ACC football moves to ‘8 Plus 1’ conference schedule model

ACC commissioner John Swofford officially recommended that the teams adopt an eight-game conference schedule on Monday.

The ACC is still the last of the major conferences to officially decide on a football scheduling format. But the league took one step towards making that decision on Monday when its athletic directors voted to keep an eight-game conference slate.

ACC commissioner John Swofford said the league will also install a scheudling mandate that each team must have at least one power conference opponent on the schedule, starting in 2017. The member schools’ faculty athletic representatives will formally vote on the decision on Thursday. So this is not yet final.

But it’s as close to a definitive stance that Swofford and his league have taken.

There has been a lot of debate about whether the league should move to nine conference games, but the addition of Notre Dame (which will play five ACC games a year) as a partial member complicates matters. If a team had to play its requisite nine league games each year plus Notre Dame, that’s already 10 games against so-called power conference opponents with little room for schedule flexibility.

The strength-of-schedule mandate is basically the same proposal that the SEC adopted two weeks ago — eight games plus the requirement of scheduling a power-conference team. (What happens when that requirement is not met, however, is still unclear.) 

There are still some details to be worked out — like, for instance, which independent schools would count and which wouldn’t, which Swofford wasn’t sure about yet — but for the most part, this seems to be a definitive answer. 

The meetings will continue all week, and the next big item on the agenda will likely be whether or not the league will maintain its divisions. That’s less likely to change. The schedule was going to be different no matter what, just because the league is now up to 14 members (15, if you count partial member Notre Dame), whose varying needs have to be juggled.

With the new College Football Playoff beginning this coming year, the league had to do something to make sure that its teams scheduled appropriately. Swofford said that eliminating FCS games (formerly I-AA) from the schedule altogether has been discussed, but there’s been no recommendation on that yet.

The non-conference requirement is one that most schools in the ACC were already meeting anyway. The only two ACC schools not meeting it next season would be Wake Forest and N.C. State.

Already, nearly a third of the league has a standing rivalry with an SEC team anyway — Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Louisville all do, though Wake cancelled its short-lived rivalry with Vanderbilt — and so that takes care of that.

Almost every other team in the league doesn’t shy away from tough non-conference games on its schedule. Too tough, some might say, but it’s better than the alternative.

This is just a good way to ensure there are no excuses for not scheduling tougher. It’s a requirement now to play a power-conference team, plus there are three extra games to play with instead of just two. That should be plenty of opporutnities for teams to give their fans what they want: a game against a good opponent rather than a blowout victory over an outmatched FCS school.