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ACC Moves to 9-Game Football Schedule with Yearly UVA-Pitt Matchups, Configures Future Basketball Plans

In a surprise move, the ACC today announced that it will transition to a 9-game conference football schedule. The current makeup of the conferences will remain the same, with Pittsburgh joining UVA in the Coastal Division and Syracuse heading to the Atlantic. Additionally, Pitt and Syracuse will retain their Big East rivalry as cross-division partners; they will play annualy in the expanded conference.

Commissioner John Swofford made the announcement at the end of the annual Winter Meetings this week. "We have been engaged in discussions on the various options for integrating Pitt and Syracuse since early fall," said Swofford. "It's a tremendous tribute to the leadership at our schools that we will be able to seamlessly add Pitt and Syracuse at the appropriate time when they become full playing members."

That "appropriate time" is still up in the air. The switch will not take effect until the two Big East teams receive clearance to leave their conference; the Big East requires 27 months notice, hoping to instill maximum awkwardness on all parties. Negotiations have been underway to arrange an early exit, but they are not expected to join until 2013. In that case, Virginia will play its normal 8 game schedule this fall (The 2012 schedule has not yet been released, but is expected this month).

The ACC also decided on the makeup of future basketball schedules, as a new 18-game conference slate will go into effect next year. To accommodate the move, teams will have one permanent partner, rather than the current two. Virginia will lose its annual home-and-home with Maryland but continue to play Virginia Tech twice per season.

Earlier in the week, I noted that any plan to move to nine games had gained little traction. Apparently, the conference higher-ups read my support for the idea and decided to throw something together (or maybe, just maybe, they had the idea and never notified me). By expanding to nine games, the conference preserves the same format that teams currently rotate through. Virginia will continue to play each of the other Coastal teams; these six divisional games will now include a yearly game against Pittsburgh. The Hoos will also retain their rivalry matchup against Maryland. The last two spots on our schedule will rotate through Atlantic teams as it currently does. Therefore, every six years, Virginia will see its yearly partners three times at home and three away, and it will play the other Atlantic team twice, once home and once away.

The main negative aspect will be a reduction of competitive balance. Eight was an even number. Nine is odd. Half of the ACC teams will have the advantage of playing 5 home games and 4 road games, while the others will be at an equal disadvantage. On one hand, ACC schedules have never been perfectly balanced, since we don't play a true round robin as it is. However, having to play an extra road game is a pretty obvious disadvantage. One way to mitigate this would be to coordinate schedules within divisions; one year, all Coastal teams could play 5 home games, and the next year they could all play 4. However, this is not how the Pac-12's schedule is currently configured, and it may make too much sense for the ACC to pick up on. Additionally, I expect Virginia to creatively manipulate their out-of-conference schedules to continue to host 7 games per season. This would be done by eliminating any OOC road game in years where we don't see 5 ACC home games.

From a basketball perspective, the announcement of the new scheduling format is also big news. The ACC will switch to an 18-game schedule next season, regardless of Pitt and Syracuse's plans. When the conference expands to 14, each team will play one permanent home-and-home rather than the current two. Those pairings are as follows: Boston College and Syracuse; Clemson and Georgia Tech; Duke and North Carolina; Florida State and Miami; Maryland and Pitt; NC State and Wake Forest; Virginia and Virginia Tech. UVA will fail to see the Terps twice per year for the first time since the 1946-1947 season. It's a sad dilution of a rivalry, but one that is understandable in the grand scheme of events. Well, unless you are a Terp fan. They come away as big losers in the new plan, losing both their rivalry games against UVA and Duke and getting stuck with an artificial "rivalry" against Pitt.

I'll let the ACC try to explain the other 16 games on the schedule:

The scheduling model will be based on a three-year cycle during which teams will play every league opponent at least once with the primary partners playing home and away annually while the other 12 rotate in groups of four: one year both home and away; one year at home only; and one year away only. Over the course of the three-year cycle primary partners play a total of six times and all other conference opponents play four times.

Basically, there are 12 remaining teams after Tech - we will see half of them twice and half of them once. By arranging these rotations based on 4-team "groups," the conference is making a move to improve competitive balance. All 14 teams will compete in the ACC tournament on both the men's and women's sides.

Finally, the ACC announced the addition of gymnastics as a sanctioned conference sport. Because Pitt will be the fourth team to field a varsity team (Maryland, UNC, and NC State are the others), the ACC will be legally allowed to host a conference championship. Gymnastics will become the only ACC sport in which UVA does not field a team; it will be interesting to see just how long that lasts. Building a team would take time, not to mention untold sums of money (we don't currently have anything resembling a space for gymnastics to practice and compete - the club gymnastics team actually drives 20 minutes down Route 29 to practice). I doubt it will be an immediate priority for the administration, but I wouldn't be surprised to see us catch on at some point.

From a Virginia fan's perspective, the main takeaway I see as all of the chaos of ACC expansion wraps up is a sense of relief. The conference didn't crumble, nor did it dilute itself too much, and we didn't get left to play in Conference USA. The changes may not be ideal, but, considering the doomsday scenarios floating around a year ago, I could deal with not hosting Maryland every couple seasons. The ACC as we know it remains intact, and we could expect an injection of excitement whenever Pitt and Syracuse decide to make their way over.