The ACC football schedule released Monday has led Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson and athletic department officials to believe they’ve again drawn the short straw. That conclusion may have repercussions for Tech’s future participation in the league’s Thursday night package.
Johnson’s frustrations with the schedule were many, some of which may have been out of the league’s hands. But an open date for the second week of the season, a Thursday night game against archrival Virginia Tech with five days’ rest, an unfilled request to have an open date after the Oct. 12 BYU game and four consecutive Coastal Division games top the list.
“I don’t know that they set about to do anything deliberate,” Johnson said. “I just don’t think they tried to make it fair.”
Johnson and associate athletic director Ryan Bamford, Tech’s primary scheduling contact, voiced their frustrations with league officials Monday. While noting that “none of us are in love with playing Thursday night games,” Bamford pointed out that the school has repeatedly been willing to host them despite their unpopularity among some Tech fans and the logistical challenges involved in staging them. At the behest of the league and ESPN, Tech also rearranged its schedule last year to play Virginia Tech in a nationally-televised Labor Day game.
While the games do offer national exposure, given the frustrations with the schedule for 2013 and years past, “I don’t know how much we’re going to continue to take in that regard,” Bamford said.
Tech’s Sept. 7 open date does appear unavoidable. Nine ACC teams scheduled nonconference games that week and Florida State and Pittsburgh received byes since they’ll play on Labor Day the prior Monday. That left Wake Forest, Boston College and Tech, and since the Jackets weren’t scheduled to play either team, Tech was the only team without an opponent. Bamford said that Tech will “strongly look at” booking nonconference games for the first two or three weeks of the season – which has been Johnson’s preference – in order to avoid such a situation in years to come.
A variety of factors, including Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech’s nonconference schedules, ESPN’s desire for Tech to play both Virginia Tech and Clemson on Thursday night and appropriate spacing for the open dates, may have made a Thursday night game where both teams had a bye week prior to the game difficult, if not impossible. Still, Johnson called it “ridiculous” to stage one of the league’s marquee games under such a circumstance.
“The conference office has and will continue its efforts to annually create the most equitable schedule for all 14 teams within the scheduling parameters established by the member institutions,” ACC senior associate commissioner Michael Strickland said in a statement. “Building a league schedule involves a unique balancing act in order to accommodate the non-conference games scheduled by our schools, additional school scheduling requests and maximizing the exposure for each program.”
Johnson was also irritated by Tech having to play Coastal opponents Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami in four consecutive weeks, particularly since the Tar Heels, Hokies and Hurricanes have been the three most consistent challengers in the division along with Tech. (The league’s multiple scheduling models weigh all ACC matchups equally.)
Another frustration was Tech’s being scheduled to play eight consecutive weeks between open dates, something that only Pitt and Virginia will also do. Tech’s two longest road trips, Miami and BYU, are also on back-to-back weeks. Further, Tech had asked for a bye after the BYU game – as it is a long trip and also because it would coincide with fall break – and didn’t get it.
“I don’t think they did us any favors, that’s for sure,” Johnson said.
“They have a lot of people put a lot of priorities and a lot of asks of them, and I know they try to accommodate as much as they can,” Bamford said. “I don’t know how many they accommodated of other programs and other schools, but they didn’t really hit it very good with us.”
Also, four of Tech’s six Coastal opponents play a nonconference opponent before playing Tech and a fifth, North Carolina, has an open date. It will be the fourth time in Johnson’s six seasons that the Tar Heels will have that advantage.
“That’s hard for me to fathom that the computer model would kick it out that way,” Johnson said.
Further, Pittsburgh’s opponent prior to playing Tech Nov. 2 is Navy, which runs an offense similar to the Jackets’.
“Just randomly by computer, I imagine,” Johnson said with sarcasm.
Even Tech’s returning to Clemson for a second consecutive road game – a request initiated by former athletic director Dan Radakovich, now at Clemson – perturbed Johnson. Bamford said that Tech pulled the request off the table after Radakovich left Tech in October. However, the ACC scheduled Tech to return to Clemson, one of six repeat-site games for 2013 intended to balance home and away schedules.
Said Johnson, “It worked out good for Dan.”
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