Yesterday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Ken Sugiura wrote up an article on the ACC's latest football scheduling plan. As we all know, between the divisional issues, Notre Dame and out-of-conference rivalries for many teams, it's been a mess since Syracuse and Pittsburgh joined the league in 2013.
The ACC is trying to fix that mess, but may end up making an even bigger one in the process. The latest idea is an "eight plus two" model.
Sugiura describes the idea, which will be on the agenda when ACC athletic directors meet this Friday, as a way to increase appealing football inventory for the ACC Network. Or at least, that's the thinking of some athletic directors, including Georgia Tech's Mike Bobinski, who Sugiura spoke to for the story.
Right now, most ACC teams schedule at least one non-conference game against a Power 5 opponent (or BYU), and by 2017, all will have to by league mandate. Schools like Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Louisville are already covered on that front with an annual non-conference rivalry game. Five ACC schools per year also play Notre Dame -- a list that has overlap with the aforementioned list some years. So some years, those four schools already have an "eight plus two" setup by way of Notre Dame, and in the years the Fighting Irish aren't on the schedule, most do typically schedule an additional power program.
That sounds fine for playoff contenders. But certainly not for the rest of the ACC's vast middle class. For the majority of the conference, the issues are numerous:
1. Scheduling a second P5 team doesn't increase television inventory
The ACC's move to 20 games in basketball is not universally loved, but is understood as a means to increase inventory for the ACC Network. But forcing every ACC team to schedule an additional P5 opponent doesn't have that same effect (and is supposed to be the point of this games-adding exercise). Any P5 team is going to want a home-and-home. So every other year, the ACC loses a game in their inventory to another league. That game would've otherwise been a bodybag home game, which even if less entertaining, the conference would have possession of.
2. Not all P5 games are created equal
Annual non-conference matchups of Clemson and Texas, or Florida State and USC, or Virginia Tech and Ohio State all sound fun. But for every one of those, you're going to get Wake Forest and Washington State, or Boston College and Kansas that literally no one wants to watch. Doubt that? Maybe consult the next two points.
3. There aren't enough P5 teams to go around
The Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 already have nine-game schedules. Four SEC teams are already taken up with a non-conference game every year against the ACC. Where are these additional teams coming from? In theory, there are 44 non-conference P5 slots available per year outside of the ACC when you take out those aforementioned SEC rivalry games, and Stanford and USC's respective Notre Dame deals. The ACC is not the only P5 league looking to schedule there (all the leagues pretty much have to). The math doesn't add up unless you create idiotic exceptions like the Big Ten has already instituted.
4. Future schedules are already set for many teams
Not every school is as bad as Syracuse at scheduling into the future. NC State has 25 of a possible 32 games locked up through 2024. Wake Forest has 27 in the same stretch. So you're going to force those schools to pay to break contracts? And not only that, but actively remove games from your inventory too? All so that you can watch Wake Forest lose to Utah instead of watching them beat Old Dominion. Which reminds me...
5. Why are you going to force teams to schedule losses?
Smart programs schedule for their station in the college football world? Looking to make a bowl game? Schedule at least three non-conference wins so it's easier to do so. Looking to contend for the College Football Playoff? Make sure you get at least one major name on your non-conference schedule so the committee doesn't ding you. By forcing teams to schedule a certain way here, the ACC is potentially hurting its chances at more bowl teams (and more bowl revenue). College football's main goal has always been "don't lose." For teams that would lose five or six times against a standard schedule, why put them in line for a seventh?
This isn't to excuse programs that can't find success. It's to point out that you shouldn't punish programs for needing a year to build themselves back up or to get a new coach the personnel he needs before really hitting his stride. The extra practices from bowl games are valuable, just as much as the conference revenue is. Every team can't go 12-0. That doesn't mean every team but the conference's top four or so has to go 5-7 or 4-8.
Clearly the ACC has been batting this issue around for a few years now, but we're no closer to a resolution. While I applaud the conference for trying to think differently about its unique scheduling quandaries and desire to create more television inventory, I'm just not sure this is the right tact. Unless, y'know, you want to convince Texas to join the ACC in some sort of Notre Dame-type arrangement... then sure, go for it.