Around the time that the ACC football schedule was being announced, Mack Brown had some choice words for a schedule that had Carolina ending their season at home against Duke, going to Clemson, then going to NC State. In fact, he called it “unfair” to have stacked their schedule to that degree.
Since then, Carolina and Brown has focused on spring practices and doing what they can to get the likes of Josh Downs and others drafted. On Monday, Brown was invited on The Adam Gold Show to talk about some of these things. Gold got Brown to talk about most of the hot button issues — NIL, recruiting, and so on — and then ended the interview with a simple question: do you like the new division less format?
Mack Brown definitely does not.
Brown spends the next couple of minutes talking about how he had vocally gone against the division less format, and then segued into how he didn’t like how the schedule was done for his team. The common theme? Television. The lack of divisions format is because the ACC needs a way to satisfy its TV partners and try to make more money, and the way the schedule was unfairly set up was solely due to television.
It’s a little disconcerting to hear a coach so vehemently talk about how bad their schedule was set up, without even a hint of trying to defer so that it doesn’t at least sound like he’s not trashing his own squad, That said, at Mack’s age and the fact he has already come out of retirement once, he’s clearly in the mode where he really doesn’t fully care how it sounds. Maybe he’s planting the seed now so the team has their full attention from game one, maybe he really is that upset that his voice was rendered so mute in trying to give his team a better schedule to win games on.
Either way, one thing he’s absolutely right about is that the schedule format changes are because of television. It sounds absurd on the surface as to why the ACC would even care, but for an answer you have to look back at the NFL draft this past weekend.
Actually, you start by looking at this one tweet
Next up: The 2024 NFL Draft is in Detroit, April 25-27.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 29, 2023
Let the Caleb Williams and Drake Maye hype begin.
Yes, Drake Maye was part of a huge shadow cast over the entire proceeding in Kansas City this weekend. Chatter leading up to this draft was how none of the quarterbacks taken were better than Williams and Maye, and there is nothing sport talk shows love more than a good debate.
It doesn’t exactly hurt ESPN that they also show the NFL Draft, and the viewership of that draft...isn’t exactly small:
2023 @NFLDraft Viewership— NFL Media (@NFLMedia) May 1, 2023
*Total unduplicated audience of 54.4 million viewers for 3-day event
*6.0 million viewers (TV+Digital) over 3 days across all networks & digital channels
*Each day up in AMA vs. 2022
*312K fans attended in KC
Release: https://t.co/U0vA85sII9 pic.twitter.com/lH2r3xV6d7
Even with NBA and NHL playoffs going on, people will tune into primetime Thursday Night coverage to see who goes where. This year, ratings were up for the NFL Draft because there was some intrigue about what quarterbacks were going to go where. Thus, next year, when you are setting up a real “battle” over who should be number one, it sets up even more viewership.
So now we know the first part: the NFL draft brings viewers. But the great part for ESPN is that they have exclusive rights to one of the players, Drake Maye. They have a shared agreement with the Pac 12 for Caleb Williams and USC, but they’ll have to battle with Fox over the times to watch. But with Maye, they get to show every one of his games, and get to critique all of his tape as the debate builds. What better way to get that debate to its dizzying heights than showing Maye off in the month of November, a time when ratings matter the most?
There’s another TV factor at work here: the SEC and the Big 10.
You’re painfully aware of the new deals that both of the conferences have signed that will eventually crush the ACC in terms of money being paid out. What you may not realize is that the deals don’t start at the same time. The new SEC deal starts in 2024, while the new Big 10 deal starts this season. That means that for this season only, ESPN/ABC not only can’t show a single Big 10 game, they also can’t put an SEC game on ESPN/ABC at 3:30. They also can’t they put an SEC game on in prime time on ABC.
In other words, ESPN is short on actual games they can put in the spotlight for this season only.
Thus, they look at the one power conference they have total control over, the ACC, and want to try to maximize it in every single way that they can. They see a conference where Clemson is always a threat to go to the CFP, Florida State is rising, and North Carolina has the potential top NFL draft pick under center.
So when you put all that together, it was inevitable that Carolina was going to get this treatment. You get a November schedule that guarantees an air show against Duke, a spotlight game of the potential top draft pick against the king of the conference, and the traditional rival that has seen two straight games that have come down to the final play. It makes for great television, and with the ACC looking to do anything they can to get more money for their product, they were going to happily bend to the will of ESPN.
It should be noted that if you want to play in the rarified air of college football, you’re going to find your schedule is dictated by TV more than anything. I mean, I’m sure it’s just coincidence that Alabama vs. LSU has been in November the last few years. Thus, Mack’s complaining of said schedule does ring a little hollow. You want to be a program that ESPN moves heaven and Earth to schedule in prime time as much as possible, and they’ve set you up to do so.
Like it or not, Drake Maye is going to put Carolina front and center a lot on ESPN and ABC next season. Due to the combination of ESPN’s lack of inventory and desire to drive the NFL Draft conversation, they are going to take any chance they can to talk up Maye. It’s going to be on Maye and the Tar Heels to take advantage.