The ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 formally announced their long-rumored alliance Tuesday in a news conference that was heavy on philosophical ideals and light on anything of substance.
No matter. We’re here to help. In the absence of any tangible takeaways from the alliance itself, we’ve come up with our own proposal to the one vague part of Tuesday’s announcement that actually matters to fans: scheduling. To the athletic directors’ future scheduling working group — a real thing, by the way — you’re welcome.
We’ll start with the long-term vision, because it’s easy. Every ACC/Pac-12/Big Ten team except Notre Dame saves two non-conference games annually for an alliance opponent. The matchups will be decided every February based on the next season’s projected order of finish, either by the coaches’ vote, advanced metrics or a combination of the two.
Using that formula, every conference divides itself into three tiers: the top three, the bottom three and the middle bunch. A team in the top tier plays one top-tier team from each of the other conferences (one home, one away). This year, that means Ohio State hosts USC and travels to Clemson, while Miami hosts Penn State and plays at Oregon.
The bottom tier works the same way. Because the conferences have uneven memberships, the middle bunch is slightly different. All six Pac-12 teams in this group play one team from the ACC and Big Ten. But a pair of ACC teams will have to double up with the Big Ten (and vice versa).
Conference offices use that framework to come up with the most exciting matchups they can. Sometimes that’s based on brand recognition (Florida State could host Michigan and play at Utah in our model). Other times, it will mean pitting nearby schools against each other (Louisville hosting Indiana) or rekindle previous rivalries (Maryland vs. former ACC foe Virginia).
To maximize the drama, announce the matchups with a scheduling bonanza show between signing day and the start of spring ball. It’s a change from the tradition of scheduling games far into the future, but this alliance is supposed to be monumental. Besides, last year proved it can be done. Remember when Coastal Carolina played BYU on a few days’ notice in one of the best games of the year?
This model allows the Big Ten and Pac-12 to continue playing nine conference games, if they wish, or to drop down to eight. Either way, it leaves room for great rivalries like Florida-Florida State, Clemson-South Carolina, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Louisville-Kentucky and USC-Notre Dame.
The Irish’s commitment to independence complicates things slightly. To avoid having an odd number of teams in this alliance, we’re excluding Notre Dame. Teams will be encouraged to play the Irish for one of their remaining non-conference slots, however, and the Irish’s partial ACC schedule will continue.
If this all is the long-term vision, the short-term vision is trickier because dozens of future non-conference games are already in place. FSU is full until 2025. Clemson has a series with Oklahoma set for 2035-36.
Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren said the leagues don’t want to “interfere with any existing contracts.” Our plan honors that, too. But going forward, every team must leave two open spots. Alliance games will begin as schedules allow.
This proposal will create some 12-game gauntlets; FSU’s could add, say, Penn State and Washington to a slate that already includes Georgia and Florida. We’re assuming the College Football Playoff expands and rewards strength of schedule, so the reward becomes worth the risk.
Is this the best plan forward for college athletics as a whole? No. It will reduce the number of big-game opportunities for programs like USF (which has upcoming series with Miami and Louisville). There’s also a chance — perhaps a strong one — that the landscape changes drastically in the coming years before any alliance games can ever kick off.
But if the ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 are serious about trying to add non-conference games that matter to fans, viewers and TV executives, this is a good place to start.
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