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Changing Divisions: How the ACC can improve its football product

How can the ACC improve its football product without adding more teams?

NCAA Football: ACC Media Days Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Eight years ago the ACC expanded and split its teams into two equal divisions with the goal of having Miami against Florida State play in the ACC Championship Game for an annual ratings boon. A year or two later it was becoming increasingly clear that would not happen. Miami has continued to flounder, winning their division just once in the seven attempts and Florida State has been up and down, both winning a national title and looking like they did not practice just a few short years later. While it’s possible that Miami finds success under Manny Diaz and begins to dominate their division it does not seem likely. Also, the Atlantic is clearly the stronger division as Clemson, Florida State and Louisville have shown to be the strongest football programs in the conference.

While the Coastal is a fun division because a different team has won the division each of the last seven years and there is always the possibility that every team in the division finishes with the same record, the ACC Championship Game is largely an after thought. The Atlantic winner has won the ACC the last nine years and that’s being a bit generous. It’s largely been Clemson winning it with Florida State having a mini run. However, none of those games were interesting. The games are not typically close either and there does not seem reason to believe the gap will be closing any time soon.

How does this get resolved? The ACC could wait around and hope that a team or two figures things out and starts to become a Coastal power and both FSU and Louisville get out of their own way to challenge Clemson for the Atlantic on a yearly basis. However, who are the candidates in the Coastal that can challenge Clemson in the next few years? North Carolina and Virginia seem the most poised at this point to do so but the gap between dominating the Coastal and winning the ACC seems quite large.


The ACC could be very forward thinking, ditch the divisional format and go to pods. Pods would be a great idea because scheduling becomes more easy and predictable. Basically you’d play your pod every year and then rotate through what pods you play year by year. The ensures a home and away every four years if the pod rotation is consistent. The problem is that the ACC only has 14 football members so the ACC would have to add two members or convince Notre Dame to be a full time football member and find another school and neither seems likely.

No Divisions

The ACC could easily abolish divisions and put all 14 teams in one big pot. The scheduling in this set up is actually pretty easy. Each team would have a consistent rival they’d play every year and would rotate between the other 12 teams in the conference. In year one they’d play a group of six teams and the next they’d play the other six teams. This would ensure a home and away visit for every team in a four year window.

The final opponent (teams play eight conference games) could come from a second rival or a random draw, similar to how the NBA builds schedules. The ACC could even put this decision on TV or a stream platform similar to the NBA’s pick of draft lottery positions.

This format creates a pretty consistent schedule to help teams know who is on their schedule years in advance if not when they play on the schedule. The downside to this is that teams would miss out on some marquee games every year. For example, Florida State would likely be rivals with Miami so would miss out on both Clemson and Louisville two out of four years. All of those games could be ratings boosters assuming those teams begin to operate in a more efficient manner.

Reconfigure the Divisions

This is actually easier than it might seem on first blush. All the ACC has to do is swap Florida State and Pitt. Here’s what those divisions would look like with their permanent cross divisional rivals next them:

Atlantic Coastal
Clemson Florida State
Lousiville Miami
Wake Forest Georgia Tech
Boston College Virginia
Pitt Virginia Tech
Syracuse Duke
NC State North Carolina

There are two obvious power players, from a program potential perspective, in each division with Florida State and Miami on one side and Clemson and Louisville on the other. Both divisions also have dangerous teams that might be able to make strong runs or capture big wins against higher rated division mates in Virginia, Virginia Tech, NC State and Pitt.

This set up also maintains rivalry games between in state schools like the Virginia schools and Duke and North Carolina. Further, it keeps the northern schools playing one another which might help grow rivalries due to their geographical proximity. Virginia Tech gets to keep playing old Big East rivals Miami and Pitt. Louisville being a cross division rival with Miami feels like it’s a rivalry game waiting to happen.

There might be some negatives to this. At one time Clemson and Georgia Tech were rivals, which is why they are current cross division rivals, but that rivalry would not likely be rekindled with this set up. It would be nice for all of the North Carolina schools to play each other on a yearly basis but it doesn’t seem that that is likely and that doesn’t currently happen anyways.

Why this won’t happen

It’s been eight years since the ACC created the Atlantic and Coastal divisions so maybe changes should not be made so quickly. It’s certainly possible that the current state of the ACC is temporary and maybe Miami, North Carolina and one of the Virginia schools will change the perception of the Coastal. Maybe Clemson comes back to earth and Florida State and Louisville begin to operate at a higher level making the Atlantic more chaotic.

While this certainly affects other sports the same philosophies that currently govern scheduling could be applied to this format. Again, this is just swapping two teams and changing some cross divisional rivals.

Finally, is there really a need for this? So what if the Atlantic has dominated the ACC championship. Aren’t the same teams just as likely to do so going forward? Frankly, the ACC is Clemson’s to lose for the foreseeable future in football and reorganizing the teams isn’t likely to change that.