Tuesday, May 13, 2014

schedule soapbox again

OK, one last time, this time in detail.  As you're probably aware, the ACC is a 14-team football conference that voted to stick with eight games on the schedule.  (Incidentally, Craig Littlepage was one of the six ADs that prefers nine games.)  As currently constituted, that schedule really blows.  Divisions with a protected crossover was fine-ish for a 12-team conference, but now, we're admitting to our recruits that they'll never get to play Clemson or FSU.  You're not a conference if your players are never playing other teams that are ostensibly in the conference.  (A point I've been making long before David Teel did in the linked column above.)

If the NCAA allows it, and I think they will, the solution is simple: Get rid of these damn divisions, which were gerrymandered in the first place, and play out the season and let the top two teams fight it out in the championship game.

That naturally raises the question of how to set up the schedule rotation.  Again, an easy solution.  Protect three rivalries per team and rotate among the other ten.  That lets you play the same three teams each year and flip-flop the other five.  It couldn't be simpler.  Every recruit would play each other team at least twice and make a road trip to every ACC school, unless they left after three years.  So easy a caveman, or an ACC administrator, can do it.

Now, the weeds.  It brings up a slightly thorny issue, that of, how to arrange the protected rivalries.  The ones you absolutely have to keep are these:

UNC-NC State

And not knowing a lot about the preferences of our Big East wing, I'd also add BC-Cuse and, maybe Cuse-Pitt?

I'm not sure whether the ACC sees them all that way, though.  Here's what I'm afraid of:

This makes sense on a ton of levels.  You box up the southern teams and have them be each other's protected games.  You box up Carolina-land and do the same.  And for the six "northern" teams, everyone in your row and your column is your protected rival.  So we get Pitt, VT, and Louisville.  VT gets UVA, Pitt, and BC.  And so on.  This is neat and tidy and it keeps together a lot of the already-existing rivalries - all seven current cross-division rivalries are maintained.  So is the All Carolina Conference moniker.

It's neat and easy and it's also a big fat middle finger aimed at Charlottesville.  Eight "traditional" ACC teams in the south (or seven, depending on how you feel about FSU) and one of them banished to the Big East.  The South's Oldest Rivalry is poised, in a few years, to become the second-longest-played college game in history.  We (and UNC) had been behind several others, but realignment killed a few ancient games - Texas-Texas A&M, Missouri-Kansas, and Kansas-Nebraska have all fallen victim to greed, and in 2016 UVA-UNC will pass the Border War for second place - tied with Miami of Ohio and Cincinnati and second to Minnesota and Wisconsin.  I don't know if the ACC or the respective ADs care, but I sure do.  So here's a better idea.

If it offends you that VT gets Duke and Wake as forever-rivals, swap NC State and Duke.  There are a few different ways to do it, really.  I'm not picky along those lines.  Just so long as we play UNC and VT, and UNC plays NC State and Duke.  Duke should probably also play Wake, but whatev.  This is how you bring heated regionalism back to the scattered world of realignment, in which eastern teams join midwestern and southwestern conferences, northern teams join southern ones, a team can be a member of both the Southwestern and Southeastern Conferences during its history, and cats lie down with dogs if the dog has a better TV deal.

At any rate, I can't stress enough how important it is for UVA not to be labeled a northern school and sent to go play with the new kids.  Nothing against them.  We just have traditions to uphold, is all.

It turns out that creating a schedule rotation is just as much child's play as the rest of this exercise.  From the perspective of one of the four-team groups, say, what we'll call the Southern pod, they would play three teams from the Central pod and two from the Northern in a given year.  From the perspective of the six-team Central pod, we'd play two teams from each of the others and one of the remaining Central teams.  Our schedule might hypothetically look like so:

As with last time this was done, grayed-out helmets represent road games.  After 2018, go back to the first row again.  There's one problem: I'd really have liked the non-protected games to alternate, instead of being played in two-year chunks.  They can't, though: with an odd number in each "set" of games, it's not possible to alternate like that.  You have two of three home games and two of five, then one of three and three of five; if you alternated the unprotected games like I like to, you get two of three and three of five.  (Or you play one team on the road two years in a row and then at home two years in a row, an idea which clearly and rightfully would be DOA.)

It may be possible to do some scheduling calisthenics to make alternating games happen instead of two-year chunks, and if the ACC pulls that off I'll tip my hat and take back my "uncreative" potshots.  However, when we had 12 teams, we were doing the chunk thing.

(We also had a rotation like a conveyor belt - Team A on the road, Team B at home; Team B on the road, Team C at home; Team C on the road, Team D at home - you get the idea.  I didn't like the conveyor belt and it'd be a terrible idea here, too.)

All this would, of course, be independent of the Notre Dame rotation.  That doesn't need to be weaved into the conference schedule; it's a separate beast entirely. 

The beauty, or ugliness - I don't care which - of this idea is that a nine-game schedule ruins it.  Ruins the whole thing.  I guess you'd have just two protected games and rotate the other seven somehow, probably skipping teams in two-year chunks like the Big Ten used to do when it had 11 teams.  I'm not gonna bother.  Just thinking about it makes me realize - if the ACC goes with this format, I'd prefer to stick with eight games.  Nine games would be for if one day we hit the 16-team mark.

The really good thing here is, I think this actually has a chance of happening.  Quite probably the real thing would have its differences here and there, and I'm legitimately nervous that they'd adopt exactly this format and the protection boxes that stick us in the north.  It's up to Littlepage to make sure that doesn't happen.  But, in any case, I truly think that the ACC wants to ditch the current model, which is not popular, and I truly think they'll have the ability to do so fairly soon.  Here's the best idea they'll ever have.


Anonymous said...

You're a genius. Being able to visualize how this could work makes me feel like this 14.5-team behemoth could actually continue to feel like a "conference". We can't get rid of those divisions fast enough.

I hope your proposals gain some traction.

Anonymous said...

OT: I really wonder what, if anything, the Nick Johns commitment will do for the 2015 class. He looks like a fairly solid QB talent - perhaps not quite Lambert's arm, but a lot better athleticism. Theoretically, an early QB commitment could help with the rest of the class, and allow us to fill in key areas, but London's shaky situation may make it hard.