Less than a year after approving a nine-game conference football schedule and a year before implementing it, the ACC on Wednesday drastically reversed course.
At the league’s annual fall meetings in suburban Boston, athletic directors and faculty representatives voted to retain the eight-game schedule in place since Florida State joined the ACC in 1992.
The decision was prompted, in large measure, by the conference’s recent addition of Notre Dame for sports other than football.
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The Fighting Irish will play five football games per year against ACC teams, on rotation. Adding those non-conference games to a nine-game league slate created too much scheduling inflexibility for some tastes.
For example, consider Clemson, which opposed the nine-game ACC schedule from the start. It has an annual non-conference contest against state rival South Carolina, so in years the Tigers also played Notre Dame, 11 of their 12 regular-season games would have been locked in.
Same holds for Florida State and Georgia Tech, who have annual non-league dates with Florida and Georgia, respectively.
But returning to eight conference games carries a considerable price.
With next year’s arrival of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the ACC will have 14 full-time members split into seven-team divisions for football. Schools will play their six division rivals annually, plus one permanent crossover opponent – Maryland for Virginia, Boston College for Virginia Tech.
That translates to facing the other six teams from the opposite division once every six years, once every 12 at home. So athletes will play their entire career without playing some schools in their own conference, and marquee programs from the Atlantic Division such as Florida State and Clemson will visit Virginia Tech and Virginia only once every 12 years.
With a nine-game conference schedule, schools would have faced the other six from the opposite division once every three years, once every six at home.
Odd thing is, with Notre Dame rotating five ACC opponents, teams will face the Fighting Irish twice as often as they do six full-time conference members.
Conversely, trimming the league schedule back to eight games, might tempt Notre Dame to further consider full ACC membership. That would leave the Irish four non-conference games and more space to continue traditional rivalries with the likes of Southern California and Navy.
Full membership for Notre Dame would be the only reason for the ACC to search for a 16th school.
Wednesday's announcement also means the athletic directors at each of the ACC's 14 schools are scrambling to add a non-conference game for next season, and beyond.
* Wednesday’s other scheduling news from the ACC was expected: When Notre Dame arrives as the 15th basketball school, teams will have two partners they play twice every season.
In addition to four annual games against partners, the remaining 14 conference games will include two each with two rotating opponents and one each against the remaining 10, five home and five away.
The partners are:
Boston College: Notre Dame and Syracuse.
Clemson: Florida State and Georgia Tech.