Priority Partner Scheduling in the ACC

The negative effect an eight game ACC schedule had on a 14-team league became crystal clear last week when the ACC announced the football rotating crossover opponents through 2024. Eight conference games worked well with 12 teams. Teams in opposite divisions would play each other at least once every 4 years, visit and host each other every 5. Moving forward, the ACC is intent on preserving a primary crossover game as well as rotation in which, "Each ACC school will play all of their rotating crossover opponents twice during the 12-year rotation, once at home and once on the road, but not consecutively."

Andy Bitter put it into context nicely.

I've tweeted the numbers before, but they bear repeating: from now until 2024, the end of this ACC scheduling cycle, Virginia Tech will play Florida State, Clemson and Louisville five times. It will play East Carolina, a non-ACC member, seven times between 2014 and 2020.

The frequency of games can't be helped. There are too many teams, and not enough games. A ninth conference game was yanked off the table when Notre Dame joined and doesn't seem to be an option. Primary crossover games serve to ensure rivalries like Florida State–Miami, Georgia Tech–Clemson, and North Carolina–North Carolina State happen annually. However, the league could produce higher profile, competitive, yet balanced, matchups, and home and road games happening in consecutive years.

I propose the rotating crossover opponents should be replaced with priority partners. A priority partner would be chosen for each team every two years, and result in a home-and-home series. Priority partners would be determined by closely matching teams according to total number of regular season ACC wins in the previous two years, while avoiding permanent crossover pairings. The following example uses 2011 and 2012 ACC wins to set the schedule in 2014-2015 (because 2013 games haven't happened yet).

Atlantic Coastal
Rank Team 2011 + 2012 Wins Team 2011 + 2012 Wins
1 Clemson 13 Virginia Tech 11
2 Florida State 12 Georgia Tech 10
3 North Carolina State 8 Miami 8
4 Wake Forest 8 North Carolina 8
5 Boston College 4 Virginia 7
6 Syracuse 0 Duke 4
7 Louisville 0 Pittsburgh 0

I used total wins over 2012-13 as a guide, not a firm algorithm. Primary crossover duplicates like Pitt–Syracuse (0 wins) and North Carolina–North Carolina State (8 wins) had to be avoided. In scheduling, I believe human intervention and logic prevails over any set of rules. John Swofford and his team ought to be able to use wins as a starting point, and fill in the schedule from there.

Atlantic teams would host games in even years, and travel in odd. This is what the priority schedule would look like compared to the rotation.

Rotation Priority
Team 2014 2015 2014 2015
Boston College Pittsburgh @Duke Virginia @Virginia
Clemson North Carolina @Miami Virginia Tech @Virginia Tech
Florida State Virginia @Georgia Tech Georgia Tech @Georgia Tech
Louisville Miami @Pittsburgh Pittsburgh @Pittsburgh
North Carolina State Georgia Tech @Virginia Tech Miami @Miami
Syracuse Duke @Virginia Duke @Duke
Wake Forest Virginia Tech @North Carolina North Carolina @North Carolina
Duke @Syracuse Boston College @Syracuse Syracuse
Georgia Tech @North Carolina State Florida State @Florida State Florida State
Miami @Louisville Clemson @North Carolina State North Carolina State
North Carolina @Clemson Wake Forest @Wake Forest Wake Forest
Pittsburgh @Boston College Louisville @Louisville Louisville
Virginia @Florida State Syracuse @Boston College Boston College
Virginia Tech @Wake Forest North Carolina State @Clemson Clemson

Overall, I think the priority schedule produces a better slate of games. An intriguing Miami–Louisville matchup is off the board, but the next time the 'Canes are scheduled to play the 'Cards is 2019, and NC State–Miami is nothing to sneeze at. Potential offensive fireworks put on by Clemson and North Carolina would be canceled too. However, the Heels would play an in-state foe (Wake Forest), and Tigers–Hokies and Seminoles–Bees are rematches of the last two ACC Championship Games.

Because of the cyclical nature of college football, past success doesn't always guarantee that in the future. However, the traditional football powers tend to bubble up, while the teams who fight to make a bowl gravitate to the bottom of the standings. Using wins in the trailing two seasons might not be the most scientific formula, but it is better than predetermining 10 years of games.

I believe trading the guarantee to play every team in the conference at infrequent intervals is worth the price for the familiarity of the top teams playing each other more often, and the positive effect that will have on television appeal.



This is interesting. I like the concept of rolling over the priority partner every two years, although if teams stay at a certain plateau of wins, they could feasibly be playing someone for a long time. Would we be ok playing Clemson for the next 8 years? It could happen. I assume that you would rotate another cross divisional team thorough each team's schedule, which is normally done on a two year rotation as well? So we could possibly end up with FSU and Clemson on the schedule again in the same year? How do you determine the non-partner schedule?

Take the shortest route to the ball and arrive in bad humor.

The ability to schedule the crossover games based on recent success not only assists in competitive balance (similar to the NFL), but it also retains an organic scheduling process. You hit the nail on the head, Joe.

After the scheduling plan was released a week ago, I found the beat writers ranting particularly interesting. Chris Coleman from TSL had his qualms about going to Boston, as opposed to Louisville, when so many brought up how Louisville-Tech would be a better permanent crossover. Part of the debate ended up surrounding which city was better to travel to. I couldn't care less about that, unless we're talking NOLA or Vegas. Nonetheless, the crux of the argument was that Louisville-Tech provided a more competitive, marketable game over the longterm, as opposed to Louisville-UVA/BC-Tech.

By only scheduling in two-year blocks and taking the recent win totals into account, you achieve both goals. I want to play the best teams we can year-after-year, not be forced to wait until certain years where our schedule is markedly easier/tougher. If you want the conference to identify potential National Championship contenders, you have to put your best teams forward and allow them to battle on the national stage in order for one or more to emerge. By continuing to matchup the better teams against mediocre in-conference opponents, you aren't doing the schools nor the conference any favors.

Honestly, all ideas at this point sound great given how poor the original ACC schedule is

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My thoughts exactly. Maybe we can start one of those online petitions (some actually work) and send it around to ACC fansites & beat writers to gain attention/momentum and influence a change to something beneficial for the conference.

I like revisiting the schedule every few years to pair up the best-performing teams. This type of consideration would be a lot like the NFL, where you get similarly-achieving teams matched up the following year.

I would add a caveat, though, as it seems likely at this point that VT would tend to get matched up against Clemson and/or FSU every two years, if the teams perform in the league how they have historically. This would mean that bottom feeders (Duke/UVA and Wake/BC) would rotate through each other, which is great for parity but adds little to the fact that we'd continually be paired against the same teams (not that I'd mind getting rid of BC for a while, but I would still like to play all of our conference opponents at least occasionally).

With a human touch to this idea, I think we'd be in good form. Perhaps add the caveat that you can't play the same crossover opponent more than one or two cycles in a row (2-4 years). So even if we got Clemson/FSU two cycles in a row, we'd at least be guaranteed two other crossover opponents in the following cycle. Switching one opponent in every year would stagger the crossover opponent, meaning that we'd get a new opponent every year (still maintaining that the previous opponent could not be replayed).

I like your idea, Joe.

Love the concept. I think it's great for the ACC because it creates more quality match ups, which would be better for TV and (perceived) strength of schedule.

That being said, I think the divisions should be tweaked so each team's main ACC rival is their crossover game:


UNC/NCst, VT/UVA, Miami/FSU, and Duke/Wake are all inner-state rivalries. I arranged the Carolina rivalries this way because Duke and Wake are both private schools, and UNC and NCst are both public schools; I thought it made sense. BC/Syracuse is a regional rivalry, I'm sure they can give it some cold/winter/northern name.

Pitt/UL are roughly 400 miles apart, BUT they are the only schools that are located in states that do not touch the Atlantic Coast, despite both being in the Atlantic Coast Conference... This is a natural rivalry.

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Agree 1000%, just switch the division names at the top. The re-alignment is minimal, as this only entails UVa and BC trading divisions. The only loss is the South's oldest rivalry, UNC-UVa. But, neither team has been relevant for a while, so this is OK too.

First off - as a fan I totally agree that scheduling sucks and there has to be a better solution to see better match-ups more often.

However, if I was the commissioner this approach probably creates two big issues that work against some of my business objectives. First, while it forces better match-ups for the top teams, it creates more dog match-ups for the Duke-Wake or BC-uva schedule which will most likely hurt ticket sales for those teams and keep them off of television for much of the season - hurting revenue, exposure and possibly recruiting. This rich get richer approach may due more harm to the bottom members than good for the whole (and remember many of those bottom members are charter members in NC). Swofford probably can't afford to create such a caste system.

Second, by putting the strong teams up against one another each year, inevitably they will beat each other up and create multiple 8-4 / 7-5 teams versus creating three or four 10-2 / 9-3 teams. Conference strength is judged by the top 20% allowing two to three strong teams have an opportunity to take some of the premier bowl spots leading to more $$$. The reason the SEC is so dominate has to do with the top 3-4 teams each year -certainly not the Ole Miss, Kentucky, Tennessee, Miss State garbage. I'd think Swofford would prefer to have 3-5 teams ranked in the top 25 with inflated records versus a "balanced conference" top to bottom. This approach probably won't deliver may national champions but 5 teams ranked at the end of the season with a few in the top 10 is better alternative for the conference (business-wise).

Just a different perspective on why there may not be a big push for change by the powers that be.

Great response, which I upvoted. However, I would argue a few things. While they are dog matchups, they'll probably be more competitive games given the relative strength (or lack there of). ESPN owns the rights to all the ACC games, so at the very least they'll drop ESPN3, or regional coverage on the branded "ACC Network". Teams like Maryland, Wake Forest, (Duke, and Pitt in our own division) don't sell out when Tech goes there now, so that's on their fans and lack of support.

I think the reason the SEC is perceived to be so dominant is because they win all their bowl games and non-conference games. There have been many battle worn SEC teams to come out and thump a non-SEC team in a bowl. Not only that, but dominant SEC teams still are able to rise to the top and make it the MNC. With the playoff right around the corner, tougher schedules will be come more important.

I'd agree to a point. Let's not forget, though, that we aren't competing with the rest of the ACC for football games on TV, we're competing with the rest of the country. VT/FSU might get a national broadcast on ESPN, but we're still fairly unlikely to get that game in prime time on ESPN. Even if we did, we'd probably get pummeled in the ratings by another prime time game. When we played against Nebraska in Blacksburg, I couldn't watch the game on TV here in PA. ESPN3 was blacked out. I had to use something called to watch it. Thank god for that. And that was NEBRASKA/VT.

Same thing happened to me for Nebraska/VT. I live in NYC. And that was the ONLY game that Saturday featuring two ranked teams. THE ONLY ONE!! Look it up... unbelievably it's true. I also watched on Else I would have missed one of the most classic VT games of my era.

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