Late Tuesday, ESPN.com reported that the ACC had voted to send title game legislation to the NCAA. According to commissioner John Swofford, this document sent to the NCAA's board of directors would basically grant conferences the right to determine their champion however they choose. We've been hearing a lot about this lately, of course, but this is the first we're hearing of official action by the ACC to try and get things changed. As you might remember, the Big 12 made their own push not too long ago, but that was a slightly different request and since then, the NCAA's pretty much been brought to its knees.
With all the hubbub, though -- both actual and potential -- it got some of the ACC-minded folks on Twitter chatting about what it might all mean in the big scheme of things. To expand upon those conversations, BC Interruption's Brian Favat and Backing the Pack's Steven Muma joined me for a quick email exchange. Their (and my) responses to a few key questions are all below:
What do you think is the primary motivation for the ACC to be championing a change to the title game process?
Brian Favat: I think the recent groundswell of support for championship game reform is based in part on the realization that teams will see opponents from the other side of the division so infrequently going forward. With 12 teams, the 5+2+1 scheduling rotation was a bit wonky, but at least teams got to face non-permanent, cross-division opponents once every three years or so. Now with 14 teams and a 6+1+1 scheduling format, teams will face rotating, cross-division opponents just once over six years.
To put that in context, teams will face Notre Dame -- NOT a member of the conference for football -- twice as frequently as teams from the other side of the conference. At a certain point, it starts to feel like you aren't even in the same conference as your rotating, cross-divisional opponents.
Steven Muma: The Coastal has been a mess the last couple of years while Florida State and Clemson have combined to go 29-3 in league play, but in the larger picture, I think the ACC is trying to be proactive about these situations going forward.
If they realigned the divisions, it might create a more even spread now, but they'd still be working within the same constraints, and there's no telling how things might look a decade down the road. They could easily be right back in the same spot, with the league's best two teams in the same division.
Virginia Tech could bounce back, Miami is recruiting well, and if you put a half-decent recruiter in Atlanta, Georgia Tech could be consistently in the championship mix.
They split up FSU and Clemson, Dabo Swinney decides to move into the wilderness and give up coaching (in his mind he has already done this), and another school emerges. Might be one of the aforementioned three, might be North Carolina or Virginia. No matter how the league might reorganize the divisions, it's easy to picture the possibility of another lopsided situation. So that move is not the answer.
John Cassillo: It's not DOCTOR Gross and his desire to play Miami all the time, as much as he might try to get you to think otherwise. To me, the process is rooted deeply in scheduling. As Brian alludes to, what's the point of being in the same conference if you face non-conference teams more than you do most cross-divisional foes? Plus, there's the issue of the marketability of the ACC Championship Game. As its currently constructed, this game has many times resulted in a lopsided matchups of the best team in the league vs. the third-, fourth- or even fifth-best team at times ('sup, 2012). Allowing conferences to determine their title game participants the way they want ensures better games -- thus making these properties worth more to broadcast partners, sponsors and even potential host cities/venues.
Every ACC team stands to respectively gain something from a new format; what's your school's benefit?
BF: For Boston College, the Eagles would get to face familiar foes Miami and Pittsburgh more regularly. The loss of the annual Boston College-Miami game, in particular, was one of the unfortunate casualties of realignment and the division split.
The other obvious benefit to championship game reform is competitive balance. BC is the only program in the conference guaranteed to play Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech annually. Those three schools represent seven of the nine post-expansion conference champions. Throw in an annual game against a Louisville squad that has lost two games over the last two seasons and BC faces four of the top teams in the league every single year. While the top teams in each division generally play comparable teams from the other side annually (think: Clemson-Georgia Tech, Florida State-Miami), there's still a benefit in ducking the Hokies for an annual game against Virginia, for example. With just an eight game race to the division title, the unbalanced permanent cross-over games can and have impacted the eventual division champ.
SM: A lot would depend on what alterations to the scheduling format this would entail, but first and foremost, it would give NC State a chance to make the ACC title game without winning the division, which is kind of a big deal right now. Not that I entertain realistic thoughts of NCSU making the championship game in the near future under any circumstances; it just that this at least gives the Wolfpack slightly better odds, what with not needing to beat Florida State to get there.
JC: For Syracuse, this one's obvious: Avoiding playing Florida State and Clemson every single season. With the talent gap right now, that's two losses built into the schedule, meaning they also have no shot at playing for a league title. That's disheartening for the fan base, even if the prospect of it is just a pipe dream. If the Orange were able to play a mix of teams each year, perhaps they catch lightning in a bottle once. Also, DOC Gross would love more trips to Miami -- which don't seem all that silly anymore when you think about how well we've recruited the region this year.
What's your school's priority in a new division/scheduling format? What teams must stay on the schedule each year?
BF: An annual game against Syracuse is a must-have. The rest, including annual games against Miami and Pitt, are a little more subjective. In an ideal world, BC would have annual games against Syracuse, Miami and, believe it or not, Clemson. There's a fair amount of history between BC and Clemson prior to the Eagles joining the conference in 2005. The two programs play for a trophy and a old-timey leather helmet and BC-Clemson games have been some of the more competitive matchups since BC joined the league.
Pitt seems like it would be a good regional rival, but that series never seemed to really get off the ground. Pittsburgh isn't all that close to Chestnut Hill either. It's just as far between Chestnut Hill and Pittsburgh as it is between Chestnut Hill and Charlottesville. Home games against Pitt in the old Big East weren't the best attended either.
SM: North Carolina, of course, has got to be there, and I would appreciate having Duke back on the schedule on a regular basis. Beyond that, it would be nice to have a more flexible schedule where going up against FSU annually isn't necessarily guaranteed. Avoiding that nightmare is to just about everybody's advantage. So is having the chance to avoid the horrifying mismatches we can't even see coming yet.
JC: Anything that allows us to avoid both Clemson and Florida State is preferred, though in actuality, the entire league just needs to hit reset on its format to re-establish rivalries long-wrecked by this alignment. Any scheduling format must have Syracuse go up against Boston College and Louisville on an annual basis, and you can make a case for any number of Pitt/Virginia Tech/Duke for that final permanent spot. The rest can rotate, meaning you'd be in a 3-5 setup where you play three set opponents each year and then switch the next five (props to Brian on this idea). This gives you every team once every two years and once every four at home. Not a must-have, but it's a nice-to-have for new members of the conference that want to see some unique road trips.
Do you prefer divisions, or would you rather they're abolished completely? Or maybe a hybrid?
BF: While there's probably some value in abolishing divisions completely and moving to some sort of hybrid schedule with both permanent and rotating opponents, I still prefer division play. Division play is still the cleanest solution when it comes to determining conference championship game participants. The problem is I prefer a North / South alignment which doesn't seem all that likely.
A lot of the pushback on the current division structure and 6+1+1 format is based on the infrequency in which teams see teams from the other division. In reality, the only reason the league continues the current scheduling format is because there are some cross-division games that are annual must-haves. If the ACC would simply move all current cross-division, permanent rivalries within the division (Louisville-Virginia excepted), there wouldn't be a need for a permanent cross-over game and teams would face opponents from the other division more frequently.
That starts to get you very close to North / South, but nearly always results in separating Virginia and North Carolina (a nonstarter) and/or Wake from the rest of the Carolina schools. The league could solve for this by using a hybrid cross-over schedule similar to the one the Pac-12 employs for the California schools, but then you start to move away from the original reason for realigning the divisions in the first place.
SM: I'm warming up to the idea of getting rid of them entirely simply to open up scheduling flexibility. I don't mind the format as it stands now, but I dislike going multiple years without seeing a certain school, when restructuring the whole thing could allow everybody to play everybody else more frequently. That's really the main thing for me--having fewer opponents locked in annually keeps the schedule fresh.
If the current Division A Winner vs. Division B Winner format gets scrapped for a more wide-open system while maintaining the base divisional structure, the biggest concern is, how does that work? If two schools from the same division can play in the title game, what's the method for choosing the participants? Is it worth it to go that route, or is the ACC over-complicating the process and self-imposing ugly controversy? Do they form their own internal selection committee? What metrics would they use?
Getting rid of the divisional foundation would at least allow for (probably) fewer controversial title game selection methods. But that also would open up a lot of potential issues elsewhere, like how to properly build schedules for each school with so many additional options on the table.
JC: As I noted above, I sort-of am all about scrapping divisions in favor of a more flexible scheduling model. The issues, however, are two-fold. 1. What if the league screws itself out of a playoff berth by matching up its top two teams instead of the best in each division? And 2. What happens if you have three undefeated teams in league play? Who plays for the championship? Since that's out, I guess we're going with divisions. Use the oft-repeated North + Miami/South alignment and remove all but a couple protected crossovers (FSU/Miami, UVa/UNC). It's still not ideal, but certainly better than what we're currently dealing with, not facing a team for six years.
Will this have any repercussions for Notre Dame and its part-time membership?
BF: Nope. Not that I can see. Notre Dame would still have to come up from five ACC games to at least eight and possibly nine to play in whatever structure the ACC dreams up should the legislation pass. There's really no scenario where I can see the Irish giving up even more scheduling flexibility, especially with prioritizing rivalry games against USC, Stanford, Navy and the Shamrock Series.
The only very minor point I could see impacting Notre Dame here is with respect to bowl placement. The ACC will supposedly use a one-loss rule to prevent Notre Dame from jumping other ACC teams in the conference's bowl lineup. If a team has an overall record that is two wins better than Notre Dame, the Irish couldn't jump that team come bowl selection. Stacking the divisions (ACC South) or constructing an unbalanced schedule could result in Notre Dame finishing within a game of some of the ACC's power programs. Once an undeserving Notre Dame team jumps one of those teams in the bowl lineup, expect a lot of whining and hand-wringing about the Irish's relationship to the ACC.
SM: I am having a hard time coming up with reasons why it would. Unless John Swofford already knows that Notre Dame is going to join as a full-time member, thus making the divisions unbalanced in the future. Yeah that's probably what it is--Ninja Swoff at it again, you guys! Stayin' ahead of the game.
JC: That would really depend on what else happened as a result. Would it lead to an increase in league games? Or a non-traditional divisional setup? Perhaps the ACC goes to a three-pod format, with Notre Dame rotating as a member of each? Unsure -- just thought this could be one way Notre Dame plays a larger factor in the ACC title, without actually being a full-time member. It's unlikely as we see things currently, though.
Is this the first step toward a nine-game league schedule? And if this goes through, does the ACC Network become more likely?
BF: I could be off here, but I see the two issues as wholly separate. If anything, a nine-game league schedule mitigates some of the major gripes with the current division setup and 6+1+1 schedule format by increasing the frequency of matchups against cross-division opponents. My guess is a nine-game league schedule is inevitable, but I don't see it really coming into play with this piece of legislation.
A ninth league game would increase the amount of TV inventory available for an ACC Network, but only marginally so. A flaw in the pro-ACC Network TV inventory argument is that an extra league game would likely replace a non-conference home game anyway. That non-conference home game's TV rights are also owned by the league's TV partners.
A nine-game league schedule and the ACC Network do go hand-in-hand when you start talking about money. The added value an ACC Network would provide each school is really what is going to swing Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Louisville -- four schools opposing a ninth game -- into the pro-nine-game league schedule camp. Giving up some scheduling flexibility for a ninth conference game has to be worth it to those programs in particular.
SM: I don't know if we should consider it a first step toward a nine-game schedule, and this I think is where the relationship with Notre Dame comes into the picture. A third of the league is guaranteed a difficult non-conference game each year under the current agreement with the Irish, which is undoubtedly a disincentive for going to a nine-game league slate. If it were up to me, I'd rather my school play an extra conference game than play an FCS patsy, whether Notre Dame is on the schedule or not, but then again it ain't my job on the line.
That said, the nine-game schedule will definitely be re-visited, and I could see pressure from ESPN as a driving force behind that. I assume they will want additional inventory if they're going to back a 24-hour network, which I'm sure is an argument they would win since their executives attend meetings wearing suits made out of only the finest $10,000 bills.
JC: The only reason I see the two being related is because of the flexibility both the championship game legislation's success and a nine-game schedule could potentially provide. If the legislation goes through, the ACC then must decide its own course of action. If you can pick the two best teams anyway, might as well make the games more compelling and rivalry-driven by aligning teams regionally. So in some ways, this removes the need for a ninth game, while in others presents a greater opportunity to play everyone -- one that the league would embrace if ESPN told them to. Again, I've been interested to see how this plays out because the ACC obviously has an end-game. I just have no idea what it is at this point.
Have thoughts on what the legislation could mean for the ACC and Syracuse? Share your thoughts below.
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