Paul Johnson unloads on ACC for ‘ridiculous’ schedule

Head coach Paul Johnson of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets looks on during the second half against the Georgia Southern Eagles at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Head coach Paul Johnson of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets looks on during the second half against the Georgia Southern Eagles at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

The ACC released its 2017 football schedule Tuesday, and it didn’t take long for Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson to have his suspicions confirmed. The Yellow Jackets will face three ACC opponents who will have an open date before playing them — more than any other team in the league — and Johnson is convinced it’s not a coincidence.

“The conference tries to screw us every way they can,” Johnson told the AJC on Tuesday.

Johnson has gone public with complaints in the past about his perceptions of unfair practices in creating the schedule. This past season, three league opponents played the Jackets coming off an open date, also the most in the league. (Tech shared an open date with one of them.) Between 2013 and 2017, Tech has had 10 league opponents on the schedule that have had open dates before playing the Jackets, tied with Florida State for the most.

Of the 10, six were games in which the opponent had more rest than the Jackets. On the other hand, of the six times when the Jackets have had an open date before playing an ACC opponent, Tech had advantageous rest only twice. The 2017 schedule adds to that imbalance. Clemson and Wake Forest will have open dates before playing Tech when the Jackets do not. Tech will play Miami on a Thursday night (Oct. 12) when both teams will have been off the previous Saturday.

Johnson’s assertion is that league opponents request to have their open dates before playing Tech, and that the league has complied.

“It has to be it,” Johnson said. “It happens every year. It has to be intentional. There’s no other explanation for it.”

Last fall, a conference spokeswoman said that league policy does not allow for teams to make a request to play a specific team after its open date. Teams are permitted to make requests related to dates — such as asking for an open date or away game during the school’s fall break, as Tech often does — but not about opponents.

Reached Tuesday, the league deferred to a statement made last fall to the AJC from senior associate commissioner for football Michael Strickland.

“When building our conference schedule, the charge from our schools is to create a schedule that complies with our parameters to ensure competitive equity, fulfills our television obligations and maximizes exposure for ACC Football,” the statement read. “Within the logistics of this process, it must also take into account all of the institutionally scheduled non-conference games.”

Georgia Tech is not the only team to bear this burden. Virginia Tech and Wake Forest played three games against teams coming off open dates in 2015 and Florida State played four in 2014. In 2013, Clemson, Duke and FSU played three such games. However, between 2013-17, only Georgia Tech and FSU have played ACC opponents coming off byes every season.

Johnson was further bothered by the lack of balance for teams facing opponents coming off byes. Six conference teams — Boston College, Clemson, Louisville, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest — will not have any such games, while Tech has three. Last season, five teams didn’t have to face an opponent with an extra week to prepare, where Tech had three such games.

“You can’t tell me that it’s computer-driven when you have three teams with byes before they play you and six teams in the league have none,” Johnson said. “That’s a pretty good computer model.”

It’s something of a running joke among Tech fans that North Carolina has had an open date before playing Tech five times in Johnson’s nine seasons, where the Jackets have never enjoyed the same advantage against the Tar Heels in that span. Tech is 3-2 in those games.

For good measure, Johnson also took issue with the fact that Duke plays Army — which runs an offense highly similar to Tech’s — the Saturday before the Blue Devils face the Jackets. A common lament among Tech opponents is that a week of practice is not enough time to prepare for the Jackets’ unorthodox spread-option offense. Moreover, Duke’s open date falls before the Army game, giving the Blue Devils even more time.

“Just call it what it is,” Johnson said. “They can call me all they want, but that’s ridiculous.”