Figuring out what to do about future ACC scheduling is a complicated issue that is certain to have ramifications for years to come. So it is no surprise that athletic directors punted on making a decision last week.
Still, a choice has to be made before the end of the year as part of the new agreement to form the long-awaited ACC Network. The ADs must decide whether to play nine ACC games and one Power 5 nonconference opponent; or play eight ACC games and two Power 5 opponents. They both equal 10 Power 5 games, but they are not necessarily equal scenarios to consider -- especially with Notre Dame in the mix.
When the ACC decided on an eight-game schedule in 2014, eight schools voted in favor. So for the ACC to alter course and move to a nine-game schedule, two schools will have to change votes. Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh could hold all the keys. Why? First, let’s take a look at the entrenched camps.
EIGHT PLUS TWO STALWARTS
No surprise here that the four schools with SEC rivals want to stay at eight conference games. The addition of a ninth, plus the SEC rival, plus Notre Dame on a rotating basis means they would be facing 11 Power 5 games from time to time and would essentially eliminate any hope of playing a marquee nonconference game to open the season. Clemson and Florida State each have one of those this year; Louisville in 2018 (Alabama).
Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Duke already have multiple Power 5 nonconference opponents on the schedule years out: The Tigers in seven of the next eight years; Georgia Tech in nine of the next 11; Florida State and Duke in the next three years; Louisville in three of the next four. These schools are not shying away from playing 10 Power 5 games. They just want more flexibility, and to avoid playing 11 Power 5 games if at all possible.
One more consideration that has to be weighed, most especially by Clemson and Florida State: what do nine conference games do for College Football Playoff hopes? They have had to fight the perception that the ACC is the weakest among the Power 5 conferences. Adding a ninth ACC game means potentially taking away a huge nonconference game against Georgia, Oklahoma State, Auburn, or Ole Miss. What does that do for strength of schedule and league perception?
NINE PLUS ONE STALWARTS
These schools have several arguments to make. Since the ACC expanded to 14 teams, there is no way for teams in opposite divisions to play each other frequently, unless they are crossover rivals.
Wake Forest, for example, doesn’t play North Carolina on a yearly basis. They are 81 miles apart. NC State and Duke don’t play yearly, either. They are 23 miles apart. You get the point. This is a concession the ACC made when they decided to stay at eight league games several years ago, but it does not make the ADs who want nine games any happier.
Then there is the issue of scheduling, period. Miami, for example, wouldn’t mind seeing its Coastal Division brethren play rival Florida State more than just once every seven or eight years to balance out schedule difficulty (this is also a complaint some schools in the SEC have with its eight-game schedule).
Nonconference scheduling has become more tedious and difficult, especially when programs go looking to play teams in similar situations. Scheduling two seems much harder. Miami has no future schedules featuring multiple Power 5 nonconference opponents. Virginia and NC State have one each.
Syracuse has changed athletic directors, but it is reasonable to assume the Orange would want nine games. Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman is on the fence. That leaves Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech, two schools that voted for eight conference games in 2014.
Both schools have scheduled aggressively in recent years: Pittsburgh plays two Power 5 nonconference opponents for the next three years, and also adds West Virginia to the schedule in future years. Virginia Tech has two Power 5 nonconference teams on the schedule in six of the next 10 years. Both have talked about playing in marquee national games and their importance for their respective programs.
But perhaps they will be swayed by the nine-team argument, especially if finding two Power 5 games in future years becomes as difficult as some fear. Then there is the familiarity in the Atlantic: Pitt played with three teams in the old Big East; Virginia Tech with two.
Florida State and Clemson would count as marquee games with high interest for both programs. Virginia Tech would have geographic proximity to Wake Forest and NC State.
Nobody knows which way the vote will go. But for change to happen, multiple schools need to be swayed, maybe none more important than Virginia Tech and Pitt.