We’re in that weird period of year where football is OHSOCLOSE but yet still so far away. Fall practices have started, but are only giving us more questions than answers. With our football appetites whetted, we turn to a topic where opinion is just as good as fact: arcane conference rule-making and how it affects our program.
For our friends out west, the hubbub concerns realignment. Closer to home, we’re talking TV deals, cupcakes, and how Virginia will claw its way to ACC supremacy.
The ACC athletic directors met last week to discuss scheduling requirements for member schools. The conference’s new TV deal with ESPN requires one of two formats: nine conference games plus one Power Five non-conference opponent (9+1), or eight ACC games and two Power Five matchups (8+2). How could these different approaches affect UVA?
Eric Hobeck: I think the biggest way it could affect UVa is through this new school of thought regarding UVa's scheduling. Rather than going out and playing the UCLAs and Oregons of the world, it seems like Coach Mendenhall's plan is to schedule easier opponents that will give this group confidence that they can actually win. Given this new plan, I honestly don't know which one UVa would benefit from more. Either way, you're playing 10 Power Five teams on your schedule. With those two extra games, do you try and schedule an FCS team and a middling or lower-level Group of Five team? Or do you use one or both of your extra Power Five games on a team like Kansas or Purdue, knowing that you can schedule the Northern Illinois's [Ed. note: Northerns Illinois? Northern Illini?] of the world to maintain a semi-challenging schedule?
Brian “Fearless Leader” Leung: If the goal is to play more opponents that are a little more in line with Virginia’s ability, I’d think we’d want the 8+2 model, at least in the short term. Virginia already plays all of the ACC teams in the Coastal Division, the weaker of the two divisions. If we go 9+1, it means that you’re increasing the likelihood that you end up playing Florida State or Clemson, whom UVA has the fortune of avoiding this year altogether. Going 8+2 gives UVA the flexibility of picking off some lower-ranked Power Five schools, not to mention continuing to increase UVA’s recruiting footprint.
Matt Trogdon: Either approach will make Bronco Mendenhall’s hill a little bit steeper as he tries to bring Virginia back to relevance. For a reference point, I always look at what Duke has done. Duke’s out-of-conference schedules have been laughable over the years, and that’s allowed the Blue Devils to rack up wins, get to bowl games more easily, and build momentum for the program. During their 4-year bowl streak, they’ve gone 14-2 in OOC regular season games and 18-13 in conference games.
I don’t think Mendenhall would have wanted to rebuild the brand by beating cupcakes, though the 2018 schedule looks pretty darn soft (Richmond, Indiana, Old Dominion, Ohio). But the new schedule approach will make the question moot. Regardless of if its nine conference games or two Power 5 games, the road gets more difficult.
Jay Pierce: 9-1 scheduling would increase the frequency of playing the Atlantic Division teams, which is better for the conference and the fans, in my opinion. UVA could continue to schedule whatever caliber P5 OOC games it wanted, especially because the additional ACC game will fluctuate in difficulty. If the addition is Wake or BC, you could schedule a tougher OOC game—not that Wake or BC would be an easy opponent for the recent Hoo squads—while doing the opposite if you're playing both FSU and Clemson in the same year.
Leung: Is it really better for the conference to have nine instead of eight conference games? Aside from us old folk holding on the vestige of playing every team in the conference, what do we have to point to to suggest that eight is not enough, but that nine will make everything better?
Trogdon: I personally prefer 9 conference games for two reasons. First, I think Virginia is at a point where it needs to be careful about the Power 5 opponents it chooses. The program has gone 0-5 in recent years against UCLA, USC, and Oregon, and a trip to Autzen Stadium awaits. Are there enough “more reasonable” Power 5 opponents out there for UVA to fill its schedule? I’m not sure. Indiana is already on deck, as is Illinois.
Secondly, Virginia fans need as many reasons to buy back into the program as they can get. And anecdotally, I think conference games generate more interest than nonconference games unless there’s a marquee nonconference opponents. Virginia’s not at a place where it needs to schedule the Oklahoma and Ohio States of the world. Given that, I think fans would rather see another ACC Atlantic opponent each year than a lower tier Power 5 team.
Pierce: I don't think it's an old folk opinion to want to play conference opponents more than once every 5 years. You literally have players graduating without having played a team in their own conference. Is it possible to play every team ever year? Of course not. But adding one game helps the problem more than it takes away anything.
I'd rather see UVA play BC over Kansas, certainly.
Brian Haluska: I think you have to look at this through the lens of several years down the road. If Mendenhall is successful in getting more out of the existing talent in the program, and subsequently recruiting a higher level of talent, what scheduling requirements would offer the least resistance to the program's ascendancy? I honestly think it would be the 9+1, because while you run the risk of nabbing Clemson or FSU, there's plenty of programs that would be roughly around UVA's level in the Atlantic. It would be more of a crapshoot going outside the ACC, especially with how far in advance these matchups are being set up.
Paul Guttman: When I was younger, I probably would've liked the 8+2 because I used to travel to a lot of games. Would've liked the opportunity to go see some different places. But I 100% agree that nobody should graduate from an ACC school without having seen every ACC team at least once. And since I'm not really traveling to many road games anymore, I think 9+1 makes more sense.
Haluska: I guess there's several ways to look at it. Are we primarily concerned about the fan experience, or are we concerned with the road to success?
Leung: I’m concerned about the road to success. The fan experience will follow.
Trogdon: I think the road to success is tougher either way. And I don't see one way as being demonstrably tougher than the other. So the fan experience is the tiebreaker for me.
Haluska: This is a risk-reward question, then. A win over an ACC team is the best result recruiting wise, but a loss to an ACC team is the worst. If you support the 9+1, you're accepting the greater risk of being seen as a lower-rung program in the conference's geographical footprint for the potential reward of being seen as a higher tier program. With the 8+2 arrangement, those effects will be a bit more muted.
Danny Neckel: I believe in the long run, the 8+2 format benefits UVA the most. Virginia's recent pattern has been a local school (W&M, Richmond, VMI), a MAC school (Kent State, C Mich, Ball State), a non power 5 but still good conf school (UConn, Boise, BYU, TCU), and a ridiculously tough power 5 school (Oregon, UCLA, USC). By requiring two power 5 schools, UVA might still play top ranked teams, but also can play the Indiana/Kansas/Rutgers types instead of good middle tier conf teams like Boise. It also requires other ACC teams to play 2 power 5 teams. It also helps in exposure and recruiting to play more out of conference teams.
Guttman: So I can't really make up my mind. I see pluses and minuses to both options. I think the tiebreaker for me may be the fact that we last played Wake in 2012 and we next play wake in 2021. What is the point of being in the same conference if you never play? 9+1 means it is far less likely that we'll go 9 years without playing an ACC school. Unless, of course, the ACC expands. Which is almost inevitable isn't it?
To quote CNN, we’ll have to leave it there, with a question for another day. What’s your take: 9 games and a higher frequency for playing every ACC team, or 8 games with more Power Five out-of-conference opponents?