ACC banks on momentum as new era starts

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- The dysfunction that greeted the ACC during its spring meetings over the past several years was replaced with an odd feeling this time around, a sense that even commissioner John Swofford noticed as he looked across the room.


All 15 schools represented in these meetings are league members moving forward, giving the ACC added momentum as it heads into a new era in college football. Perhaps that is why it was so easy to come to a scheduling decision that had been years in the making. There are no more doubts, no more questions about where this league is headed.

Aside from the lingering question about legislation to change how conference championship games are governed, this league has set its course into the future, a course it believes will allow its teams to thrive and contend for national championships.

That course means staying with eight league games, but adding a requirement that all schools must play at least one power-five opponent per season. That course meant minimal discussion on changes to divisions in order to see how the current scheduling model plays out. That course meant focusing on the future, and building off the football success the ACC had a year ago.

Indeed, the league went into these meetings facing all these critical decisions. There almost seemed to be a requiem for change, with the College Football Playoff coming, strength of schedule taking on greater importance and general unease about cross-divisional scheduling. The ACC could have radically changed. Instead, it opted to stay the course.

Who can blame the league, really? What the ACC did last season worked, as Florida State won a national championship and Clemson made the Discover Orange Bowl. A five-game scheduling partnership with Notre Dame will only enhance schedules in the ACC. There was no real need to change.

Not yet, anyway.

“We have a lot of momentum from a league standpoint and specifically a football standpoint,” Swofford said Thursday as the spring meetings wrapped up. “It makes a world of difference to win a national championship, but along with that to have Clemson beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. We spent some years not doing well in the BCS and we finished with three straight wins in our BCS games. The national championship was terrific, but that additional win over Ohio State really complements the national championship aspect of it, and having 11 bowl teams.”

Now comes the wait-and-see approach on multiple fronts. The ACC and Big 12 have submitted legislation to the NCAA, asking that leagues with 12 teams and two divisions no longer be required to hold conference championship games. An answer is expected in August, and Swofford believes the legislation will pass.

But that does not necessarily mean the ACC will change its championship game setup. Views are mixed among athletic directors on whether the current division champion model should be kept in place, or whether divisions should be scrapped entirely to create opportunities to play league opponents more frequently and have its two best teams play for the league title.

“I don’t think people should necessarily interpret our pushing this forward to mean we’d definitely change what we’re doing but it would give us the flexibility to,” Swofford said. “If that occurs, we’ll have a thorough discussion about it.”

So why push forward legislation at all?

“As much as anything, it’s the principle of the thing,” Swofford said. “We feel conferences should have the freedom to make that decision.”

The league also must take a wait-and-see approach on how the College Football Playoff committee ends up evaluating the strength-of-schedule component. Will eight league games plus one nonconference game against a power-five team be viewed as challenging enough when it comes time to selecting the top four teams?

“That remains to be seen,” Boston College athletic director Brad Bates said. “We’re entering in the first year of the playoffs and we’ll see what is rewarded ultimately on the back end of it, and I think that’s going to shape people’s philosophy on how they approach scheduling in the future.”

The ACC may very well change somewhere down the line. But for now, going with what is known is the best philosophy to have. Normal probably never felt so good.