By David Teel
5:17 AM EDT, September 20, 2011
Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver vowed Monday night to “fight” a North-South division of the expanded ACC that would, essentially, return Hokies football to the Big East.
He advocated for a 10-game conference football schedule and suggested that the ACC will grow even further.
In short, Weaver’s appearance on “Tech Talk Live,” the school’s weekly call-in show, was the AD at his best: forceful, revealing and accessible as he answered pointed questions from Bill Roth that most radio play-by-play types are too timid to ask.
To my ear, Weaver’s most compelling remarks centered on the ACC’s future divisions and football schedules.
With Sunday’s additions of Big East staples Pittsburgh and Syracuse, ACC membership sits at 14. Two other Big East members, Connecticut and Rutgers, reportedly are lobbying ACC officials.
At 16 teams, the most convenient divisions would be geographic. Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Clemson, Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest in the South; Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Boston College, Syracuse, Pitt, UConn and Rutgers in the North.
That’s a bad idea for two reasons.
One, the South would be far too strong in football. Sure, future states of programs are difficult to forecast, but there needs to be balance, and based on tradition and recent performance, the North would be far weaker.
Two, and most troubling: A North-South alignment would essentially create the former Big East football conference, plus Virginia and Maryland, isolating the ACC’s newest members from the establishment. That, according to my best etiquette sources, does not equate to Southern hospitality from the Greensboro, N.C.-based conference.
On message boards and Twitter, Virginia Tech fans have been most vocal in their objections, fearing a return to the Hokies’ Big East days of Northeast-centric football. And I imagine Virginia and Maryland faithful would be equally unhappy separated from ACC rivals that date more than half a century.
Might regional and/or national television interests crave a powerhouse ACC South? Sure, and no doubt TV drives the college athletics train. But at some point, common sense has to prevail.
Let’s not forget that isolation and resentment in other conferences – the Big 12 and Big East -- are a large part of why realignment has reached this unfortunate tipping point. Bring that poison to the ACC, and commissioner John Swofford is looking for trouble.
A more reasonable approach would be to build upon the current Atlantic and Coastal divisions.
If the ACC sticks on 14, the solution seems obvious. Place Syracuse in one division, Pitt the other.
I’d advocate Pitt in the Atlantic, where it could forge an annual football rivalry with Maryland similar to the Terps’ 1970s and ‘80s battles with Penn State. Syracuse to the Coastal would reunite the Orange with Virginia Tech -- they had some wild Big East encounters.
Syracuse could play a yearly interdivisional game against the Atlantic’s Boston College, presently Virginia Tech’s permanent crossover. The Hokies’ then could become crossover partners with Pitt.
If/when UConn and Rutgers come aboard, one heads to the Coastal, the other Atlantic and they become crossovers.
Some serious old-schoolers propose divisions of the old and new ACC. That would be Virginia, Maryland, Clemson, Georgia Tech and the four North Carolina schools in one group, Florida State and the former Big East members in the other.
The football imbalance wouldn’t be as striking, but again, splitting along seniority lines might not foster the collegiality that stable conferences need. Virginia and its fans likely would approve, but certainly not Virginia Tech and its faithful. Hence, Weaver’s opposition.
The wild cards here are the conference schedule and Notre Dame.
Weaver advocates expanding the league schedule from eight to 10 games. That would make divisions less jarring, create more crossover contests and spare ACC schools some of the six-figure guarantees they pay visiting non-conference opponents.
The downsides are less scheduling flexibility and fewer intersectional games such as Florida State-Oklahoma and Miami-Ohio State. Plus, someone has to lose the additional league games, which could translate to fewer bowl-eligible teams.
Nine conference games would be an acceptable compromise – if coaches and athletic directors accepted that every other year they’d play five on the road and four at home. The old Pacific 10 played a nine-game league schedule, so it is doable.
Finally, Notre Dame. The Irish revel in their football independence and value long-standing annual games against Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Southern California and Navy. So even with the seismic landscape shifts, their joining the ACC for all sports seems improbable.
But rest assured Swofford is making (has made?) a play for Notre Dame’s national brand and academic renown.
On the off chance the Irish said yes, divisional concerns would be minimal. Heck, the ACC might even try four-team pods within eight-team divisions, a convoluted system that could pair the four North Carolina schools but would create the possibility of two division rivals not playing one another and tying for first place.
Then how would you determine who advanced to the ACC title game? The BCS standings? Coin flip? Punt, pass and kick contest?
If Notre Dame joined, the ACC, Weaver included, would welcome those headaches.
By the way, Yahoo! Sports’ columnist Dan Wetzel makes an interesting case for an Irish-ACC marriage in a column linked here.
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