ACC nine-game football schedule: a closer look

Would North Carolina still play against Georgia if the Tar Heels had to play a nine-game ACC schedule? Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said he’d be against it.
Would North Carolina still play against Georgia if the Tar Heels had to play a nine-game ACC schedule? Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora said he’d be against it. Robert Willett -- rwillett@newsobserver.com

Change is coming to the ACC's football schedule, whether it's a nine-game conference season or an “eight and two” model that will force every conference team to play at least two non-conference games against Power 5 teams.

The two proposals – which are necessary to create more desirable “inventory” with the arrival of the ACC Network in 2019 – has created some passionate debate. The idea of a nine-game conference schedule, in particular, has inspired some strong negative reaction.

It's not surprising. If ACC teams play nine conference games, then that means less scheduling flexibility and, without question, fewer attractive non-conference games. Like, for instance, North Carolina and Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff.

Would UNC coach Larry Fedora have been interested in playing Georgia if the Tar Heels also had to play nine conference games? No, he said recently, he wouldn't have been. And UNC doesn't even play an annual rivalry game against a Power 5 opponent.

Florida State (with Florida) does. So does Clemson (South Carolina), Georgia Tech (Georgia) and Louisville (Kentucky). And so those schools, it figures, would be even more strongly opposed to the nine-game schedule than schools that aren't locked into an annual non-conference rivalry game.

Such opposition makes sense. Take Clemson. The Tigers have become a national power in recent seasons in part because of their sucess against their non-conference schedule, which has included the likes of Alabama, TCU, Georgia and Auburn, which is back on the schedule this season and next.

Those games are in addition to playing South Carolina at the end of every season. Clemson has also scheduled a two-year series with Texas A&M in 2018 and '19. With a nine-game ACC schedule, Clemson's ability to schedule marquee non-conference games becomes more limited.

It doesn't, though, become non-existent. Those schools that play annually against an SEC rival still would have two non-conference games to use how they see fit. Perhaps more important, those teams would have the opportunity to create more meaningful series in the ACC.

Yes, Clemson-Auburn and Florida State-Ole Miss are attractive, appealing games. No argument there. But there would be nothing stopping Clemson and Florida State from still playing those games with a nine-game format, and they might just benefit from playing an additional ACC game, as well.

Over the long term it'd be easier for the entire conference to generate more appealing matchups. UNC and Florida State is one of the ACC’s more attractive cross-divisional games this season. They’re playing for the first time in six years.

There are some other cross-divisional games with potential to generate high interest that simply don't happen all that often: Clemson-Virginia Tech, for instance, and Florida State-Georgia Tech and Louisville-Miami and on it goes.

A nine-game conference schedule helps address that problem. And sure, it also means more Boston College-Duke. But that's part of being in a conference.

Then there's this reality: a nine-game conference schedule wouldn't preclude challenging and attractive non-conference games. USC plays a nine-game league schedule in the Pac-12, and the Trojans are also managing to play against Alabama and Notre Dame this season.

In the Big 12, which also uses a nine-game schedule, Oklahoma is playing against Houston in Houston and at Ohio State. Texas is playing against Notre Dame and Cal. Michigan State, which faces a nine-game league schedule in the Big Ten, is playing non-conference games against Notre Dame and BYU.

And those ACC teams without a regular non-conference rival -- the majority of ACC teams, that is -- clearly would retain the flexibility to schedule at least one marquee non-conference game. Like, say, UNC against Georgia.

So it can be done, the marquee non-conference games with the nine-game conference schedule. And it'd likely create some more attractive match-ups within the conference, too, which could help raise the ACC’s profile over time.