During its recent ACC spring meetings, athletic directors once again addressed the big unanswered question in the room: what to do about league scheduling.
It was a brief discussion.
But it is an idea that is not going to go away anytime soon, not with a 14-member ACC and its in-conference scheduling so uneven. Commissioner John Swofford admitted last week, “One real common thread is a desire to play each other as frequently as we can in a way that makes sense. We continue to look at that and think about it. We haven’t changed anything.”
The easy answer is to add another conference game. But athletic directors voted last year to stay at eight, continuing the scheduling conundrum. With eight games in place, two ideas have been discussed more than the others: eliminating divisions and eliminating permanent crossover opponents.
There is no traction to get rid of the division format. So scratch that.
Eliminating permanent crossover opponents is a bit trickier. Some of the most traditional rivalry games in the ACC happen between teams in separate divisions. Getting rid of Miami-Florida State, and NC State-North Carolina are nonstarters.
But Swofford did say one scheduling model they have looked at would try to keep all traditional rivalry games within the same division, allowing for the elimination of the permanent crossover opponent. To do that, divisions would have to be reshuffled.
There is no traction for that yet, either.
But many ACC observers have been calling for the ACC to restructure its divisions for years. First, there is imbalance between the Atlantic and Coastal. Second, expansion has thrown everything out of whack. David Teel of The Daily Press proposed a simple switch last year: Swap Louisville and Georgia Tech.
The idea makes sense, but it does not solve the crossover rivalry issue. With that in mind, I jotted down realigned divisions with the biggest rivalry games housed inside them. This was my best guest at the absolute must-preserve games. Interesting to note that during our discussion, Swofford told us, "Different people will make different assumptions about people that have to play each other every year."
I also added up each team's record over the last five years to calculate the new division's win percentage. I promised Swofford I would give him a copy, so here goes.
Initially, I had Clemson in the same division as Florida State to preserve their growing rivalry. But for balance sake, it did not make any sense to keep them together. Splitting them gets rid of their annual meeting, but it increases their chances to play in the ACC championship game.
This format preserves nearly all the rivalry games that need to be saved. All the North Carolina schools should be housed together. The initial idea to split them – because some feared they’d be at a competitive travel advantage – makes no sense in today’s reality. Clemson-Georgia Tech would go away. I did this because Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski told me both sides would be willing to get rid of their permanent crossover game.
This option also allows The South’s Oldest Rivalry -- North Carolina-Virginia -- to be preserved.
My biggest issue with this scenario is the divisions are not perfectly balanced. The Atlantic remains more difficult with Florida State-Miami-Georgia-Tech-Louisville all housed together. Clemson also loses both Florida State and Georgia Tech from the schedule every year. Not sure that’s a scenario the Tigers would want, especially with attendance at games becoming a growing national concern.
This was actually my first attempt at solving the divisional alignment riddle. There is more balance here, and nearly all rivalries would be preserved. But North Carolina-Virginia would go away, a game that has been played 119 times and means more to some old-time Hoos than Virginia Tech. I don’t think either school would be willing to give up that game. But if only one rivalry game can be preserved, I’d stick with Virginia-Virginia Tech.
Not everybody would be happy. Duke probably does not want to be in the same division as Florida State. North Carolina and Virginia would have to begrudgingly give up their rivalry game. Clemson, once again, has to give up Georgia Tech and Florida State.
I’m sure there are pros and cons I failed to consider. But this exercise shows why conference scheduling comes up at every league meeting but remains an unsolvable riddle -- at least for right now. With only eight conference games to work with, sacrifices would have to be made. How many are willing to do that for the greater good?