Before saying anything else about ACC football scheduling, let me first say that a friend of All Sports Discussion and ACC fans everywhere is the neighborly and smart Matt Thompson, whom you can follow on Twitter at @MattThompson87. Few people have more ably and extensively detailed the ACC’s profound flaws in football scheduling than Matt has.
This thread below offers a small sample of Matt’s creative thinking. He got a few other Matts — not I, but Matt Smith of Southern Pigskin and Matthew Smith (a former colleague of mine at College Football News) — to provide input on ACC scheduling. It’s a great thread:
I think Duke and NC State should make the same stink to the league office that Wake and UNC seemed fine with in scheduling each other. They have played 3 times in the 15-year divisional era (2008, 2009, 2013). That is laughable. That ceases to be a “conference” at all.
— MattT (@MattThompson87) May 2, 2020
I could just say, “Do what Matt Thompson says,” and feel comfortable that I arrived at a good solution. Yet, let me address this issue in a larger context.
The arrival of the 14-team mega-conference has obviously complicated conference scheduling. The original impulse in a 12-team conference to have two divisions was appropriate. It was also a requirement that a conference needed 12 teams to even HAVE divisions, a constraint the conferences had to deal with.
Maybe, however, we can all acknowledge now, in 2020, that divisions — while seeming like a good idea at the time, in theory — haven’t actually served the interests of conferences (or college football) very well.
The conference imbalance we have seen in the ACC is just one example of this reality. In the Pac-12, the Pac-12 South has won just ONE conference championship since the Pac-12 Championship Game began in 2011. Stanford-Oregon would have been a better Pac-12 title game than Stanford versus the Pac-12 South champion in multiple seasons.
The Big Ten East has won each of the last six Big Ten Championship Games. I might hate Penn State for all the obvious reasons, but the Nittany Lions not being able to play in the Big Ten title game makes that event less of a showcase, not more.
In the SEC, the divisional format is a problem less in relationship to the SEC Championship Game, and more in relationship to the fact that Georgia and Alabama (scheduled to play this year) generally don’t play very often.
The broader point is this: Teams which coexist in a large conference need to play each other regularly. We can’t have five-year gaps between games, and we can’t have seven- or eight-year gaps between road trips for certain schools. We can’t continue to live in a world where being in one division is like winning the lottery.
Tell me that Wisconsin would be as successful as it has been the past eight years if it was in the Big Ten East.
Tell me that Oregon or Washington would be less successful if they played in the Pac-12 South, not the North.
I don’t think you can.
The Big 12 Conference has stumbled onto the truth — not by design, but by luck, since it has been a dysfunctional conference for most of its 24-year history: No divisions, and have the top two teams in the conference play the title game. It’s so much fairer, and EVERYONE PLAYS EVERYONE DURING THE REGULAR SEASON.
14-team conferences such as the ACC need to come as close to that standard as possible.
Have teams play three geographically proximate opponents every year. The other five conference games on the schedule can be rotating bunches.
One might ask, “Why only three regular opponents each year, instead of four or five?” The point is to make sure the rest of the conference plays each other in smaller time windows (three-year rotations), not longer ones (five to seven years).
If you have three regular opponents and five rotating opponents, you can play the other 13 teams in the league (3 plus 5 plus 5 = 13) in a three-season span. PLUS: Fewer locked-in games reduces the “divisional lottery” effect currently witnessed in the ACC’s divisional structure and the larger divisional format of college football as a whole.
That’s my story. Ask Matt Thompson what he thinks of this plan.