Now that I got what I wanted with Louisville replacing Maryland in the ACC (a big upgrade), I’ve have more on my ACC Christmas list, the perfect divisional alignment. Shortly after it was announced that Louisville was invited to the conference, Commissioner John Swofford added that the Cardinals would be assigned to the Atlantic Division and would take over Maryland’s schedule, a simplistic approach that misses the point.
This decision was the easy one because it didn’t rile many feathers or require much discussion or compromise, but it fails to take advantage of some big opportunities to improve the conference and leaves the two divisions massively imbalanced. The post-expansion divisions are as follows:
- Florida State
- NC State
- Wake Forest
- Boston College
- Virginia Tech
- Georgia Tech
- North Carolina
If the big problem with those divisions didn’t jump out at you, let me state it clearly–the three best football teams, at least in 2012, are all in the Atlantic Division. Miami, Georgia Tech, and Virginia Tech should all improve, but at the moment they are clearly a notch below FSU, Clemson, and Louisville. Due to this imbalance, the ACC is likely to offer many ACC Championship Game clunkers much like the Big 12 did with its weak North Division. One could hypothesize this is by design to prevent FSU from playing Clemson or Louisville twice, so as to preserve the possibility of two BCS Bowl bids for the conference, but with the changes to the bowl system, that doesn’t seem very imperative.
Another problem with the setup is the lack of thought placed on road trips. As was the case before expansion, there are only three divisional games that make for reasonable drives for Clemson fans looking to see their team on the road. The situation is further worsened because there is one less game against Coastal Division foes with seven instead of six division games in the soon to be 14 team ACC. That means a game against Duke, UNC, or Virginia–all doable road trips–is replaced with one in the frozen tundra that is Syracuse, NY.
The ACC now has six former Big East schools and seven schools which I would call “classic” ACC teams (six of the seven charter members plus Georgia Tech which joined in 1978). This presents an absolutely HUGE opportunity to embrace tradition and the fans, something no conference has shown any interest in whatsoever. My preferred divisional alignment would bring back traditional ACC and Big East rivalries, allow fans to make more road trips, and do it without sacrificing any major matchups. See below (football cross rivals are in parentheses).
Atlantic / Champions
- Florida State (Clemson)
- Louisville (North Carolina)
- Virginia Tech (Virginia)
- Miami (Georgia Tech)
- Boston College (Wake Forest)
- Pittsburgh (NC State)
- Syracuse (Duke)
Coastal / Legends
- Clemson (Florida State)
- North Carolina (Louisville)
- Virginia (Virginia Tech)
- Georgia Tech (Miami)
- Wake Forest (Boston College)
- NC State (Pittsburgh)
- Duke (Syracuse)
This realignment would maintain just about every annual ACC matchup of interest. Florida State would still play Clemson. Virginia Tech and Virginia would still face off. Miami vs. Virginia Tech, Miami vs. Georgia Tech, and Georgia Tech vs. Clemson all remain in place! The only worthwhile ACC matchup sacrificed is Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech.
With that obstacle behind us, let’s look at the advantages of this alignment. For simplicity I will refer to them as the Champions and Legends divisions although if in place, I’d prefer to keep the standard names as it seems less gimmicky.
Firstly, it’s extremely fan friendly. A student at any school in the Legends Division could make a reasonable road trip to literally any other divisional opponent with the one possible exception being when the most Northern school, Virginia, plays the most Southern school (Georgia Tech). As a student at Clemson, I made football road trips to Duke, Virginia, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest among others. All these would be in play, plus North Carolina and NC State. Hordes of orange couldn’t hurt their attendance, and fans would enjoy it.
Likewise in the Champions Division, Virginia Tech would play Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Virginia annually. Both Florida schools get placed in the same division and the two “Yankee” schools (Syracuse and Boston College) get to face off each year. These make for reasonable road trips (6 hours 14 minutes from Blacksburg to Louisville being the longest). The only geographic downside that exists is the inherent unfairness to the Florida schools which would have quite a few long flights, but Miami has to fly to every opponent anyway (with the possible exception of Florida State), and they previously competed against these teams in the Big East and Metro conferences so it should be nothing new.
Just as the important as the geographic convenience and fan friendliness of this alignment is the tradition is rejuvenates. In 1981 Clemson won the National Championship. During that season they played six conference games, one against Maryland. The other five games were against: Virginia, Duke, NC State, Wake Forest, and North Carolina. Clemson would face all of these teams, plus Georgia Tech, Florida State, and another Champions Division opponent each season. Add that to Georgia or Notre Dame and South Carolina and you have some football tradition right there. Certainly more than West Virginia vs. Texas.
I hesitate to say that there would be tradition among the conference jumpers in the Champions Division, but it’s there too. Florida State, Miami, Boston College, and Virginia Tech absolutely should be playing every year. With this alignment, those traditional Big East matchups are restarted.
Finally, this alignment creates the possibility of some worthwhile ACC Championship Games, most notably Florida State vs. Clemson, but also any combination of FSU/Miami/Virginia Tech/Louisville vs. Clemson/North Carolina/Georgia Tech.
I understand that Commissioner John Swofford may be scared to make such a bold move because it would call out the obvious ACC/Big East split he has created by inviting seven former Big East schools, but it’s no secret anyway, and it’s no reason to punish fans by erasing traditional matchups and removing nearby road games. I would imagine Virginia Tech would dislike this move because it takes the two tough teams from Clemson’s division and puts them in the same division as Virginia Tech, but that does not come close to overshadowing the strong case for why this divisional realignment would be best for ACC fans and the conference alike.
2014 is right around the corner, and Notre Dame doesn’t begin playing their five annual ACC games until 2015, so a one year delay on divisional realignment would be completely reasonable and understandable, but total inaction is wrong.
I implore ACC fans to share their thoughts on how to form divisions that are better for the conference.
Also, welcome to the ACC Cardinals!
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