Orange Watch: Is ACC conference change coming for Syracuse football?

ACC Commissioner John Swofford. AP Photo.

Item: The ACC will discuss various models of adjustments to its football division alignment and future scheduling at the league’s upcoming winter meetings.

If anything, a record 11 of 14 members competing in the recently concluded college football bowl game season might be an indication that the current ACC divisional structure of seven teams in both the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions, along with an eight game, rotating league schedule, is working just fine (although the ACC did finish a disappointing 5-6 in bowl games, with the newcomers SU and Pitt, along with North Carolina, Clemson, and national champion Florida State doing their part).

Could John Swofford and conference athletic directors mix things up in the ACC?

But upon further inspection, the reported tidbits by the AP from email exchanges, including those of SU AD Daryl Gross, seem to indicate a thought process that it’s time for all involved to discuss tweaks to the division alignments and scheduling rotation, with a nod to maintaining traditional and natural geographic rivals, and perhaps revisiting adding a ninth league game to the schedule, when meetings begin next week in Florida.

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It sounds sensible from a Syracuse perspective, and also intriguing.

To start, why not mix up the divisions with an ode to the traditional ACC and the newer northern newcomers? And, why not adopt a ninth league game?

As to the latter question first, sure, the coaches will complain, but that was the original intent before Notre Dame came aboard in all sports except football and men’s hockey, and agreed to play five of its annual 12 games against ACC rivals starting next season (although they will play four ACC teams in ’14 and six in ’15).

Nine ACC games makes it easier to schedule only three out-of-conference opponents each season (and for SU to fill in the many future MetLife Stadium dates), it ensures five ACC games at home every other year, and in combination with a change to eliminate the “permanent crossover opponent” (for SU it’s Pittsburgh), it escalates the time frame in which the Orange will travel to all of the conference cities (recruiting benefits and playing in front of a player’s family/friends), and host all of its new ACC brethren in the Dome (as of now, Miami is not due in the Dome until 2024).

As recently as last summer the league was against advocating any sort of change to the division alignments, and that would mean the ‘Cuse is going to be one of five teams in the Atlantic Division competing in an annual dogfight with heavyweights FSU and Clemson just to make the conference championship game.

With both of those schools recently signing their coaches to major base contract extensions, FSU’s Jimbo Fisher for six years at $24.90 million, and Clemson’s Dabo Sweeney eight years, $27.15 million fully guaranteed, neither program is likely to be receding its strength anytime soon.

With the initial discussions concerning ACC reconfiguration coming to fruition next week, and with the NCAA expected to modify its rules this spring on how conferences with championship games can administer their league schedules, Orange Watch proposes its own (Orange-tinted) newly-named, geographically-flavored (except Miami) divisions with a nine game schedule (below), understanding the fact that Notre Dame playing five ACC schools each year leaves less wiggle room some seasons, but still an opportunity to schedule one FCS school and one lower FBS opponent to round out 12 games.

ACC North ACC South
Boston College Clemson
 Louisville  Duke
 Miami  Florida State
 Pittsburgh  Georgia Tech
 Syracuse  North Carolina
 Virginia  North Carolina State
 Virginia Tech  Wake Forest

Each team would play its six division members home or away each season, and for Syracuse five of the six are familiar friends from Big East days, with Miami or Virginia Tech essentially guaranteed to be in the Dome every season, along with a trip to Louisville (the closest destination for the developing Midwest recruiting pipeline) in alternating years. Add three annual games against the South division and it will make it that much faster to cycle through a complete 13 school home/away rotation.

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The only major ACC rivalry that would suffer under this proposal is FSU-Miami, they would play often though not every season, but the four Tobacco Road schools would meet annually along with Clemson-Georgia Tech (two hours apart) in the South, while the North alignment allows SU and the other Big East expatriates to build on the rivalries they established over multiple decades, and it also keeps UVA-Virginia Tech intact.

Imagine, for instance, a future ‘Cuse schedule one season in the Dome that had a FCS program and a MAC team along with ACC games versus Miami, B.C. and Virginia in division, plus crossovers Clemson and Wake Forest, with road games against Louisville, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech, plus crossover North Carolina, and a neutral site matchup with Notre Dame or similar “name” foe at Metlife Stadium.

That sort of ledger resembles this year’s basketball schedule, and it also symbolizes the growth opportunity for the program (i.e. get back in the Top 25 poll) with the move to the ACC.

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About Brad Bierman 843 Articles
Now in his sixth 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.