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ACC gains ground on remaking football scheduling model, possibly as early as 2023

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — Momentum is moving within the ACC to remake its football scheduling model, perhaps even as early as 2023.

The most likely scenario is the 3-5 model, which would give each school three annual opponents while cycling in five new opponents per year.

“The scheduling model was discussed,” Miami athletic director Dan Radakovich said Tuesday, on Day 2 of ACC spring meetings. “We have good ideas moving forward. We’re closer to the end than to the beginning on that, but we need to talk a little bit to our TV partners to see what they think, kind of run it through the car wash one more time.

“It’s not urgent to be able to get done right now, from a timing perspective, because even if we decided to move this forward for ’23, there’s opportunity and time to be able to get it done. We want to be deliberate about it.”

Asked if there is a favored model, Radakovich described the 3-5 arrangement.

“I think the one where there are four-year rotating cycles where you play everybody twice and you have three common opponents,” he said. “I think that really got a lot of thumbs up (from ACC schools).”

Radakovich, who was hired by the Hurricanes in December, is particularly well-versed in this conversation, having been an AD in the league for 17 years. (He was at Georgia Tech from 2006-12 and at Clemson from 2012-21.) Discussions surrounding football schedules are nothing new in the ACC, which plays just eight conference games, has long been imbalanced toward the Atlantic Division and goes far too long without certain matchups between conference opponents. (Pitt’s 2021 ACC title marked the first conference championship from the Coastal Division since 2010.)


Miami athletic director Dan Radakovich described a 3-5 arrangement, in which teams have three common opponents, as having the most support. (Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

Under the current format, Duke and NC State, which are located 30 minutes apart, play each other once every seven years. Fellow Tar Heel state schools North Carolina and Wake Forest — who make up the state’s oldest rivalry — were also scheduled to meet once every seven years before they took matters into their own hands, scheduling each other as a nonconference game in 2019 and 2021.

Miami and Wake Forest have not played since 2013. Their scheduled 2020 meeting was a casualty of the pandemic, and they are not on each other’s future announced ACC opponent schedules, which go through 2024.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, plays each ACC school roughly three times over every five-year span, despite not being a conference member in football.

On Monday, The Athletic reported that the NCAA Football Oversight Committee recommended that the Division I council remove requirements to hold a conference championship game, which would allow conferences the flexibility to determine who competes in the title game. For the ACC, the chance for every four-year player to face every school in his conference has become more of a priority as well.

“One-hundred percent,” Florida State AD Michael Alford said. “I look at Boston College and Syracuse. How many times do they want to get to Florida? A lot. So what is the best scenario? And how many times do I want to get into the New York market? I want to get up in the Boston and New York market, because it’s a key market for us to build our brands and for recruiting. So making sure that we’re doing the right things where everybody has the same opportunity (is important).”

Alford, who said conference ADs will meet with ESPN on Wednesday, made his case that Florida State needs Clemson and Miami as two of its three annual conference opponents. He is more flexible on the third.

“It’s a wild card,” he said. “But I’m looking at it as, what’s best for the conference? How do we grow our brand? And I’ll get selfish toward it and say, how do I grow my brand? And where can I go play often that gets me in a major TV market?”

Potential permanent opponents?

Boston College — Miami, Syracuse, Virginia Tech

Clemson — NC State, Georgia Tech, Florida State

Duke — North Carolina, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech

Florida State — Miami, Clemson, Syracuse

Georgia Tech — Clemson, Duke, Louisville

Louisville — Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech

Miami — Florida State, Boston College, Pittsburgh

North Carolina — Duke, NC State, Virginia

NC State — Clemson, Wake Forest, North Carolina

Pittsburgh — Louisville, Miami, Syracuse

Syracuse — Boston College, Florida State, Pittsburgh

Virginia — Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Wake Forest

Virginia Tech — Virginia, Louisville, Boston College

Wake Forest — Duke, NC State, Virginia

The league can change the scheduling model provided the NCAA Division I Council approves a rule tweak recommended by the NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee. That is expected to happen at the May 18 meeting of the council. Previously, leagues that didn’t play a full round-robin schedule in football had to be split into divisions to stage a championship game. The initial iteration of that rule required leagues to have at least 12 teams and be split into divisions. It was passed in 1987 after it was co-sponsored by a pair of Division II conferences. The first league to actually take advantage of the rule was the SEC. Then-commissioner Roy Kramer remembered the rule and used the idea of a championship game as a tentpole when his league added Arkansas and South Carolina. That league split into divisions and began playing its championship game in 1992.

The ACC and Big 12 were the leagues that got the rule modified in 2014. The Big 12 had ditched its championship game after dropping to 10 schools but wanted to re-open the option of staging one. The then-new round-robin requirement made that possible. The Big 12 began playing a title game again in 2017.

The ACC didn’t get anything out of that change, but it did get an idea in the pandemic-affected 2020 season of how a division-less league might help the league. Scheduling uncertainty because of COVID-19 and a deal to allow Notre Dame — which is an ACC member in all other sports — to play a full ACC schedule made maximum flexibility necessary. So the league played as a 15-team group without divisions. It then staged a No. 1 versus No. 2 conference title game. Both participants in the game (Clemson and Notre Dame) made the College Football Playoff. The SEC (2017 and 2021) is the only other league to place two schools in the four-team Playoff.

“The year that Clemson and Notre Dame played and we had one division, the COVID year, that was kind of an idea of, well, maybe that could be a good precursor for things to come into the future,” Radakovich said.

Conference members playing one another more frequently and more varied season ticket packages are the most obvious benefits of shifting the scheduling model, but the more rare — though more impactful — benefit is lessening the possibility of a fluky conference champ knocking the league out of the Playoff.

In the division system, a team with several losses could win exactly the correct games and make the conference title game. If that team has an uncharacteristically great day and pulls an upset of a top-five opponent in the conference title game, the league is eliminated. That possibility becomes more remote if the CFP expands, but with a No. 1 versus No. 2 title game, the possibility of getting both teams into an expanded CFP increases.

Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi joked that the danger of finishing No. 13 or No. 14 in the league will scare coaches more than the danger of finishing No. 7 in a division. But this decision is largely out of the hands of coaches. Season ticket sales, TV partner preference and postseason possibilities are driving the discussion — just as they are driving similar talks in the Big Ten and SEC.

And if the change gets made, we’ve probably seen the last meeting of North Carolina and Wake Forest in a non-conference football game.

Radakovich said the ACC is closer to establishing each school’s three annual opponents. Asked if he has a preference on whom he’d like Miami’s fixed opponents to be, he took a big-picture view of the conference as a whole.

“I want our league to be able to get to the point where we look at all the schools that are in the league, and they’ve made quantitative, qualitative investments in their football program so that the entire league continues to move up in just national recognition,” Radakovich said. “Because we had it for a long time in basketball. We’ve done it in other sports. So we need to be able to have that kind of a thing in football. It’s going to take more investment by the schools to be able to get there.”

(Top photo: Ken Ruinard / USA Today)

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