It's college football season. Inarguably the best time of year. With that comes discussion of a lot of topics that we generally can't escape like conference strength, who's getting in the playoff, and SEC speed. There is a way to make the ACC the most interesting conference in all of college football while virtually assuring that the champion will be part of that playoff picture every single year. Here's the playbook.
Conference realignment has been a major factor over the last decade and the ACC has expanded significantly from nine teams to fourteen not including the relationship with Notre Dame. One of the issues you get from having so many teams in a league is a scheduling disparity that prevents each team from playing all of the other teams in the conference regularly. Teams in opposing divisions may go ten years between meetings. This can be fixed with a little creative adjustment in structure, while making the conference tremendously better in the long run.
We have to move to 16 teams for this plan to work. Notre Dame is clearly planned as the 15th while UConn and Penn State are excellent options for the 16th member. UConn seems to be the realistic favorite but consider the two to be interchangeable for this proposal.
Having only two divisions is the real problem with so many teams in a league. You're stuck in a situation where your fixed requirement for teams to play every year is such a high number that only a couple teams are actually rotated. That create the decade long gaps between games as well as staleness in the schedule. With four divisions divided by region, you ensure that you'll play the three teams in your geographic region every year while leaving 5 games for the rotation. Here is how that would look, moving geographically north to south. Suggestions for division names are welcome.
|Northern Atlantic||Southern Atlantic|
|Pitt||Notre Dame||NC State||Georgia Tech|
|Syracuse||Virginia||North Carolina||Florida State|
|UConn||Virginia Tech||Wake Forest||Miami|
For a basic conference schedule, you'll play:
Based on that, a sample schedule for Clemson might look like this:
Plus four remaining spots for interesting out of conference games like South Carolina, Georgia or cupcake smaller schools (aka - college football preseason).
This is where things get really interesting. The ACC needs to be able to have the flexibility to set its own rules for determining a champion, otherwise all of this is a total waste of time. Luckily, they're working on this already.
With that in mind, the reserve game will be the final game of the regular season. Not the final conference game, the final GAME. That means that out of conference rivalries like UGA vs GT, Clemson vs SC, and FSU vs Florida would have to be moved off of Thanksgiving weekend to the next to last weekend of the season. That would be beneficial anyway since so many students are home for Thanksgiving and currently missing their traditional rivalry games. The reserve game will pit teams against each other based on their rank in each division at the end of the year. 1 vs 1, 2 vs 2, etc.
Assuming teams finished the year ranked in alphabetical order as above, the final games would be:
This game has to be the final game and handled in rank-order because this is a semi-final game for a four team CONFERENCE playoff, for the first place teams.
The winners of these games would meet in the ACC Championship game. Sticking with our alphabetical winners recipe, Clemson and Boston College would meet in the ACC Championship game. Clemson would win, departing from our alphabetical recipe...because I'm a Clemson fan.
The complicated thing with a to-be-determined matchup at the end of the year is hosting on short notice. To work that out, divisions would alternate who was hosting each year so all of the teams from the Southeast and Northeast divisions would host a home game against teams from the Carolina and Mid Atlantic divisions respectively. That would allow the game tickets to be sold as part of the season ticket package and ensure that schools aren't scrambling to host, sell tickets, and make travel arrangements for the final regular season game on a week notice.
Having a playoff BEFORE the college football playoff will ensure that the strongest teams from the conference face each other at the end of the year closing out with at least two high profile games against good competition. That will help from a standpoint of strength of schedule so that no matter what happens, it will be clear that the ACC Champion has earned its way into a playoff spot by winning against tough competition. Interest in the championship game itself would be much higher based on the playoff and the assurance that two teams who are able to win big games at the end of the year are playing each other.
Divisions based on geography just make more sense to accommodate for travel, regional rivalries, and regional interest. It also factors into regional recruiting bases and regional championships as the journey from 4th to 1st in a division is a lot shorter than the journey from 16th to 1st. Recruiting gets easier for teams at the bottom because they aren't selling climbing a mountain for a shot at a championship. They're selling climbing a hill. That applies to fan interest as well.
This approach balances regular schedule rotation, competitive match ups, logistics, and a playoff format to ensure the championship game is always a good matchup. The combination of everything would increase interest across the Atlantic Coast and virtually assure the ACC that its champion will be a part of the college football playoff. The schedule would never become stale and the interest level across the entire Eastern Coast TV market would ensure the ESPN dollars keep rolling into the schools.
If anybody in the ACC offices is paying attention, this is your end game.
My name is Barry Jones and Brightball, Inc was my contract development company from 2008-2012. Although I no longer do contract work this site has become my personal blog.
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