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How Should the ACC Align Divisions In the Future?

There's always a lot of talk amongst FSU fans about divisional realignment in the ACC. The two principal reasons for desiring realignment seem to be: (a) frustration that FSU rarely plays natural geographic rival Georgia Tech and likely will play them even less when the conference has 14 teams; and (b) distaste for traveling and/or playing in the more northern cities of the ACC.

With the impending departure of Maryland, and no credible rumors that anyone, including FSU, will be leaving, perhaps it is again time to revisit divisional realignment.

There are three possible, feasible paths that I see.

Path 1 is that the ACC sticks with the "zipper" format that mixes teams geographically while providing each team with a natural cross-over rivalry that is played every year.

Path 2 is the zipper format again, but instead of having crossover rivals, the ACC makes sure any natural rivals are paired together and fills in with anyone that doesn't have a big rival in the conference.

Path 3 is a geographic alignment. The southern teams would go in one division, and the northern teams would go in another division. One unlucky team from North Carolina (cough, Wake Forest) would be placed with the northern teams while the other NC schools go to the South Division. There would be no annual regular crossover rivals.

What would work best? More importantly, which is actually feasible? I think Path 1 - pretty much the set-up we have now - for reasons set forth below.

First, however, let me start with Path 3. Path 3's pure geographic alignment is typically the one preferred by FSU fans. Again, FSU fans don't seem to feel like they share much with the northern teams, and there isn't a lot of love for traveling up north for away games (or playing Boston in November).

The biggest problem with a pure geographic alignment, the reason it does not exist now, and the reason it likely would not be approved by a vote, is that the northern teams likely will hate it. Where are the recruits? I strongly believe that every coach of a northern team would tell you that they need that annual game against a Florida team. It helps them recruit. Yes, they would get two crossover games against southern teams in this alignment, but because of expansion they could go several years without ever playing in Florida, and there's no way for them to guarantee parents in any southern state that their recruit son will be playing against a particular school. Coaches want to be able to tell parents that their kids will play at least twice in Florida during their four years, plus maybe in North Carolina and maybe in Georgia, too.

The second problem is competitive balance. I'm not sure it would be that bad, but there would be some questions about whether the South Division would be a little loaded.

The final problem with a purely geographic alignment is that it basically turns the ACC into a scheduling arrangement between separate regional conferences. There is a concern - how legitimate, I don't know - that it could destabilize the conference if everyone retreats to their own corner of the country and doesn't feel any connection to or rivalry with northern or southern teams.

At any rate, I do not see a pure geographic alignment getting approved primarily because northern teams won't go for it. If it hasn't happened by now, it isn't likely going to happen.

For the same reason, Path 2, which is a non-geographic alignment with no crossover rivalry, is unlikely to ever work. It would require FSU and Miami to either be in the same division or give up their annual rivalry. The former won't be approved by the northern teams, and the latter would be stupid and unnecessary. Path 2 just creates an unnecessary mess and won't happen.

That leaves Path 1, which is essentially what we have now. I believe the basic set-up we have now will continue. But that does not mean the zipper + crossover rival set-up can't be tweaked to make it better and perhaps satisfy competing demands. Virginia will be losing their cross-over rival Maryland. I hope that of Louisville or UConn, the ACC would select Louisville. There is an opportunity to tweak things without altering the basic format the league follows.

Here is the divisional alignment I would propose:

Atlantic
FSU
Clemson
Georgia Tech
Virginia
Louisville*
Boston College
Duke

Coastal
Pittsburgh
Miami
NC State
Wake Forest
Virginia Tech
Syracuse
North Carolina

* I'm assuming the ACC would choose Louisville to replace Maryland. If the ACC were to select UConn, put Syracuse in the Atlantic and UConn in the Coastal. Some of the crossover rivalries would have to change. Let's hope the ACC would take Louisville over UConn.

Crossover Rivalries:
FSU-Miami
Clemson-NC State
Georgia Tech-Wake Forest
Virginia-Virginia Tech
Louisville-Pittsburgh
Boston College-Syracuse
Duke-North Carolina

I believe such an alignment would fit with the desire to give northern teams their access to Florida and the South, would preserve rivalries, would be fairly balanced, and it would let FSU and Georgia Tech finally play each other on a regular basis (plus another annual game against a program that takes football seriously in Louisville). There could, of course, be some shifting on the margins.

I'm not saying that the Atlantic Division I propose would be a dream for FSU fans. But I do believe it is better than what presently exists and, perhaps more importantly, I think it could actually get approved by a vote of the members. Would there be some ACC member that might complain? Perhaps, but I don't know who would do it.

What does everyone else think? If not your ideal alignment, do you think this one would be better? Do you think anyone would have any legitimate complaints? See any flaws that I failed to address?

[Update: As noted by Invictus13, I didn't adequately account for the UVA-UNC rivalry, and the more I think about it, the more I think that would be a very tough sell to end on an annual basis. The ACC old guard would probably consider it sacrilegious. Therefore, it probably would be more feasible to switch UVA and Wake Forest in the division alignment described above, with Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech and Wake Forest-Virginia crossovers.]

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