ACC (and ESPN) could be headed for nine-game schedule

If a nine-game ACC schedule comes to pass, it may not happen for reasons of schedule balance or to satiate fans’ desire to see more cross-divisional teams. Naturally, the impetus could be ESPN.

At the board of trustees meeting for the Georgia Tech Athletic Association last Thursday, athletic director Mike Bobinski shared an update about scheduling discussions among officials at the ACC member schools and brought up ESPN’s possible influence.

At the conference’s meetings this week, the conference and ESPN are expected to have an update on where things stand in regards to a possible ACC channel. Should it go forward, Bobinski said, ESPN will likely want more “inventory” to put on the channel, meaning an additional conference game.

“It wouldn’t be the worst thing to have an additional ACC game as opposed to hunting around the country” for a non-conference game, Bobinski said. (Rather coincidentally, or perhaps not at all, Bobinski made the comment on the same day that Tulane officials informed Tech that they wanted to cancel their four-game series before reversing course the next day.)

There has been considerable pushback against a ninth game due to Notre Dame’s agreement to play five ACC opponents annually. (The league approved a nine-game schedule in May 2012 before changing back to eight after Notre Dame was added later in the year.) Particularly for Tech, Clemson and Florida State (and possibly Louisville), which all play SEC opponents, that would mean playing nine conference games, an SEC rival and Notre Dame in the same 12-game season roughly once every three seasons.

"It's a full plate," Bobinski said shortly after the meeting in an interview with the AJC. "No argument."

But, TV money may trump. The GTAA projects it will receive $22.2 million from the ACC in the 2015 fiscal year. (That’s $5.5 million more than was previously projected. The increase is due in part to the league signing its grant of rights, which was worth about $1.1 million per school from ESPN.) That is largely ESPN cash. That number would increase in the future if plans for an ACC network are realized.

“I don’t know that there will be ultimately a lot of decision making to go into that,” Bobinski said, referring to the nine-game possibility. “I think it’ll be something that we’ll need to do to find a way to do as a league, and that’s a way to do it.”

It follows comments made by commissioner John Swofford that league and school officials have been looking at how often conference teams play the teams in the opposite divisions. He also raised the possibility of not requiring teams to play every opponent in their division or allowing teams in the same division to play for the ACC championship.

In December, the Associated Press reported that Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross sent letters to his colleagues suggesting a nine-game schedule in part so schools in smaller markets (like Syracuse) can make more visits to schools in bigger markets like Boston College, Tech and Miami. He also suggested being more "creative" with the league's permanent cross-division partners, like Tech and Clemson. Currently, cross-division teams face each other twice in a 12-year cycle.

It feels like something is coming. And, if ESPN has its say, nine-game league schedules could be part of it. For fans, at least, that wouldn't be a bad thing.

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