Multiple influences factor in ACC’s likely new scheduling model

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei fumbles as he is hit by Georgia Tech defenders in 2021. Clemson and Georgia Tech are considering whether to continue the rivalry annually. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei fumbles as he is hit by Georgia Tech defenders in 2021. Clemson and Georgia Tech are considering whether to continue the rivalry annually. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

It appears the ACC is headed for a new scheduling model as soon as 2023, with a one-division format in which teams play three teams annually and the other 10 teams on a two-year rotating basis the likely successor.

The primary benefit of the new model – being able to play every team in the league twice in a four-year span – was sung loudly at the ACC meetings last week in Amelia Island, Fla. A primary challenge in adopting the new model after having used a two-division format since 2005, will be determining who each team’s three permanent partners will be.

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The league’s athletic directors will take into consideration traditional rivalries, proximity, balanced travel and appealing matchups, among other factors.

“So when you kind of put your thumb on the scale of any one of those, there are dominoes that fall,” ACC senior associate commissioner for football Michael Strickland told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the conclusion of the spring meetings. “That’s why it has to be a deliberative process – because you want to carefully weigh all of those factors and then make what you think in the end is the right decision.”

The process is a work of logistics. Not only will teams’ permanent opponents be determined but so will the groupings of the 10 rotating opponents (five one year, five the next).

Ideally, for instance, a team in the North such as Boston College wouldn’t have to travel to Florida State and Miami in the same season. Likewise, a team outside of North Carolina wouldn’t have road trips at Duke, North Carolina and N.C. State all in the same season. So that could determine which teams are in which rotating group, for example, and also how the home-road pairings will be set up, all of which could influence what teams are in the permanent partner groupings on top of the more obvious factors.

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“You’ve got the historical rivalries that are certainly critical, and you’ve got other kinds of geographic matchups that just make a lot of sense that may not have as rich a history or tradition as some other big-time regional or national rivalries but still are kind of obvious that you would want to play more frequently than others,” Strickland said.

Some teams and rivalries are easier to figure out. North Carolina-N.C. State, Florida State-Miami and Virginia-Virginia Tech are all obvious keepers.

“Some schools, you ask them who their top three preferences are, you could probably rattle it off rather quickly,” Strickland said. “Others may only have two. Others may only have one.”

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North Carolina, for instance, has its two Triangle rivals in Duke and N.C. State, and then Virginia. The Tar Heels and Cavaliers have played 126 times, which is second most among FBS rivalries, and it is a series that both want to protect. North Carolina also has in-state rival Wake Forest; the two schools have been so eager to keep their series going that they scheduled two nonconference games against each other. But the appeal of the 3-5-5 schedule is that now all teams will face each other at least twice in a four-year span as opposed to a 12-year span. Not being an annual opponent is much more palatable in this setup.

As for Tech, Clemson is the most obvious pairing. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if athletic director Todd Stansbury were OK with seeing the Tigers every other year as opposed to annually. In a comment to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Stansbury said, “I think the considerations that also have to take place is, we have schools who have rivals outside of the conference.”

Besides Tech, Louisville (Kentucky), Florida State (Florida) and Clemson (South Carolina) also have season-ending in-state rivalry games with SEC opponents. Of course, of the four, Tech is the only one with a permanent ACC opponent (through this season, at least) and an SEC rival (Georgia) that are near fixtures among the top five teams in FBS.

“Some schools, you ask them who their top three preferences are, you could probably rattle it off rather quickly. Others may only have two. Others may only have one."

- Michael Strickland, ACC senior associate commissioner for football

Over the past five seasons, Tech is 0-9 against Clemson and UGA (the Jackets and Bulldogs did not play in 2020), and the average score in those nine games was 43.6-10.6. Stansbury has often remarked about how Tech resides in the “toughest neighborhood in America” with its location in proximity to Alabama, Clemson and Georgia, among others. Having some more trips outside of that neighborhood wouldn’t be the worst thing for Tech. Clemson may not feel a compulsion to play Tech every year also, as its seven-year winning streak in the series has likely dulled the energy of the rivalry on that side, too.

Without Clemson, who else might Tech draw? Florida State is another logical option, given that it is second closest (after Clemson) in proximity to Atlanta, and the teams have had a series of entertaining matchups. The large number of FSU alumni in the Atlanta area is another factor.

However, FSU AD Michael Alford was fairly cool on the idea when asked at the ACC meetings. He prioritized Clemson and Miami and said he considered Atlanta already part of FSU’s market, and that “what I’d like to do personally is expand our brand to different markets, and I also think that’s better for the league.”

Duke has played Tech annually since 1933, but it would be difficult to find many on either side who would find that series an important rivalry.

If not Duke or seemingly booked North Carolina, either N.C. State or Wake Forest could work for geographic reasons. Louisville and Tech have played only twice since the Cardinals joined the league in 2014, but it’s roughly the same distance from Atlanta to Louisville, Ky., and Raleigh, N.C. Louisville may also be a school looking for partners.

“You’ve got N.C State, Wake Forest fans that are there in the driving region,” Strickland said. “Four, five hours, (and) they’ve got tons of alumni that live down there.”

Virginia Tech would seem a good fit, as the Jackets and Hokies enjoyed a run of competitive games during the Paul Johnson-Frank Beamer era, and Hokies fans have consistently made their way to Bobby Dodd Stadium. Virginia Tech has Virginia and perhaps Miami as likely partners. Could the Tech-Tech rivalry be extended?

The athletic directors aren’t in a great rush to vote on a new model and determine partners, although Miami AD Dan Radakovich said they could have finished it in Amelia Island if it were necessary. It conceivably could be done by August.