Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman is ready for a vote -- again.
After years of flip-flopping between an eight- and nine-game league schedule, the topic is once again up for debate as the ACC athletic directors, coaches and administrators prepare for their annual spring meetings in Amelia Island, Fla., in two weeks. Given the SEC’s recent decision to stick with eight league games, all eyes have now focused on the ACC to see whether the league will come to any decision about its future schedules.
There’s no guarantee they will vote on anything, but many would like a resolution to a discussion that has dragged on for years.
“I think voting on the future conference football schedule is extremely important,” Wellman said. “I don’t know how much longer we can delay it.”
It could be a close one.
ESPN.com recently interviewed every athletic director in the ACC about scheduling preference, and there was no overwhelming majority. Half of the athletic directors -- including a surprising vote from Georgia Tech -- were in favor of a nine-game conference schedule. Three schools -- Boston College, Virginia Tech and North Carolina -- didn’t give a specific preference, and three schools -- Duke, Clemson and Florida State -- would prefer to stay at eight games. Louisville AD Tom Jurich, who is just happy to be a member of the ACC, might be the swing vote.
“I really don’t care either way,” Jurich said. “It doesn’t matter to me. Eight, nine, seven, 10 -- I don’t care. If they want us to play nine plus the game with Kentucky, I’ll do that too.”
Unlike the league’s winter meetings, the ACC coaches attend and will weigh in. They remain in favor of playing eight conference games, but the athletic directors have the final say. In May 2012, they approved a nine-game schedule despite opposition from the coaches only to revert to eight games after announcing a partnership with Notre Dame.
Unlike the last time a nine-game schedule was approved, the athletic directors are now tasked with putting together schedules that best position their programs for access to the new College Football Playoff. They also have to weigh in the five-game rotation with Notre Dame, and four schools -- Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Florida State -- already have built-in SEC rivalries. A few athletic directors, including North Carolina’s Bubba Cunningham, have indicated they would vote in favor of whatever schedule format is most likely to lend itself to an ACC channel. A nine-game format would increase the ACC’s league schedule from 56 to 63 games.
“I am in favor of getting a separate channel, and however we have to do that, I’m willing to consider,” Cunningham said. “I’m flexible because I think a channel is very important to us.”
Miami athletic director Blake James was less willing to bend.
“I’m a believer that the nine-game schedule would be a win for the conference, and I believe it would be a win for the University of Miami,” he said. “That’s where I’m at with it.”
FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox said the Seminoles’ built-in rivalry with Florida isn’t going to change. The bigger concern is keeping Clemson and Miami on the schedule every year -- a puzzle that could get tougher in a nine-game format.
“Also in the room, Miami and Clemson want the same,” Wilcox said. “It’ll be difficult. This is why you see that we haven’t; it’s a stalemate.”
Because of the built-in regular-season finale against rival South Carolina, Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich remains convinced sticking with eight games is the right thing for his program. He also pointed out that, under a nine-game format, there would be years when the Tigers can’t play seven home games, an economic loss for both the university and the region. Instead of adding another league game, Radakovich suggested other schools beef up their nonconference schedules.
“If they don’t have that rival at the end of the year, then they need to schedule a College Football Playoff equity conference game on a home-and-home basis,” he said. “If they don’t have that rival, they need to schedule two, but they can do that based on when Notre Dame rolls on and off their schedule.”
“I think the issue is, if we collectively agree that we’re going to schedule up, we don’t have to come up with a hard rule we have to go to nine games or everybody has to schedule one game against an SEC school,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting everybody to agree to that.”
Good luck -- especially when Georgia Tech is one of the schools in favor of nine games.
Yellow Jackets athletic director Mike Bobinski said the years in which they have to play both Notre Dame and Georgia will be “a handful for sure,” but if a nine-game schedule is best for the conference, that’s what he’s in favor of.
“We’ve got a big conference now, and our collective destiny is important,” Bobinski said. “All of us will rise as the fortunes of our league rise from a football performance perspective, and while nine games will be problematic for us in some ways … I just think that, for the good of the brand of ACC football, to me a nine-game schedule feels better.”
One of the biggest criticisms of the current format is the crossover opponent scheduling. ACC teams will play all of their rotating crossover opponents twice during a 12-year rotation, but not consecutively. FSU played Pitt in the season opener last year but won’t be back until 2025 or later. As thrilled as Louisville is to be joining the ACC, the Cardinals don’t get to see Virginia Tech before 2025. Virginia and Clemson won’t see each other again until 2020.
“My position is the nine conference games would be preferable mainly because of the opportunity to clearly play more of our peers in the conference and expose our institutions to each other,” Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage said. “It’s one game a year, but that initial game does help our conference in terms of the overall branding and building of relationships and rivalries among all of the institutions.”
Both sides have valid points. Now it’s time to put it to a vote -- again.
David M. Hale and Andrea Adelson contributed to this story.