It wasn’t but two weeks ago I was writing that neutral site games were the wave of the future due to conferences adopting the 9 game conference schedule. Things can quickly change. When the ACC and Notre Dame agreed to the Irish joining the ACC in all sports but football, it was a game changer. Notre Dame treasures it’s independence, but is now locked into 5 games with the ACC.
Some critics of the arrangement suggest the ACC has lost all leverage into ever getting the Irish to join as a full member. I disagree. In fact with Notre Dame in the fold I think there are a couple of ways the ACC can eventually get Notre Dame to rethink their independent status. It won’t be easy and it may take several years, but it can happen. First and foremost the athletic directors have to vote to drop the 9 game conference schedule.
Previously I was indifferent on the 8 or 9 game conference schedule, but with Notre Dame now part of the ACC scheduling that’s another OOC game taken up for teams. We know that most of the ACC football coaches favor the 8 game conference schedule. We know Clemson and Florida State as a whole are staunch supporters of the 8 game conference schedule. Lastly we also know too that Notre Dame won’t be dropping rivalry games with USC and Navy under any circumstances. Stanford may be off the table as well.
The Irish will still try to maintain a presence in the midwest with games against select Big10 schools. First the 8 game format should be adopted to give schools like Clemson, FSU, and Georgia Tech with instate SEC rivals the flexibility to schedule additional OOC games, even with Notre Dame as part of schedule.
When I suggested before that the neutral site games were an alternative to losing one home every few years, Notre Dame wasn’t in the picture. Certainly Clemson, FSU, and Georgia Tech should be afforded the opportunity for a home and home series with Notre Dame. A 9 game conference schedule makes this a scheduling nightmare. What about losing the cross conference games? I’ll get to that in a moment.
The other benefit of the 8 games game conference is this. You restrict Notre Dame to 3 OOC games, they are never joining as a full member. Not in 10 years not in 20 years, never… ever. Forget it. It’s not even worth discussing, but 8 ACC conference games makes it at least a remote possibility. The Irish keep USC, Navy, maybe Stanford or Purdue on the schedule and still 1 more game left to schedule an OOC opponent.
Now how can the playoffs fit into this?
Very easily. Notre Dame is the ACC family, but they aren’t a brother. They are more like a really good cousin. With the upcoming playoff format coming, John Swofford needs to push the conference champion component even if Notre Dame doesn’t like it.
It will never be only conference champions criteria (maybe if the playoffs go to 8 team one day), but now still it needs to be a significant portion. The more the conference champion component is pushed the more it could force the Irish to pull the trigger on conference alignment. With the Irish already aligned to the ACC, their only option would be to join the ACC as a full member if the conference champion component is significantly there.
The ACC will find allies in the Big 10 on this. The first time a top 10 Notre Dame team is left out of the playoffs, because a top 10 conference champion is selected will have them seriously considering the move to full membership.
Ok, back the cross conference games. What do we do there? Here’s my solution. Ease up on the permanent cross-division partner criteria. Georgia Tech\Clemson FSU\Miami are great rivalries, but do they really have to play every single year? Keep the cross-division partner, but every 3rd year suspend the game to play 2 other cross-division teams.
The format would work like this 6-1-1, 6-1-1, 6-2, 6-1-1, 6-1-1, 6-2. This would increase the frequency of playing of the other cross division teams, while still maintaining the most important cross-division rivalries.
There you go. Get the 8 game conference schedule approved; make most of your full members happy. At least give yourself a chance at Notre Dame one day with it. Also push the conference champion component. Your full members wanted that too, and it may get the Irish thinking more about joining too.
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