As recently as the 2003 season there were only nine members of the conference and each team played the other other teams in the conference, which it truly an ideal setup for a football league. In 2004 the ACC added Miami and Virginia Tech to grow the conference's football prestige. The league stayed with eight conference games and this was still reasonable as teams would played 8 out of 10 possible opponents each season. The following season Boston College was added to the league and the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions were born. Teams played the other five teams in their division each season along with a designated rival, with two other rotating teams from the opposing division. This still permitted teams to play every conference opponent at least every two to three years. In 2013 the league added Pittsburgh and Syracuse as they expanded to 14 teams, but still maintained an eight game conference schedule. It's 2014 and it's officially time for a change.
The ACC athletic directors will hold their spring meeting from May 12th to May 15th. At that time, hopefully they will vote on expanding the conference schedule to nine games, become a true conference again, and not just a conglomerate conference. The future schedule as it's set up (through 2024) now has some comical scenarios. For example, Wake Forest is set to play at Georgia Tech in 2017 and then not host them until 2024. A player could be at Wake for six seasons and still not play that ACC opponent; that's not a true conference. The same can be said for North Carolina, who Wake is scheduled to play in 2015 and 2022. How can you possibly have conference opponents who are an hour and 15 minute drive away from one another not play each other for seven years?
These examples, along with countless others, are why the ACC needs to expand the conference schedule to nine games per team. I'm of the belief that it will help grow the perception of the league and will help to elevate every football program in the conference. It should also make life easier on athletic directors and will be great for fans. In a nine-game conference schedule, each team would play the other teams from its division, a designated cross-divisional rival, and then two rotating cross-divisional opponents. This would allow teams to play every team at least once every three season and would guarantee that a player who stayed for at least three seasons got to play every team at least once.
This would mean that schools would be able to host five conference games every other year, which is a tremendous win for fans and athletic directors alike. Fans would much rather watch their favorite team play another ACC team than a team from say the Sun Belt. This would increase attendance and therefore revenue for the football programs. Athletic directors obviously love increased revenue and it also means one fewer game they have to schedule. When you add in an FCS opponent along with a non-power conference team then teams should have at least seven home games every other year, with the possibility of eight. That's outstanding for fans.
Not all schools are in favor of this, however. According to an ESPN poll, Duke, Clemson and Florida State would prefer to stay at eight conference games. Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich says, "For Clemson, our position has been and continues to be an eight-game conference schedule. Part of the reason for that is we're one of the four schools that has an end-of-the-year out-of-conference rival. In essence, that gives us nine games of significance. In the years when Notre Dame will rotate onto that schedule, that will give us a 10th game of significance. If you have that trifecta of in-state rival, Notre Dame game and a ninth-conference game, then you're looking at 11 games of significance."
Shouldn't we want more "games of significance"? Especially now that there is a College Football Playoff that is chosen by a selection committee, shouldn't teams like Clemson and Florida State want their resume to show that they've truly challenged themselves? Especially considering that athletic directors believe the four-team playoff will increase to eight teams within ten years. For those elite teams competing for national titles, a nine-game conference schedule can bolster your quality wins and give you more wiggle room in the event that you lost a game or two.Much like the NCAA Tournament selection committee, which penalizes teams for weak non-conference schedules, I believe the College Football Playoff selection committee will reward ACC teams because they played more quality opponents throughout the season. The perception will be that, like the SEC, the ACC teams "beat each other up," instead of they "slipped up" out of conference.
For ACC teams who are playing for bowl appearances and not necessarily national titles, I still believe that over time this will benefit those teams as well. Say a team schedules an FCS opponent and two cupcakes on their schedule in addition to their nine-game conference schedule, that means a team has to go just 3-6 in conference to make a bowl, assuming they go undefeated in non-conference play. Let's say instead of scheduling one cupcake, they play Notre Dame or schedule an SEC opponent. Even if the team goes 2-1 in non-conference that means a team has to go just 4-5 in conference in order to become bowl eligible. If an ACC team can't do that, then that team truly doesn't deserve to be in a bowl game and I think most ACC coaches would admit to that.
The ACC can raise the national perception of its league by making this move. College football is a zero sum game, but every team in this conference can get better without the others getting worse. A move like this shouldincrease attendance, revenue, and therefore recruiting, could help sway recruits from the Big 10, Big 12, SEC, and Pac 12 to the ACC. Don't we think the ACC could get an even bigger ESPN deal if they guarantee that each team is playing nine conference games? Don't we think that can help the future ACC Network? Those things all increase the quality of facilities.
The ACC and its members should embrace its conference and the increased competition involved in a nine-game conference schedule. In a time where college football is becoming more and more important in terms of revenue generation, it's important that the ACC athletic directions show the country they are very serious about increasing the level of play in the league. If they ACC wants to be viewed as significant, then they are going to need to increase their "games of significance."
Let's give the season ticket holders a better home schedule. Let's create a true conference in which teams play the other teams on a regular basis. The league and its members should embrace competition and not hide from it. The ACC has the potential to be a truly great conference and they can get there by increasing the conference schedule to nine games.