Orange Watch: Time for ACC football to eliminate the two division format

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Sep 11, 2021; Syracuse, New York, USA; Rutgers Scarlet Knights quarterback Noah Vedral (0) is sacked by Syracuse Orange defensive lineman Cody Roscoe (18) during the second quarter at the Carrier Dome. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Item: The Alliance, comprising the ACC, Big Ten and Pac 12 conferences, is eyeing a more even distribution of teams that reach the current four team College Football Playoff, which has been dominated by the SEC. In fact, only three non-SEC schools, Clemson (ACC), Ohio State (Big Ten), and Oregon (Pac-12) have won CFP games since its debut in 2014. With the Big Ten considering the elimination of its East/West divisions to produce more competitive balance and opportunity for its conference teams to reach the CFP, it’s time for the ACC to follow suit. Let’s say goodbye to the Atlantic/Coastal, and have the top two teams in the final standings play in the conference championship game.

The ACC held its winter meetings in Fort Lauderdale last week, and one of the dozen or so major topics on the agenda was the future look of football. More specifically if the league is going to retain the two-division format, or expedite an appeal to the NCAA to alter its rule that requires separate divisions for conferences with 12 or more teams to hold a championship game.

During the pandemic-affected 2020 season, the Atlantic and Coastal divisions went into hibernation for a year as Notre Dame became a one-time 15th conference member, and the top two teams in the standings, the Fighting Irish and Clemson, played for the league title in Charlotte. Everything worked out producing a titlist in a trying season of postponements, as each conference team had 10 scheduled ACC games.

When commissioner Jim Phillips told the media last month that he and the league’s coaches were dead set against near-term expansion of the College Football Playoff from the current four teams to as many as 12 participants. Phillips is preaching to wait until after the current media rights deal with ESPN expires after the 2025 season, and his thinking makes sense.

Coming off of two seasons impacted by players missing games due to COVID-19 protocols, injuries and academic issues that have always been part of the sport, and with the proliferation of the transfer portal turning college football into a mini version of the NFL with instant free agency, coaches have plenty of worries about fielding teams with 85 scholarship players playing 12 games, let alone between 13 and 15 in a season.

CFP expansion would likely mean up to three post season games, and the coaches want a tradeoff, such as expanding to 90 the number of scholarship players on a roster.
Back to the regular season scheduling component. Besides eliminating divisions and having one 14 team race to the two championship game slots, there is also the issue of formatting a regular season schedule that maintains competitive balance over 12 games. The goal is to give teams the best shot at reaching the top of the standings with the conference champion eyeing the CFP, and for all teams a minimum goal to reach six victories and a bowl game.

Ten of the ACC’s 14 teams made bowls last season, and Syracuse and Florida State missed by one win of making it 12 of 14.

There are two big questions to the ACC schedule; play eight or nine conference games each year, and what is the rotation of playing each of the other 13 teams?

Due to the fact that four teams, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Louisville traditionally play SEC teams to close out the season, the likelihood is eight ACC games.

As to an ACC format, the 3-5-5 model works best. Play three teams annually (for SU that’s former Big East rivals B.C., Louisville, and Pittsburgh), then five teams at home, five teams away in alternate seasons. That would guarantee the likes of Miami, scheduled to be at the Dome in 2024, playing in Syracuse every four years instead of the current once-in-every 12 seasons.

» Related: 2022 Syracuse football schedule too unbalanced

For Syracuse in addition to eight ACC games, an ideal non-conference schedule in our opinion would include an annual game against Rutgers, fulfilling the desire of the Alliance to schedule games between ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 teams.

In addition, games should be contracted against other Eastern teams such as Connecticut (already set for 2022, 2025, 2026, and 2027), Army (set for 2023, 2024, 2025, and 2026) and perhaps from the likes of Massachusetts (Independent) and Buffalo (MAC). Ideally, eliminate any future FCS matchups which currently have Wagner (2022), Colgate (2023), New Hampshire (2026), and Morgan State (2029) coming to the Dome, but that’s a tough sell.

The 2025 schedule is the prototype. The non-conference games are against Tennessee (in Atlanta), UConn and Army in the Dome, at Notre Dame, plus the eight ACC games still to be determined. Hopefully, that’s minus the Atlantic and Coastal divisions.

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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.