After months of deliberation over two models that would have changed the future of the ACC football schedule, the league’s athletic directors on Monday agreed to a third option: the status quo, which will indefinitely keep the schedule the same as it has been.
The athletic directors at the ACC’s 14 schools made the decision during a four-hour meeting at the Carolina Inn on the edge of the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. Their vote ended months of speculation about how the football schedule might change with the impending arrival of the ACC Network in 2019.
“We’re in the best position we’ve ever been in,” Bubba Cunningham, the UNC athletic director, said after he and his colleagues agreed to keep an eight-game conference schedule that mandates each school play at least one non-conference game against a Power 5 opponent. “And we have a scheduling philosophy that’s working for us.”
Conference administrators had been considering two options in recent months: an eight-game league schedule that would force every team to play two non-conference games against Power 5 opponents, known as the “eight-plus-two” model; or a nine-game league schedule with one non-conference game against a Power 5 opponent, known as the “nine-plus-one.”
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Those options both would have created a greater number of attractive games for the ESPN-backed ACC Network. When the conference announced in July that the network would launch in 2019, the ACC also announced that its men’s basketball schedule would expand from 18 conference games to 20.
That change will go into effect for the 2019-20 season. Changing the league’s football schedule, though, proved to be more complicated.
Some league officials, like N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow, favored nine ACC games. Others, like Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, favored eight. Another challenge of the eight-game proposal was the mandate of playing two non-conference games against Power 5 opponents.
“As it turns out, when you do the math, that’s a lot easier said than done,” ACC Commissioner John Swofford said on Wednesday. “So really we came back to the same old question, if you will, in a way, in terms of eight versus nine.”
Eight won out. In keeping the status quo, the league’s athletic directors also decided against a rule that would have required each school to play at least two non-conference games against Power 5 opponents.
That proposal, as Swofford said, proved difficult to put into practice given the finite number of Power 5 teams that would have been available to be scheduled. Schools in the Big Ten, the Big 12 and the Pac-12 play a nine-game conference schedule that limits their non-conference openings.
Yow on Wednesday said she voted for the nine-plus-one model, which she said she has consistently supported. Cunningham and Duke athletic director Kevin White declined to say how they voted. Asked how close the vote was, Radakovich, the Clemson athletic director, said: “It was a vote.”
Clemson, like other schools that play an SEC rival at the end of the regular season, had been firmly against a nine-game conference schedule. Such a move would have limited Clemson’s ability to schedule high-profile non-conference games.
In recent years, the Tigers have risen to national prominence in part because of their success in marquee games against Georgia and Auburn. Clemson has a home-and-home series against Texas A&M that begins in 2018. Yow, meanwhile, said she favored an additional conference game “because I love playing conference schools.”
“Right now, we play Duke twice in 12 years,” she said. “There’s something wrong about that. A nine-game schedule would have cut that in half, (twice) every six years.”
The athletic directors’ vote on Monday didn’t include a time element. It’s unclear when, or if, the ACC might revisit the eight vs. nine debate, but Cunningham said the issue had been resolved “for the foreseeable future.”
Had the ACC decided to adopt one of the two proposals – either the eight-plus-two or the nine-plus-one – it would have received more money from ESPN when the ACC Network launches in three years. How much more is uncertain, though the league’s decision will cost it some amount of revenue.
Both Cunningham and Radakovich downplayed the potential financial loss.
“Those were big numbers,” Radakovich said, “and when you break it down after shares and division of the dollars within the league, it was not anything that would move the needle.”