For all the scheduling models studied and dissected, the hours and hours of discussion and debate, the formulas and variations turned all around and upside down, the ACC decided status quo in scheduling is best.
That should not come as a real surprise, even though momentum seemed to be swinging toward nine conference games. Indeed, it was a tight vote Monday at the spring meetings in Amelia Island, Florida -- 8-6 in favor of staying at eight league games (plus one nonconference game against a power five opponent).
In the end, though, the vote came down to putting the ACC in the best position possible to make the College Football Playoff. Today, Florida State and Clemson are the best teams in the ACC, and they had to be protected.
It's no coincidence both were staunchly in favor of remaining at eight conference games. Move up to nine conference games, plus their annual SEC rivalry game, plus Notre Dame every three years, and, well, that is asking them to do more than any other elite team in any other power five conference is asked to do on a yearly basis.
But it wasn't just Clemson and Florida State in favor of staying at eight. The ACC coaches leaned heavily toward staying at eight league games, as well.
Last month, the SEC drew widespread criticism for deciding on the exact same scheduling model. While it may be convenient to heap the same criticism on the ACC, there are two major scheduling differences between the two leagues. The first is the aforementioned five-game scheduling agreement with Notre Dame.
If that agreement did not exist, the ACC would be just like the Pac-12, Big 12 and soon-to-be Big Ten at nine conference games. The league voted that way before Notre Dame entered the picture. But that scheduling agreement changed everything.
Based on what we have seen from Notre Dame under coach Brian Kelly, the Irish present a challenge to every team on their schedule. That includes Florida State, which faces the Irish, Florida and Oklahoma State in nonconference play in 2014. If the ACC had moved to nine conference games, you can bet that matchup against the Cowboys most likely would never have happened.
The second is nonconference scheduling. The ACC played one of the most challenging nonconference schedules in the country a season ago, featuring games against Georgia, USC, Florida, Northwestern, Penn State, Alabama, South Carolina, BYU and Oregon.
This year, Oklahoma State, Georgia, Ohio State, Nebraska, UCLA, USC and Iowa are on the nonconference schedule, in addition to the standard SEC rivalry games for Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Louisville.
There is one more aspect to nonconference scheduling that should be considered. Teams such as Clemson, Virginia Tech and NC State have played in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta. Louisville is scheduled for 2015. Florida State is looking into playing a neutral-site game at the renovated Citrus Bowl in Orlando. These games generate millions of dollars for the schools, and ACC programs have embraced them. A ninth conference game would have hamstrung some of them from accepting invitations.
This obviously was not a slam-dunk decision, and that should not be lost in the end result. The ACC needed eight votes to stay at eight conference games, and it got eight on the nose.
Some schools, like Miami and NC State, wanted nine conference games to have the ability to play more league teams, balance out conference schedules, and create more appealing matchups. Scheduling power nonconference opponents has become increasingly difficult not just for ACC athletic directors but for ADs around the country. Adding that ninth conference game would have created inventory while also providing more frequent matchups between rotating crossover opponents.
Perhaps the ACC will make a different decision somewhere down the line. The truth is, 2014 will be a test case for every conference in America. How do leagues that play eight conference games fare in the College Football Playoff vs. leagues that play nine conference games? How does all of that impact strength of schedule, especially for leagues with challenging nonconference opponents? Will the ACC be viewed favorably or unfavorably when judged against a team from the Big Ten, for example?
Despite the vote Monday, nobody really has the answer. So status quo appears to be the best way to go, at least for now.