Now that the ACC GOR has pretty much put an end to speculation about the ACC's future member lineup, it's time for the ACC to put all it's focus on maximizing revenue and improving its football brand. One of the most daunting tasks ahead of the ACC is improving on the current divisional allignment.
For FSU fans, divisional allignment usually revolves around one issue...the Georgia Tech game. It has never sit right with Noles that it rarely plays it's closest geographic rival, and the series had produced a lot of memorable moments prior to the divisional allignment. And some since.
But the FSU-GT situation is not THE problem, it's only a symbol of the problem. The current 14-team ACC allignment simply mandates too many sub-par or unappealing matchups be played every year, and too many valuable matchups to take place twice every twelve years. FSU-GT is the most visible to us, but it affects everyone.
Here are some of the matches that the ACC gets EVERY SINGLE YEAR:
Now, that's not to say none of those will be good games, or that they will never be important games. All I'm saying is that there are at least 20 games that don't match up traditional opponents, close geographic partners, or traditional football powers. The ACC has too many games that are played every year that don't move the needle for fans or TV.
To make it worse, these are games that we will now see only twice every 12 years:
Clemson-VT (Big Game)
Clemson-Miami (Big Game)
Clemson-UNC (History/Potential Big Game/Geography)
FSU - GT (History/Geography/Potential Big Game)
FSU - UNC (Potential Big Game)
FSU - VT (Big Game)
Louisville - VT (Geography. Potential Big Game)
Louisville - Pitt (History)
Louisville - UNC (Geography, Potential Big Game)
NCSU - Duke (Geography)
SU - VT (History)
SU - Miami (History)
WF - UNC (History, Geography)
Now, you can take issue with how I've qualified them, and you could make the case that some games on the first list are the equal of games on the second list. That's not the point...even if the games are equal value, it just isn't justifiable to play one every year, and another twice a decade.
Obviously, the SEC has the same mathematical problem, but it's not as bad due to the tight geographic nature of the conference and the fact that for the most part, even if you are "missing" a big game (Georgia-Alabama) it's replacement is often pretty darn good (UGA-USC). While some exist of course, there are just many fewer matchups that can't be justified by history, geography or Big Game potential. And the SEC isn't trying to improve it's football or increase it's appeal or drive up attendance like the ACC is.
So what is the solution? None that are a no-brainer. Here are the ones that I sometimes think about or hear discussed, with the pros/cons as I see them:
A) Switch GT and Louisville
Pros: Makes FSU fans happy
Cons: Does nothing for anyone else, possibly including GT who don't seem to care as much as we do. Doesn't solve the main problem at all.
2) Go to a 9-game conference schedule
Pros: Would allow the cross-division games to cycle through twice as quickly. B1G and PAC, two pretty well-run conferences, go this way.
Cons: Losing a home game is financially devastating for schools like FSU and Clemson, who the ACC needs to be in top form. Virtually impossible to accomodate any premier OOC games because four schools have untouchable OOC rivals, and five will be committed to play ND every year. The SEC, the most successful conference, has resisted this for a reason.
D) Go to a straight up North/South allignment
Pros: Hits a much higher percentage of geographically-attractive matchups, which is important for an attendance-challenged conference. Creates more "Big Games" in the South division. The B1G decided to go this way, after initially trying ACC-style divisions, even at the expense of balance.
Cons: Potentially woefully unbalanced, with the bulk of the ACC's modern national champs and traditional football schools and recruiting powers in the south. Would severely cut back the desparately needed exposure of the North schools to the recruiting hotbeds of the South.
Raycom) Go straight up North/South, eliminate the crossover game
Pros: Same as above, plus cycle through the opposite division twice as fast
Cons: Same as above, although the Southern exposure aspect could be slightly improved with two rotating crossover games
Chad Swofford) Expand with two more teams (UCONN/CINCI), set up pod scheduling
Pros: We could limit the "must play" games to three per school, which could cycle through the matchups much, much faster. Even adding two more "unnattractive" opponents, pod scheduling would not necessarilly mean schedules get worse. Conference semifinals at home stadiums could generate $. If the ACC Network can get coverage in every state, could add revenue.
Cons: Never been done successfully. Would need NCAA rules changes to do it (and probably wouldn't get support from other conferences stuck below 16). Would likely add two more football also-rans, something the ACC already has a corner on. Unless the ACC Network is successful beyond any reasonable projections, or ESPN REALLY gets behind this plan, difficult to see how adding two programs of this stature doesn't reduce per-team payout.
As you can see, none of these are a slam dunk. So, ACC big brains (that is what this conference is supposed to be known for, right?) there has to be a way that works better than this.
Perhaps, it is time to think well outside the box. Despite Swofford's recent triumphs, the ACC has never shown itself to be a thought leader in college football, basically chasing divisional allignment and conference networks only after the trail had been blazed.
Maybe this is the time. Maybe Tomahawk Nation is where it starts. Let's talk about some creative solutions, or variations on the options I've listed.