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How ACC football would be affected by a nine-game conference schedule

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A look at the different ways a nine-game conference schedule may shape the ACC.

NCAA Football: South Carolina State at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, grumblings of a nine-game ACC conference football schedule reared its head and was shot down amongst coaches. Larry Fedora and other ACC coaches were amongst those who opposed this new idea. Luckily for them, ADs delayed voting on the format last Friday, and will instead vote in the coming fall.

The reason the idea is even being proposed is because of the new ACC Network deal. Basketball has already changed their format to a 20-game conference schedule, and a change for football looks like it will be next. Let’s be honest, the idea is being proposed because of money. More exposure means more competitive ACC games to bring in more money.

There are actually two different ideas being thrown around. The first idea is to implement a new nine-game conference schedule. The second idea is to create what is being called an “8-2 format.” What this 8-2 format suggests is that teams play eight conference games, and two more games against Power 5 opponents.

The reason coaches favor an 8-2 format is because it enables more flexibility in terms of scheduling. The problem with an 8-2 format is the same reason coaches favor it, the ability to schedule two Power 5 opponents. This is especially problematic for the lesser-known teams who may have trouble finding opponents to schedule.

Let’s now look at the problem at hand, a nine-game conference schedule. The idea of nine conference games is something that every Power 5 conference is doing, aside from the ACC and SEC. So why is it a good thing? Well, the idea of playing nine conference games allows for more cross divisional match ups, which in theory could create more rivalries. It will allow match ups that otherwise wouldn’t have occurred, or would have occurred every five years. Also, the thought is that these cross match ups will help make the conference feel whole again, instead of feeling like two separate divisions.

So why is a nine-game conference schedule a bad thing? The idea can be spun in a negative light due to the Notre Dame factor. When Notre Dame is on your schedule it doesn’t count as an ACC game even though they are/aren’t/sometimes/maybe/sorta are, but only for their benefit when they want to be apart of the ACC. Basically, teams will have to play nine conference games, and then Notre Dame, leaving them with only two games to schedule.

This doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, right? Let’s consider the implications for schools with non-conference rivals. This causes an even bigger problem for schools that have a rivalry set up with a team in the SEC, such as Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, and Georgia Tech. This means, for those schools, they get nine games, plus Notre Dame, plus one of the school’s scheduled SEC rival games. Essentially, after you factor in Notre Dame and a non-conference rival game, you only have one game to schedule for yourself. It really takes away from the flexibility of creating non-conference schedules.

Let’s counter this point with a different argument. Stating that playing a nine-game conference schedule inhibits teams from being able to play Power 5 teams isn’t the strongest argument. There are examples of Power 5 teams who play nine-game conference schedules and can still manage to play tough opponents. USC plays a nine-game schedule and still managed to schedule games against Alabama and Notre Dame. Texas is able to schedule games against Notre Dame and Cal. Oklahoma is able to schedule games against Houston (not Power 5 but still a legitimate team) and Ohio State. However, none of these schools mentioned play a nine-game conference schedule plus a locked in date with Notre Dame. Still, for ACC teams, this scenario won’t occur every year, so the above argument still holds true for the majority of circumstances.

Another argument against the nine-game conference schedule is that the perception of the ACC as a whole, when it comes to football, is that it isn’t an elite conference. So, for teams that want to prove themselves against other Power 5 teams, this isn’t ideal. It forces them to not only lose a game against a Power 5 team from another conference, but it also forces them to pick up a game against a weaker opponent, in critics’ minds.

To counter this argument, I would say look at the teams listed above who still managed to schedule tough opponents. I get that the more dominant teams such as Clemson and Florida State do not want to have to play a lesser team from the ACC such as Boston College or Wake Forest. You then have to ask the question, “who are they going to replace that game with instead?” Clemson plays Troy, while Florida State plays Charleston Southern and USF. Surely replacing one of these teams with even the worst ACC team is still a step in the positive direction in terms of strength of schedule.

Some fans may argue that replacing an FCS school with an ACC school will hurt FCS programs (right, like the big schools really care about the well being of FCS schools). Nonetheless, I’ve seen fans say, “FCS schools need the bigger schools to play them to make money and continue their program.” I get that, but if the Florida States and Clemsons of the world want to make an argument about being forced to play inferior ACC teams, we must counter that with facts and reality about their current football schedules. Plus, why do teams even need to play glorified bye week games against FCS schools? The Big Ten recently came out saying that they are getting rid of FCS schools on their schedule, and I think all conferences should do the same. Season ticket holders don’t want to watch their programs play drastically inferior teams; they want to watch exciting and meaningful football. The schools and networks want to see this too, as it brings in more revenue when their schools are playing more brand name opponents. In the end, more competition means everybody wins.

Another argument that people are making is that adding a 9th conference game will allow schools to schedule three cupcakes for their remaining games. People are worried that adding a 9th conference game will take away from the non-conference showdowns that occur between conferences, aka the reason you will be glued to your TV the first weekend of college football.

Coach Larry Fedora backed up this argument by saying that he wouldn’t have wanted to play against Georgia in the opening game if he knew they had to play nine conference games. I am not really sure why that argument has to even be made. The only thing I am seeing is that he would have wanted to water-down the schedule with a lesser opponent because he knew they would be guaranteed to play another ACC school? That just doesn’t make sense to me in a time where strength of schedule matters so much. That is probably why North Carolina didn’t even crack the top-10 in national rankings until week 14, because they played teams like NC A&T and Delaware in the beginning of the season. However, the committee still views strong schedules with a blemish over an undefeated schedule against a bunch of bottom-shelf opponents. That is why I don’t think the new nine-game conference setup will cause teams to schedule more cupcakes and take away from cross conference slugfests.

Yes the nine-game conference schedule would mean more games involving lesser-tier opponents facing off such as Wake Forest vs. Duke but that happens when expanding to more conference games. It is an inevitable consequence. Another inevitable consequence is seeing match ups like Clemson and Florida State against North Carolina (more often than every five years), and the all-orange matchup of Clemson vs. Miami.

At the end of the day, this is where the college football landscape is shifting. The ACC will most likely follow suit due to the ACC network deal. Things are changing, that’s just how it goes. There are pros and cons to each argument. What do you think of the possible new nine-game conference schedule, Tar Heel fans? Is it a good thing or is it a bad thing?