The ACC schedule this weekend should come with some theme music.
"On the road again ... "
Nobody travels to quite as many nonconference road games as the ACC, most especially road games against Group of 5 opponents. Four are on the docket for this weekend when Syracuse plays at Central Michigan; Pitt goes to FIU; NC State travels to USF and Wake Forest hightails it across the country to Utah State.
In all, the ACC has 11 road games this season against Group of 5 opponents, twice as many as the next-closest Power 5 conference. By comparison, the SEC plays just three road games against Group of 5 opponents.
This all begs the all-important question: Why?
The answer: It's complicated.
Every team faces scheduling dilemmas at one time or another. Realignment has wreaked havoc on some schedules. Sometimes, series are abruptly canceled without much advance warning. And not everybody has millions of dollars to shell out for multiple guarantee games like the SEC does. So sometimes, programs schedule home-and-home games against smaller conference schools to help fill holes that need to be filled.
Ideally, each conference team wants seven home games. But in some cases, that does not work out. Take Wake Forest. The Deacs had seven home games scheduled for 2014. But last year, their series with Vanderbilt was canceled, taking a home game with the Commodores off the schedule. A game against Northern Illinois also was postponed.
Wake Forest also was supposed to play Notre Dame as part of the new ACC scheduling rotation, but the Irish couldn't make it work. The two are scheduled to play next season.
So Wake Forest had to scramble to fill some holes quickly and agreed to a series with Utah State. It just so happens the Deacs have to travel out to Logan this year, the same season they already had a road game scheduled with Louisiana-Monroe. Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman said Utah State will play at Wake Forest twice as part of the contract.
"We were in a situation in both of those circumstances where it was very late in the scheduling process, one had postponed their game with us and we had a hole in our schedule so those were the teams that were available and they ended up being good to schedule series with us," Wellman said.
As for Pitt, some of the home-and-homes against Group of 5 teams still on the schedule were made when the Panthers were still in the Big East. Scheduling in that conference was much more difficult because teams had to find five nonconference games.
The game at FIU is a return game from the first meeting in 2010. Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said FIU was good enough to fill a hole in the schedule for that season, but the school wanted a return game in exchange. He agreed to avoid having to play two FCS teams in one year.
"We're grateful to them for helping us out of that tough situation," Pederson said. "I guess we approach it as the best deal we can make at the time in general terms. If we have to go on the road, we'll have to go on the road in some cases. That's not where we generally want to start, but we also understand they have schedules to fill and games to play as well."
What about strictly sticking to guarantee games to ensure more home games? That also is not so easy in the ACC. Many schools in the SEC can dish out the cash to spend up to $1 million each for multiple opponents. Guarantee games exist in the ACC, but it is difficult for many league teams to schedule more than one.
The most Wake Forest ever has paid for a guarantee game is $400,000. Because of its small stadium, the program simply does not have the revenue stream to pay out hefty guarantees. Pederson said sometimes schools don't want the guarantee money -- they want a home game in return.
"We've tried to be reasonable in what we can pay in guarantees," Pederson said. "There doesn't seem to be any consistent theme to how these things all work out. Sometimes, it's just important for schools to have you come down. Sometimes, they'll come here twice, you'll go there once. That's the way it goes."
Balancing the schedule is obviously important, too. NC State's game against USF has been on the books since 2006. While there's no issue with a game in Florida, NC State's future schedules feature road games against Group of 5 schools in the same geographic vicinity as a way to limit travel and also help recruiting.
Duke has not been shy about playing Group of 5 teams on the road, either. Last week, the Blue Devils went to Troy and won, 34-17. They have also played at Memphis, FIU, Army and Navy under David Cutcliffe.
"If we weren't on the road, our first road test would be Miami in Miami so I think it's good for your team," Cutcliffe said. "It's a little bit of the things you see basketball teams do before they get into their conference games, so I think it's been beneficial to us. Most years we've played pretty well doing this."