With Pittsburgh and Syracuse set to join the ACC at some point in the seemingly distant future (most likely 2013), the conference's powers-that-be have a tough task ahead of them: assigning the new additions to football conferences and working out new scheduling systems without angering 14 fan-bases in multiple sports. Our friends over at BC Interruption discussed the potential that these problems would be resolved, at least partially, at the ACC Winter Meetings this week. Let's take a look at the scheduling possibilities and how Virginia's seasons would look.
We'll focus on two main questions. First, what is to be done with football conferences and schedules? To review, each ACC team plays 8 conference games - 5 within its division, 1 permanent cross-division rival (ours is Maryland), and 2 more cross-division games on a rotating basis (ours were @FSU and vs. NC State last year). Thankfully, the conference reportedly plans to keep the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions intact, plugging one newbie into each.
If Syracuse is inserted into the Coastal and Pitt in the Atlantic, UVA would make the trek to the Carrier Dome every other year. The Orange and Panther could be declared "permanent rivals," or Syracuse could be paired with a more natural BC team (in that case, Pitt could probably be stuck with Tech). This arrangement implicitly makes more sense. If the decision is reversed, Atlantic teams could have to make two treks to the northeast each year to take on Cuse and BC. I can't imagine Florida State or Clemson would be thrilled about that.
Assuming this alignment holds true, you could start to see the problem with future schedules. UVA would play yearly dates against VT, Miami, GT, Duke, UNC, Syracuse and Maryland (with UMD our designated cross-division rival). That is seven games. We would then have just one more game to rotate through the Atlantic's other six teams.
Obviously, seeing a team once every six years (and once every 12 at home) is not ideal. Two options for averting this are immediately clear. The first would be to eliminate the concept of cross-division rivals; this way, UVA would have two games to rotate through 7 teams, which would keep intact approximately the same yearly intervals as the present. While this seems reasonable, and it would serve to "balance" ACC schedules in the long run, teams are designated as rivals for a reason. Further tweaks might be needed as, for example, Florida State and Miami would probably want to meet each year. UVA does have that rivalry with the Terps, but I don't think many would miss biannual trips to College Park...
An option that hasn't gotten much traction would be to add an extra conference game, bringing the total to 9. ACC schedules would basically be the same after expansion as before (with the one extra game being against the team added to each division). I like this option, and I would think most fans would be with me. Next year, UVA plays Penn State, Richmond, @TCU, and Louisiana Tech out of conference. Replacing that thriller against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs with a meaningful conference game seems like a no brainer. There are drawbacks that have kept the ACC from bringing the proposal to serious discussion; it unbalances the schedule, as half the teams would have the advantage of an extra home game. Schools also aren't thrilled about the idea of making the magic "6 win" mark harder to reach and giving up a home game every other year (though that could be worked around with some more creative scheduling). Though it doesn't appear likely, the Pac-12 employs a 9 game conference schedule now, and it's something worth considering in the future.
Overall, it's tough to see how expansion really helps us or the ACC from a football perspective when you look at our future schedules - the option of decade-long spans between visits to ACC schools seems to defeat the idea of a conference, and sucking the life out of our yearly beatdowns of Maryland is similarly disappointing.
Basketball schedules are another issue altogether. Luckily, there are a couple factors that make this process a bit easier. First, there are no pesky divisions to consider. Also, the league has already decided to increase the number of conference games from 16 to 18 starting next year. That said, the lack of divisions also makes unbalanced scheduling an even bigger issue.
Take this year, for instance. UVA has one of the hardest conference schedules in the ACC, playing FSU and UNC twice, while only getting conference bottom-feeders Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and Boston College once each. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, only has to take on ACC powers Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, and Florida State once each! (Yes, I enjoyed writing that previous sentence). The point is, balance is one major goal of scheduling, and lack of balanced schedules has pretty drastic effects on the standings.
The other goal should be maintaining rivalries. Currently, each team has 2 designated rivals that they play twice every year (ours are Virginia Tech and Maryland - for the ACC's full setup, try wikipedia). However, the numbers will no longer add up cleanly after the changes are instituted.
David Teel at the Daily Press described the possible solutions:
One scheduling model that works for 14 teams increases the number of partners to three. Under that plan, Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest could all play one another twice every regular season, as they did until the ACC's 2004-05 expansion.
But Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski prefers trimming partners to only one, and his logic is compelling. Such a model would send Syracuse and Pitt to more ACC venues more often, introducing them to more fans.
I agree with Coach K. Let me go wash my mouth out with soap. There's no reason we MUST see Maryland at home each year, especially if it's coming at the expense of an extra visit from the Dukies, a first look at Pitt, or an extra gimme against that year's ACC basement. However, I think expecting an increase to three is a better bet. NC State, for example, won't be thrilled to lose yearly visits from UNC once the Tar Heels are paired with Duke. Maryland would probably lose both Virginia and Duke and be stuck with whoever is left.
Expect Virginia's basketball schedules down the road to look like this: 6 games of home-and-homes with Virginia Tech, Maryland, and whoever the ACC sticks us with to work things out (likely Pitt or Syracuse?), 4 games of two more rotating home-and-homes, and 8 more games against the remaining teams. Regardless of what is decided, conference recrods will depend more on how one's schedule turns out and be a poorer true measure of performance. The increase to 18 games helps somewhat; still, come back to me when we could play a 26 game round robin (joking...kinda).
The increase in conference games should be a welcome adjustment for Virginia fans. We agonize every year when Towson, Maryland-Eastern Shore, and the like come to JPJ in a sinister quest to destroy our RPI. However, these games are partially just a desperate attempt to fill out our out-of-conference schedules with dates that work for both parties. The addition of Pitt and Syracuse and increase in conference games may annoy the Carolina schools, but they positively affect our future basketball schedules overall.
It will be interesting to see how the ACC resolves the existing trade-offs and diverging interests. The only sure bet is that there will be plenty of belly-aching as soon as any decision is actually announced, regardless of what it is. As usual, we will be here to lead the pack of complainers whenever anything is made official