A few things we've learned from the past X number of decades of watching college sports is that the people in charge are the least creative people on earth, and that they're totally uninterested in providing what fans want to see unless there's money to be had in doing so. Otherwise they'll just do whatever makes money or offends the least amount of people they consider stakeholders. You are not a stakeholder.
What I'd like is for the ACC to find ways to set itself apart. The conference is starting to get beat at the things it does best - and I'm probably being kind in saying "starting to." Forces beyond its control are part of that, and its constituent teams could stand to improve at basic skills like hiring good basketball coaches. But the conference itself could give its teams a boost in ways that make it more fan-friendly as well as attractive to talent. These are just some ideas kicking around in my head that weren't by themselves worth a full column, and of course, considering the above Paragraph of Cynicism, none will ever be implemented. But we can dream.
* First, get the hell rid of the divisions. If they serve a purpose, I've yet to figure them out. They imbalance the crap out of the conference: the Atlantic was FSU, Clemson, and junk even before it glommed on 4-20 Notre Dame. 5 of the conference's 7 winning teams, and 4 of the top 5, are in the Coastal. The #1 team in the whole country is #3 in its own conference because the divisions exist.
* Next, shorten up the ACC tournament. Why 10 teams have to participate is a mystery to me. The last five ACC tournaments have been won by the 1, 8, 1, 5, and 6 seeds. It baffles the mind that we play 30 games over 11 weeks and the 8th-best team is the champion because they happened to pick the right weekend to go 4-0. The double-elimination format they added was something of an attempt to rectify that (until they apparently went back to the round-robin pools, without telling anyone), but I have a better one. Bring the top four teams only and have two three-game series (1 vs. 4, 2 vs. 3) on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and have the winners play once on Sunday for the marbles. Oh, and since 5 and 6 are likely to be looking to boost their NCAA resumes, bring them in for a "showcase" series - that was a solid idea in lacrosse. Now you've made sure that an actual good team wins the conference, and not only that but you've assuaged coaches' concerns about using up too much of their pitching staff. (Which was the reason they - apparently - ditched the double-elimination.)
* This goes for all sports, but I put it here just because. The conference needs to commit to four-year scholarships. In a way it's an answer to a question that's not being asked yet, because to my knowledge nobody's been given the Chris Garrett treatment. (Garrett was the LSU quarterback whom Les Miles told to GTFO because he didn't have a scholarship anymore, for no other reason than he didn't want to carry Garrett on the roster.) Still, it's something you want to get out ahead of. And not just in football. The conference should simply require that any athlete offered a full or partial scholarship out of high school will have that deal or better for four years. Until the rest of the country caught up, it'd be a good recruiting tool. Especially for a school like UVA, competing for athletes with, in general, better academic profiles than the average bear.
* Fix the schedule. John Swofford is working on this, I think - in the recent past he's been lobbying the NCAA to loosen up the rules for holding a championship game. Until they do, we're apparently stuck playing the same seven teams every year and then rotating the other one, because ADs hem and haw when you ask them to sacrifice a home game every other year so we can have a nine-game schedule. I've already espoused my ideal world if we can possibly add two more football teams to the mix, but that's not happening unless Notre Dame is one of them and Notre Dame doesn't want to be one of them.
Again, I'd get rid of the divisions, if the NCAA lets us, and go to a model similar to basketball where you have three protected games and rotate the other five. Then play the championship game just between the top two teams. That'd be a really nice symmetrical model for a 14-team conference that won't go to nine games: you'd play your three games and switch back and forth between one group of five and the other each year. NC State is three hours away and we've shared a conference with them for over 50 years, and they'll visit Charlottesville less than once a decade under the current plan. This way they'd visit once every four years.
If we can't even do that, then shuffle the divisions and get rid of the protected crossover so at least we can rotate two games a year. Only three of the protected crossovers are really worth keeping (GT-Clemson, FSU-Miami, UNC-NC State) and their sanctity can be assured - as well as keeping the intra-division games worth playing, like UVA-VT, UVA-UNC, UNC-Duke, SU-BC - by swapping Pitt and GT for NC State and FSU. This would require the league to give up on the idea of seeing FSU and Miami in the ACC CG. Probably too great a sacrifice.
* Sponsor our own bowl game. Is this legal? Can we do that? I dunno, but if we can, we should. It'd probably be a low-level game like the Military Bowl, but that's OK. The conference has the bureaucratic infrastructure it needs, in the form of the same people who work on the ACC CG. They'd have to run out and find sponsors and call it the Weed-Whacker Bowl, but, simply put, a lot of bowl money gets siphoned off by the bowl organizations. A bowl like the Music City Bowl pays out roughly a million and a half to the conference and probably about that much to its executives. Not having to pay a whole suite of executives, and generally being able to allocate expenses more efficiently than 40 redundant bowl organizations can, would mean more money for the payouts. Or, more accurately, the payout to whatever conference we partner with plus the profit we keep for ourselves.
* I just have one idea here. And it works great with the 18-game conference schedule. Instead of permanent rotating games and all that, separate the league into thirds based on the previous year's standings - top five, middle five, bottom five - and the teams you play twice are the teams in your section. It'd help the lower teams get a boost in the standings and it'd give the higher teams a little shot in the RPI arm, and it'd create a much larger suite of interesting made-for-TV matchups. Syracuse, UVA, Pitt, Duke, and UNC all playing each other twice - unbalanced schedule, yes, but the ACC should be a gauntlet. The reason this won't happen, however, is plain: the ghastly and unspeakable possibility that Duke and UNC might only play once in a season.
* Not only do we lose the autobid with five teams (eventually) but we lose the ability to play that blatant RPI booster they called the showcase game. (I'd guess that next year's ACC tourney will have a 4/5 play-in, but I'll stop short of actually predicting it because it'd mean someone might have to play three games.) It's time to cajole one of our ten other schools into doing the lacrosse thing. Famously recalcitrant ADs have been recently replaced at BC and VT. Louisville already has another team in its own city, and NC State has all kinds of natural rivals all lined up. I'm even open to using conference money to help a volunteer get off the ground. Even if the volunteer is in Blacksburg.
* I don't want an ACC/B1G Challenge in lacrosse, because we don't really need to be giving the Big Ten programs and their massive resources a recruiting tool to use against us - but an ACC/Ivy Challenge, now there's an idea. Most ACC teams played an Ivy League team or two this year anyway. Why not formalize it?
* I know it's just such a difficult concept to grasp, but fix the shitty thing already.