Tuesday, November 1, 2011

sixteen what if

I told myself I was gonna save this one for when sixteen teams actually happened.  But I can't help myself, for one thing.  I have too much fun with this stuff.  For another, I figured I'd better line up my legion of supporters early so that when Notre Dame and UConn are finally added to the ACC, whether it's next month or in 2020, I can get my way with the scheduling.

Yes, this is another scheduling proposition.  Like I said yesterday, I kind of want to go to 16 teams because I figure it would actually help my #1 gripe about conference size (that we hardly ever play our traditional games any more.)  But it would only help if they did it right.  They could set up the schedule in such a way as to really cheese me off.  And like I also said yesterday, it's like playoff proposals: lots of people want their idea and many will find themselves tremendously let down by reality.  I'm sure this is similar.  So I don't really expect that the world will cleave perfectly to my expectations.  But I can try.

So: this is an imaginary 16-team ACC.  I've been saying ever since Nebraska joined the Big Ten that they're basically done expanding unless they can get Notre Dame; I'm now leaning that direction with the ACC.  Do you expand to 16 teams to get UConn and Rutgers?  I don't think you do.  Maybe, but I don't think so.  UConn and Navy?  UConn and Louisville?  No, no, and no.  Notre Dame?  Yes, the ACC would do that.  And I no longer think it's crazy.  The Big East is a tottering wreck of a mid-major come 2014, whether or not it succeeds in adding the absurd hodgepodge of schools that it invited today.  The BCS rules are due for a rewrite, and Notre Dame's clout in keeping a single clause for itself is going to dwindle.  So in this future world we're imagining, the ACC will add Notre Dame and Connecticut, and here are the pods I've dreamed up:

Here's the major key: You see that there are four geographical pods, which are the basis for scheduling.  However, the "protected rivalry" concept, instead of disappearing, is actually extended; each team has a protected rival in each of the three other pods.  This is how you keep rivalries together. That creates a sort of second pod, which I just labeled with colors for lack of a better idea.

The concept is simple, really: each year you play the teams in your own pod for three games, your protected rivals for three games, and all the other teams in another pod to add up to nine.  Nine games is the direction the conference is going anyway; with 16 teams, it would be a lock.

Since the NCAA, as a condition of holding a CCG, requires the conferences to be split into two divisions that play a round-robin schedule, this fits perfectly.  A division is simply the two pods that play each other that year.  In one year, the Northern pod might be paired with the Central pod; the next year, it pairs with the Tobacco Road pod; the following year, the Southern pod, and then back to the beginning.

This creates a six-year cycle of games, in which you play the same six teams every year and each other team, once every three years.  In this way, we actually improve on the twice-every-six-years format we have now, where you go four full years between games against someone.  This way, we reduce that to three.  Let me illustrate with a helmet schedule type thing yet again; this is what UVA's schedule cycle might look like if we inaugurated this next year:

Color helmets are home games, black and white helmets are road games.

I seriously would be happy playing this schedule in perpetuity, for what it's worth.

The neat part is that I think I've managed not only to preserve every rivalry worth preserving, but created some that some of these schools would like to have.  Here's the list - have I missed any?

UVA vs. VT, Maryland, and UNC
GT vs. Clemson
FSU vs. Miami
All the North Carolina teams vs. each other
ND vs. BC and Pitt
BC vs. Miami and UConn

It also gives Maryland the rivalry they want with Pitt (at least, I'm pretty sure they do.)  BC and Syracuse has some potential.  It may even be possible to shuffle that a bit and turn the Rudy Game (ND vs. GT) or Catholics vs. Convicts into a yearly thing as well (though I haven't tried and I'm not going to.)

The primary disadvantage that I can think of is this: I can't say with 100% certainty that teams will not have schedules that give them five home in consecutive years and/or five away games in consecutive years.  ADs will not go for that.  I'd like to say that they get paid half a million bucks a year to deal with and schedule around situations like that, but they will deal with it by making it not happen that way.  I think there is a way to make it happen so that everyone alternates five home and five away like they probably should, but I don't have time to sit and fiddle until it does.  Sharp eyes will notice in the helmet schedule above that UVA would make three trips to Northern pod teams in the first year of the rotation, and then three trips south the next year.  Can that be avoided?  Probably.  I'm not gonna re-futz with everything til it is, though.  The cows would come home first. 

If somebody actually in a position to make this happen asks me to really make it work, I'll make it work.  (Nobody's ever asked me to present my awesome playoff idea to the power brokers, though, so I'm not holding my breath.)  The point really is that there's a simple and elegant way to make a 16-team conference schedule really fly so that rivalries, traditional games, AND competitive balance are all maintained.  I flatter myself, in fact, that's it's too elegant.  Self-interest being what it is, what really will happen is that the ADs will get together in a room and people will clamor to always be playing in Florida and so-and-so will want to start a rivalry with such-and-such or the TV people will demand teams X and Y always play or somebody will get huffy about too much travel.  And they'll hammer out something that either they're all happy with and we hate, or they all hate and we hate, and either way we'll suck it up and complain and still not have a vote.

I'll say this, though.  16-team conferences have been tried, and it failed.  When there aren't sufficient ties between the various teams in the conference, some of them will peace out.  That's why we have the Mountain West; the 16-team WAC was unworkable.  And it's why the Big East is being methodically torn apart.  A great way to ensure that ties between the various teams in a 16-team ACC are weak enough to eventually dissolve is to A) ignore traditional rivalries, 2) have them play each other roughly once a decade, and D) be both under- and over-reliant on geography.  This plan does none of those things.  Everyone gets to go to Florida.  Everyone plays everyone, and everyone especially plays who they'd want to.  And oh yeah - if the landscape shifts in this direction such that it's kosher by the NCAA, you could even have a four-team conference playoff.  I think I just heard a cash register going off inside John Swofford's head.


Anonymous said...

just one problem- this doesn't have us playing miami nearly enough... gotta beat the U more than once every three years!

Anonymous said...

just one problem- this doesn't have us playing miami nearly enough... gotta beat the U more than once every three years!

otherwise, it looks great. and for the sake of exams, how do you figure out who plays in the single acc championship game?

Brendan said...

It'd be nice not to lose what might be an interesting budding rivalry with Miami, but I think I'd rather play GT every year, and UVA probably has more rivalry demands than any other team. We have three; most other teams in the ACC have their rivalries outside the conference, or they simply don't have as many.

The ACCCG participants are the same as now: division winners. Divisions are formed by the pairing of two pods each year, which rotates.

Anonymous said...

doesn't make for a very easy, clear-cut winner of division and that'd be hard to put on a banner. i think a permanent blue/red & white/gold might make more sense. just call them atlantic and coastal, then make it a permanent blue/red subdivisions/pods that make up the division.

more important question, under your system, what do the champion banners look like?

Anonymous said...

I like the way you are thinking, Old Virginia, especially the idea of respecting regional connections but allowing regular cross-fertilization, which is important for recruiting and conference identity. All of this is moot, of course, unless ND finally realizes the wisdom of joining the ACC and if the ACC picks up UConn (a better total athletic program than Rutgers), but it’s fun to think about. It’s hard to imagine Notre Dame committing to a 9-game conference schedule, but who knows?

However, even with 2 divisions (north and south) and 8 conference games, all the rivalries you list could be preserved. In addition to the seven round-robin division games, one cross-division rivalry would be protected, or created (e.g., UVA-UNC, BC-Miami, ND-FSU, GT-VT, UConn-Duke, Clem-SYR, Pitt-WF, NCSU-MD). Okay, some of these are arbitrary, and I got a little carried away with some of the color matching, but it’s a start. Every year, UVA would play MD, UNC, and VT. All the North Carolina teams would play each other. ND would play BC and Pitt. BC would play Miami and UConn. FSU would play Miami and Clemson. GT would play Clemson. Some new rivalries could be interesting (Tech vs. Tech; Duke vs. UConn) and some old ones would be revived (BC vs. Miami).

Brendan said...

Yes, but the problem is that 8-team divisions of North and South is exactly the situation we want to avoid. UVA fans and administrators would rightly go apeshit over being placed in what essentially amounts to the Big East division of the ACC.

Plus, the schedule would be a disaster. Suppose you had 8-team divisions, added a ninth game, but otherwise kept the same format we have now, with one protected cross-division rivalry. That's seven division games, one permanent cross, and that leaves one game for rotation. You would go eight years between games against someone who's technically in your conference. Eight. Years. UVA fans would see Clemson, NC State, GT, etc. in Scott Stadium once every fourteen years.

Imagine recruiting that way. You can tell a four-year-old that when he's a freshman at your school, he'll get to play at Florida State.

That's not a conference. That's two conferences with an extremely loose association agreement. That's the Big Ten and the Pac-10 (12, whatever) playing in the Rose Bowl.

It's also the fastest way to drive Maryland - or even UVA, or both - into the Big Ten should that conference ever decide to expand again. Might as well, if your whole schedule except for one or two rivalry games is the Big East. We don't have to be in the ACC to play Tech.

No, the idea of two permanent, fixed, 8-team divisions is anathema. Especially if divided by North and South.

Brandon said...

I like it... thus, no chance it happens. Nothing in college football ever makes anyone happy besides the games :/

Anonymous said...

Two challenges. First, there's a significant competitive imbalance. Compare FSU/Miami/Clemson/GT to ND/Cuse/BC/UConn. These are not competitive, and will become less competitive if FSU and Miami return to glory. Schedules among the "regional" pod participants will not be comparable. GT, in particular, is fucked here; which is OK with me as long as Groh's there...

Second, I understand the appeal of 9 conference games, but that would make us less competitive with other conferences in terms of national media attention (which is focused almost exclusively on top 25 rankings, which have very little to do with strength of schedule).

Brendan said...

To address those two concerns...

Yes, it's true there's some competitive imbalance there. I think the effect of that is mitigated by the fact that that's only three games a year out of nine, though. And if someone else has too easy of a division - well, if you're paired with that division that year, you get that easy stuff, too. I think the competitive imbalance is outweighed by other factors.

As for nine games, well, we're headed that direction whether or not we get to 16 teams. The Big Ten is, too. The Big 12 and Pac-12 already do it. The SEC probably will too. So it's an equal footing, really.