There’s no easy way to balance a conference schedule for 14 teams. Under the ACC’s current format, the conference doesn’t even try.
There are too many teams and not enough games; that’s just the baseline from which the conference is working in the expansion era.
But there is a way to keep most, if not all important rivalries, and make sure every team plays each other on a more regular basis than it does now.
Scrap the divisions, set up a rotating schedule and send the two best teams to the conference championship game.
If you give each team three partners, they could play five teams home-and-home in the first two years of the rotation and the other five teams, home-and-home, in the second two years.
For example, N.C. State’s three partners would be UNC, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh.
(Aside: I’m intentionally putting a Big East refugee there, instead of Duke, because as it has been explained to me, the “new” ACC members would never go for any model that segregates the ACC into “old” and “new.” Specifically, teams like Boston College and Miami – which joined in the mid-2000s – don’t want to give the four North Carolina schools a travel advantage.)
In the first two years of the rotation, N.C. State would play Florida State, Louisville, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Boston College (or Group A).
In the second two years, the Wolfpack would play Miami, Clemson, Virginia, Duke and Syracuse (Group B).
Under this “three-by-five” model, every team would play home and away every four years. Or you could flip flop groups (Group A in 2015 and Group B in 2016, for example) on an annual basis and play every team every other year.
Under the current format, N.C. State and Duke met in Durham in 2013. The two teams won’t play again in Raleigh until 2020.
I created a rotation model for all 14 teams. Obviously, there are some games that need to be on the schedule – State/Carolina, Virginia/Virginia Tech, FSU/Miami, Carolina/Duke, FSU/Clemson – those are all protected with the three partners.
And I’m purposely not using the word “permanent” to modify partner because you can switch out certain teams after a four-year rotation.
There are two factors the rotation model addresses:
In 2012, Duke went 3-5 in the ACC with a 41-point road loss to Florida State and a 36-point home loss to Clemson. The Blue Devils finished two games behind North Carolina, which didn’t play either FSU or Clemson, for first place in the Coastal Division.
In 2013, Duke went 6-2 in the ACC. The Blue Devils didn’t play FSU or Clemson, which went 15-1 in the ACC. Duke won the Coastal Division, one game ahead of Miami, which lost 41-14 at FSU, and one game ahead of Georgia Tech, a 55-31 loser at Clemson.
Was that fair to Duke in 2012? Or Miami and Georgia Tech in 2013? That’s a rhetorical question.
On the other side, not related to a division race, but N.C. State and Wake Forest have to play both FSU and Clemson every year. Each in-state school has had some success against the ACC’s best programs in the past 10 years, but is it fair to compare State and Wake to Carolina and Duke when the latter will never – under the current format – have to play both FSU and Clemson in the same season again?
Fairly certain you know the answer.
You could argue this is tied into No. 1 (Come play for Duke, we’re 2013 Coastal Division champions!) but there’s a difference.
Syracuse specifically has expressed concern about not playing in Atlanta or Miami on a regular basis, despite being in a league with teams in Atlanta and Miami.
It can be difficult for an Atlantic Division team to recruit a kid from south Florida and say, “Your mom can come watch when we come back in seven years.”
I think Point No. 2 matters less than Point No. 1 but if you’re in a conference with a team, you should at least get the chance to play in their stadium once during a four-year period.
And there’s a drawback. If you scrap the divisions, the two best teams go to the conference title game. Last year, that would have been FSU (Atlantic winner) and Clemson (Atlantic runner-up).
If FSU had beaten Clemson, like it did Duke (Coastal winner), it probably would have kept Clemson out of a BCS bowl (the Tigers beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, which meant more money for the ACC).
That’s a 2013 problem since the BCS is dead.
But if you create a more competitive conference title game and it keeps your undefeated No. 1 team out of the four-team College Football Playoff? That’s a real concern and probably what will ultimately derail a major change.
Nevertheless, I created the partners and groups for each team, so we can at least wonder what could have been in a more logical and fair world: