ACC Winter Meetings Recap- Revisiting the Football Divisional Format and the ACC Title Game
Happy signing day, everyone! Today is one of the most exciting days of the offseason because the future of your favorite team is ceremonially handed off to a group of twenty 17-18 year olds live on ESPN. It’s an important day, because these are the players that can make or break the next four years for your program. A good class can save a coach’s job (we’re looking at you, Mike London), or propel him to a national title in just a few short years (congrats, Jimbo Fisher).
Yesterday, we talked a little bit about one of the topics of this year’s ACC Winter Meetings, the nine game schedule. Today, we’ll briefly look at an issue that’s just as important to the future of the ACC as schedule changes and even your program’s signing class- Divisional Alignment and the ACC Title Game.
ESPN has reported that the ACC has begun to petition the NCAA for more flexibility regarding who will play in the conference football title game. We originally discussed the interest in this issue on January 10th, and now it is moving forward. Click the links below to read our earlier story, as well as ESPN’s announcement-
While it is still in the early stages, Commissioner Swofford would not put forth such an effort if he didn’t think that it could gain the right amount of support. In short, the Big 12 is already interested, the SEC and B1G would have to give it a long look because of conference size. The Pac-12 would probably just go along with it at that point. If passed, this has enormous implications, and we’ve laid out some of them below-
1) The Dismantling of the Current Divisional Alignment- While the ACC would certainly be able to keep its divisions under this new format, it really wouldn’t make any sense to do that. A destruction of the current system, and the development of three permanent rivals would make the most sense. If they keep eight conference games, then teams would play their three rivals yearly, and rotate between the remaining 10 teams every other year (getting either FSU or Miami yearly for recruiting purposes). If the league goes to nine games, then teams would see each other even more frequently.
Here are the permanent rivals that we’ve proposed in the past-
FSU- GT, Clemson, Miami UNC- NC State, Duke UVA
GT- FSU, Clemson, Miami NC State- UNC, Wake Forest, VT
Clemson- FSU, GT, Miami Duke- UNC, Wake Forest, UVA
Miami- FSU, Clemson, GT Wake Forest- NC State, Duke, VT
UVA- VT, UNC, Duke
BC- Pitt, Syracuse, Louisville VT- UVA, NC State, Wake Forest
Pitt- BC, Syracuse, Louisville
Syracuse- BC, Pitt, Louisville
Louisville- BC, Pitt, Syracuse
2) Your Team May Never Play in the Title Game Again…Or, Their Chances May Be Better– This type of scheduling would create more of an imbalance, but I think it’s an imbalance that the schools would live with for more attractive schedules. While teams like Duke and Wake Forest wouldn’t have the ability to win their division and go to the title game like they have in the past, they would be facing likely an easier schedule at times than perennial frontrunners Clemson and FSU. By the same token, with guaranteed matchups against each other, GT-Miami-FSU-Clemson would have a harder, but more interesting road to the championship. This is all of course dependent of the rest of each team’s schedule and would change year-to-year as players graduate, coaches leave, etc. College football goes in cycles (as we’ve seen with the SEC’s rise to power and FSU’s return to glory), making this type of alignment more exciting, yet just as unpredictable as ever. It creates memorable matchups, preserves old rivalries and gives the flexibility for the league to keep an eight game schedule.
3) The Best Two Teams Will Play For the Title- While the current divisional alignment has created some interesting games over the years, it has certainly had its problems, often leading to situations where the best two teams could not play. For the first few years after the expansion in 2004, the Coastal Division was the stronger of the two, with Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech leading the way. These two teams, while arguably the best the ACC had to offer, could not play for the title. The past few years however has seen a shift in power with Clemson and Florida State rising to the top. Again, the same situation has occurred where a rematch was not possible. Perhaps then, it could be argued that these teams played during the regular season and that the winner IS the better team, but the loser of the matchup was still often better than the opposing division’s representative. This has led to attendance issues at the title game, and the strange situation in 2012 where both Miami and North Carolina were ineligible to participate, sending the Coastal Division’s third best team to the game. Picking the best two teams in the league would be a tricky proposition with an imbalanced schedule, but it may make more sense in the long run.
4) A Change in Title Game Qualification Could Lead to a Change in Playoff Qualification- It’s not impossible to think that if every major league adopted this policy, that it could somehow play into the upcoming playoff scenario. Being a “true” conference champion could become a requirement, and this brings up the obvious question regarding our favorite half-member. Would Notre Dame have to join in football at that point? It’s fun to think about, and it’s been speculated for a while, but you have to wonder whether the conferences will make an exception for the Fighting Irish forever. Certainly, the ACC would be behind this requirement for that reason, and they’re on record basically saying as much. With a “true” champion requirement, Notre Dame would have to join a conference and in turn, the ACC would likely search for a 16th member at that point- which could lead to more conference realignment. Would the ACC revisit a former applicant in West Virginia? Would they try to finally secure Texas after the much discussed Notre Dame like deal never came to fruition in 2011? How would the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 react? Would the Big 12 dissolve? There’s no telling what would happen.
NCAA governance is one of those issues that’s fun to talk about because the effects are far-reaching. This isn’t just about choosing which two teams are the best for the ACC title game, it’s about restructuring the way that college football is played and teams are viewed. It will be interesting to see what’s next for this piece of legislation proposed by the ACC. We’ll certainly keep track of it and let you know every up-to-date detail regarding the issue. What do you think is going to happen and is it what you want to happen?