play in major markets like Atlanta and Miami more frequently. Clemson and Florida State’s interest in eight games is obvious. Ideally, athletic directors would be motivated to endorse the option they believe is best for the conference as a whole. From a strength-of-schedule standpoint, that would seem to be a nine-game schedule or the “eight plus one” model that the SEC adopted. That said, it could be argued the other way, that if the goal is to produce a national champion, a case could be made that giving schools more freedom to schedule how they feel is most advantageous is more beneficial.
The league could take a vote on the matter at the spring meetings, or it could wait. The other matter that can’t move forward that is perhaps of greater importance, is if the conference would give up the two-division format. That would achieve greater scheduling balance within the league and also solve the problem of not playing every league member on a regular basis.
In March, ACC commissioner John Swofford requested to the NCAA’s board of directors to give the conferences control of the championship game format, which to this point requires 12 teams and two divisions. The other four major conferences also supported the request.
It’s unclear how much support there is within the conference to get rid of the divisions – Bobinski is in favor of keeping two divisions – but it’s presumable that Swofford did not make the request idly. But if it’s the future, it will have to wait, as the NCAA has not voted on the matter.