Orange Watch: Nine game ACC football schedule makes sense for Syracuse

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Future expansion of the ACC football schedule could be a way to hasten the league’s desired TV network

Item: Recent talk has percolated again about adding another conference game to each team’s schedule, regardless of the fact that Notre Dame plays an average of five ACC teams each year in a contract that currently expires following the 2025 season (with the Irish scheduled to make an appearance in the renovated Dome in 2022), and four league schools (Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Louisville) have built-in, annual state rivalry games against a SEC foe. With some sort of ACC Network on the horizon, perhaps a hybrid digital-linear channel out of the gate, there’s a continual need for live programming for the TV networks to make a return on their big money investments, with Syracuse alone receiving some $24M a year in TV revenue and counting.

As the top 65 FBS programs in the country continue to get richer with increases to either current or about-to-be-negotiated TV contracts, with league championship games back on the agenda for all of the Power Five leagues by next year, and with nine conference games now the norm for the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12, despite this week’s comments by Georgia Tech AD Mike Bobinski that moving to nine games is not on the front burner of his ACC colleagues, there seems to be many good reasons why the league should join the nine game bandwagon and it starts with the need for quality programming inventory.

The ACC wants its own TV network, and why not? The Big Ten’s projected TV revenue payout is expected to reach $40M per school annually (less for newcomers Maryland and Rutgers) by next season, double the amount the conference received seven years ago, and its TV network deal with partner FOX Sports doesn’t expire until 2030-31. That’s comfortable longevity, and the envy of its Power Five peers.

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For the ACC to satisfy primary rights holder ESPN to take the network plunge, there needs to be plenty of content to beam 24/7/365, and we’re not talking non-revenue sports. Nine football games not only adds inventory, but also hastens the rotation of teams playing one another from each division. That could allow for the opportunity to designate a new order of rivalries that in SU’s case could mean more of former Big East mates Virginia Tech (a Dome visitor this year) and Miami (the ‘Cuse plays the Hurricanes next year in South Florida), in addition to current annual rivals B.C. Pitt and Louisville.

Another benefit in Syracuse’s situation would be less trouble filling an annual 12 game schedule, if only three games (and two games the three seasons Notre Dame is on the schedule through 2025) are needed to complete the slate. Right now, the Orange has only two of four non-conference games cemented each year from 2017-19, and only has Wisconsin set for a home-and-home series in 2020-21, so there are many OOC vacancies on the table for the new AD and assistant Herm Frazier to tackle in conjunction with Dino Babers.

The ACC has been down the nine game schedule path before. It was set to debut nine league games for Syracuse’s first season in 2013, but shortly after the Orange and Pitt became conference members, Notre Dame agreed to its five games-per-season deal while simultaneously becoming part of the ACC bowl game affiliations, and the complaints became loud. The schools that have the annual SEC mandate were concerned in the season’s they played Notre Dame there would only be one non-conference game to schedule, offering little flexibility for cobbling together the desired seven home games.

That logistical problem isn’t going anywhere moving forward, and if the ACC ever decided to prohibit games against FCS members as the Big Ten has done beginning in full next season, the scheduling process would get that much more complicated.

What would a nine game ACC schedule look like for the Orange down the road? Assuming a FCS game is still a go, SU would likely fill the other two slots with a Power Five team and another FBS foe likely from the AAC or MAC, but getting seven home games in season’s with five ACC road games would be tricky, but offset somewhat by those increased annual TV dollars.

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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