With Louisville replacing Maryland this summer, there seems to be a clear imbalance of power between the Atlantic and Coastal divisions. Add in certain schools' complaints about the current scheduling system (looking at you, Syracuse) and you have a problem that needs rectifying.
Aside from considering rearranging teams in the current divisional structure, the latest rumblings from Charlotte seem to suggest that the ACC is also contemplating some more drastic internal structural changes in the near future. Depending on who you believe, Swofford and the ACC are potentially lobbying the NCAA for permission to:
- Maintain two even divisions, but allow the two highest ranked teams to play in the title game, regardless of which division they are in. For example, this year, that would have been an FSU-Clemson rematch.
- Remove the requirement that teams have to play every team in their division, allowing for more flexible scheduling. This solves the problem of teams visiting non-division foes once a decade.
- Abolish the divisional structure altogether but maintain a championship game and just let the two best teams duke it out (no pun intended, obviously). That would have the same effect on the title game as option 1, and would also allow for even more flexibility in the scheduling system than option two.
The first option is a short-term solution for a short-term problem. Collegiate athletics rise and fall, and in a decade, Clemson and FSU may be struggling while Miami and Virginia Tech are back on top, so that choice won't solve the divisional imbalance in the long run.
The second option also seems pretty pointless. If you're not going to have teams play every school in their division, why have divisions in the first place? (Other than the NCAA requiring two divisions for a conference championship game, of course, but more on that later).
If the ACC can get permission from the NCAA to eliminate divisions without losing the championship game, that would give the conference both the most competitive title game possible and maximum flexibility for scheduling. But even without divisions, the ACC doesn't want to lose its marquee and historic rivalry games, so the conference could still benefit from a structured scheduling regime.
Assuming the league stays constant at 14 teams playing an 8-game conference schedule, the best solution for a divisionless conference would be to give each team three permanent rivals. This has two major benefits. One, it allows the ACC to preserve its biggest games on a yearly basis. Two, it leaves exactly ten remaining conference foes for each team. Those ten would be split into two groups of five, which would be played against in alternating years, creating an 8 game conference schedule that allows for stability and ease of scheduling. I'm sure it sounds confusing, so here's an example.
2013: Miami would play its 3 permanent rivals (let's say FSU, VT, and GT), and 5 ACC teams (in this example, UNC, Duke, Louisville, UVA, and Pitt).
2014: Miami would play its 3 permanent rivals (FSU, VT, and GT again) and the OTHER 5 ACC teams (NC State, Wake, Cuse, BC, and Clemson)
Each team's schedule would work out this way, nice and simple. Now the big question remaining (and I'm sure the one most ACC fans would be most interested in) is who are each team's permanent rivals? I've already given Miami's away, but take a look at the rest below. When matching teams up, I considered historic rivalries, recent competitiveness of the series, and geographic proximity.
Current Permanent Rivals: The logical place to start is by keeping the existing permanent rivals from the current divisional structure. Already, that preserves big games and important rivalries, both of which are likely league priorities. Miami-FSU, arguably the league's biggest marquee matchup, is locked in here, as is the longstanding rivalry between Clemson-GT. Two pairs of former Big East rivals, BC-VT and Pitt-Cuse, will continue to play annually, and Tobacco Road keeps their clashes between UNC-NCSU and Wake-Duke. The Louisville-Virginia matchup isn't particularly steeped with history, but as the newest member, Louisville's history with most of the existing ACC teams is lacking. UVA gets the new kids on the block, mostly out of an effort not to break apart any of the other matchups.
Second Permanent Rival: The next priority on the list is maintaining some key in-state rivalries and preserving the league's other recent high profile matchup, Clemson and FSU. Those two playing each other annually isn't just good for the ACC, it's good for football. In-state rivalries can be thicker than blood, so UVA and VT will continue to battle over the Commonwealth Cup, Duke and UNC extend their rivalry from the hardwood to the gridiron, and just down the road NC State and Wake will rumble. Up north, Boston College and Syracuse will rekindle their old Big East brawl, while Louisville will set an annual date with former Big East foe Pitt. Finally, Miami and Georgia Tech will extend their current coastal division series.
Third Permanent Rival: Here's where things start to get stretched a little thin. Some teams don't have more than one or two meaningful rivals within the ACC, while some of the older members have four or more. Beginning with the most obvious, UNC-Virginia, the South's oldest rivalry, can and should continue annually here. Clemson gets rival NC State in a cross-Carolina showdown. BC and Pitt get another (relatively) nearby rival from The Conference Formerly Known as the Big East. Miami and Virginia Tech continue their former Big East/Coastal rivalry as well. Syracuse and Duke are matched up, as John Swofford vehemently prays that annual football will make people even more hyped when they play basketball together. With the limited number of teams left, geography trumps, and this is where I run out of reasons. Sorry, FSU-GT and Wake-Louisville. That's the way the cookie crumbles.
Obviously there are some big rivalries that don't appear on this chart. However, the alternating "divisions" of five remaining teams will mean that within two years, each team in the conference will play every other team at least once (and within four years, each team at home at least once). So fear not, Hokies and Jackets, the battle of the Techs will happen every other year. Ditto for Duke-NCSU and UNC-Wake.
As a Miami alum and longtime fan before that, my perspective is obviously limited. I tried not to be biased and to give each school what I perceived as their most important rivalries, but I'm sure that if a fan from another ACC school developed this proposal, some of the rivalry matchups would be different. If you think any of this is horribly wrong and you have a better idea, leave a comment! For all we know, nothing will change, but until football season starts up again, at least it gives us something to talk about.