Item: As we put on bow on the 2019 ACC football regular season, it was an up-and-down campaign for Syracuse that fell tantalizingly one win short (N.C. State/Pitt) of the Orange making back-to-back bowl game appearances for the first time since 2012-13, joining only division-mate N.C. State and Duke and Georgia Tech among conference teams sitting home this month. Sure, SU will have ended up playing all three of those schools by the end of next season when Georgia Tech is the home crossover opponent in 2020 following this year’s crossover game at Duke, and annual meeting with the Wolfpack. But moving into the next decade, and before the inevitable expansion of the College Football Playoff, it’s time to change the rules for the lucrative conference championship games, and open up the ACC to a new scheduling format so teams meet more frequently.
The current obstacle to Syracuse football only having two scheduled ACC games apiece against the likes of old Big East rivals Miami and Virginia Tech in the first decade-plus of its affiliation, is a 2016 NCAA rules modification which was designed to help the 10-team Big 12, and the fact that ACC football is 14 teams strong.
The standing NCAA rule stated: “FBS conferences must have at least 12 members, and championship games must be between the winners of two divisions within the conference. Each division must play a round-robin schedule during the regular season in order to hold a championship game.”
But the modification in 2016 for the Big 12 with less than the minimum 12 member schools allowed for: “Conferences with fewer than 12 members to hold championship games as long as they meet one of two conditions: Either play their championship game between division winners after round-robin competition in each division or between the top two teams in the conference standings following full round-robin, regular-season competition between all members of the conference.
The ACC is stuck in between the two rules so we have the Atlantic and the Coastal conundrum in which Clemson (and previously Florida State) dominates one side, and each team has won the division on the other side over the last seven seasons, or since the ‘Cuse joined the league in 2013.
The imbalance also creates so few games against old rivals the Hurricanes and Hokies, for example, not to mention new ones developing against the likes of Virginia and Duke, barely making it feel as though they are even conference brethren.
The solution is to change the rules so that a new scheduling format allows for each ACC team to play one another over a three-year period in one 14-team division, with the top two teams in the standings meeting in the conference championship game as in the 2016 modification. In other words, why can’t 10 expand to 14, even with each team not playing one another in the same season, but over two seasons.
The format would have each team always playing three annual “rivals.” In the case for Syracuse it’s B.C., Louisville and Pitt that make the most sense geographically and/or from Big East days. The other five conference games would rotate each year.
Below is simply an example (SU would have to play at Duke two straight times) of how the format could work using the current crossover opponents over the next two seasons, but there could be flexibility in how those eventual five-team pairings are constructed.
Flipping the home/away locations with the five-team pairings in 2022 and 2023 would ensure that every four seasons there would be home/away games for the Orange program against every ACC rival.
That’s a truer sense of a conference, even with a robust 14 schools.