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Should the ACC eliminate divisions in football?

Changes could be coming.

NCAA Football: ACC Kickoff Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

There could be a shakeup to how the ACC determines its champion.

According to Pete Thamel of ESPN, discussions at ACC Spring Meetings will include making changes to intraconference scheduling — of which could be eliminating divisions completely “as early as 2023.”

Let’s break it down.

What’s the thought behind it?

The ACC’s football brand, to put it nicely, has become stagnant. While Clemson has basically carried the torch as the conference’s big name since 2017, its falloff in 2021 exposed the rot in the floorboards. The conference went 2-6 in bowl games, had only 4 teams win more than 7 games, and was 6-16 against in non-conference matchups.

Shaking up the structure of the conference has been a discussion we’ve been having for a while: here’s what we wrote in 2020:

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.

*editor’s note: it didn’t happen.

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 afterthought. 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.

What’s the benefit?

What are the negatives? You’d be hard-pressed to find a reason not to do it. You get better schedule diversity, more appealing matchups, a better way of identifying the top two teams in the conference — and all of those things make the ACC more money.

How would it work?

The conference is reportedly considering multiple plans, two of which Thamel reported on:

One model being discussed is each football program having three permanent opponents – but not necessarily pods of 3 — and the other five programs rotating on and off the schedule every other year.

There’s also a potential model with 2 permanent opponents and 6 teams rotating on and off, in the same manner. These models would allow every ACC team to host every other ACC team every four years. This would bring more variety to the schedule.

From our article in 2020, here’s two other proposals:

Pods

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 if there isn’t a second rival added, 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.