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Virginia Tech will play FSU, Clemson and Louisville a total of five times combined through 2024.
Illustration by GRANT JEDLINSKY | The Roanoke Times
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
The ACC has a scheduling problem.
It’s OK. So do the SEC and Big Ten.
This is the price of conference expansion. While good for the league’s coffers, it is a pain in the you-know-what for schedule-makers.
Twelve teams was manageable. Sixteen would have made for good symmetry. But 14, where it seems most of the big conferences will be stuck for at least this term of TV contracts, is incredibly awkward.
And, as evidenced when the ACC released its football schedule through 2024 last week, it has a pretty glaring issue, too. Namely, certain schools simply won’t play each other very often.
This wasn’t fresh news. When the ACC decided to stay at eight league games, everyone knew what it meant for non-divisional matchups. But seeing in black and white last week that Virginia Tech won’t play Florida State at home again until 2023 or go back to Clemson until 2024 was nonetheless sobering for fans.
This fact perhaps sums it up best: from now until 2024, the end of this ACC scheduling cycle, Virginia Tech will play Florida State, Clemson and Louisville five times total. It will play East Carolina, a non-ACC member, seven times between 2014 and 2020.
To borrow a Frank Beamer phrase, that’s out of whack.
It makes you ask yourself: what’s the point of being in the same conference with a team you’ll face twice in 12 years?
The problem is, there’s no easy solution under the current setup. With six divisional games and one fixed crossover game from the opposite division, that only leaves one rotating opponent to fill out an eight-game schedule.
Going to a nine-game schedule or eliminating the fixed crossover game would ease that burden, but neither of those seem to be options.
Schools that have annual games with SEC rivals (Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech) don’t want to be overburdened by an additional conference game. And the league doesn’t want to scrap annual crossover games that feature great rivalries like Florida State-Miami, North Carolina-N.C. State and Clemson-Georgia Tech.
Realigning the divisions only shifts the problem, it doesn’t change the math.
So here’s my admittedly impractical proposal: Eliminate the divisions.
Have every team play three fixed rivals per year (my proposed list is in the breakout box). Play five more games against non-fixed opponents in a given year, then the other five the next, allowing for each team to play everybody in the league at least once on the road and at home in a four-year cycle.
At the end of the year, have the teams with the two best league records play in the ACC championship game.
It maintains prominent rivalries. It keeps an eight-game schedule to allow flexibility for those who need it. And it allows everyone in the conference to play one another with some regularity.
I know there are plenty of issues with this, not the least of which is that the NCAA doesn’t currently allow for this kind of setup, but I think it’s worth pursuing.
To start out, yes, the NCAA rulebook requires leagues that are 12 teams or larger that want to stage a conference championship game to have two divisions.
But that was the rule before the major conferences bulked up to 14 teams, which is creating a divide between schools that are in the same league but rarely play each other. Perhaps it’s time for the NCAA to loosen the reins here a little bit.
I can see an argument against not wanting to have three undefeated teams in league play at the end of the year, and only two being able to play in the title game — a possible, but unlikely outcome. But I’d far prefer that dicey scenario than forcing an oftentimes less-than-deserving division winner into the championship game.
NCAA sanctions to North Carolina and Miami meant 6-6 Georgia Tech got into the ACC title game last year. Naturally, most of the stadium was empty for the Yellow Jackets’ loss to Florida State.
Who wouldn’t have wanted to see a Florida State-Clemson rematch? Isn’t what you want as a conference is to have the best two teams meet at the end of the year? It would certainly help push one team closer to the future four-team playoff, which will choose its participants, in part, based on schedule strength.
There are other drawbacks to this proposal. Some good matchups would be diminished. Just using Virginia Tech as an example, the Hokies would play North Carolina, Miami and Georgia Tech half as often as they do now, but the trade-off is that they get Florida State and Clemson three times as much and, with the matchups I suggested, Louisville as a yearly rival.
Invariably, some team will feel like the odds are stacked against it. That’s unavoidable in any scheduling situation, though. Even right now, scheduling luck goes a long way in determining who wins each division.
There’s sure to be arguments about who should be playing whom on a yearly basis. That’s all negotiable, but the format is the key.
The larger point in this whole exercise is to maximize the number of times the league will see good matchups. And getting Virginia Tech-Florida State or Virginia Tech-Clemson or Virginia Tech-Louisville each no more than twice in a decade doesn’t seem like good business.
Wouldn’t TV want these matchups more often? Isn’t that what guided this expansion process in the first place, the gobs of money ESPN was doling out to broadcast interesting games? At some point, aren’t fans going to start balking at paying for the same old matchups every year?
There’s no easy fix out there. But maybe it’s time for the league to start looking at some outside-the-box solutions.
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