All things considered, the college football world would be a lot simpler if Notre Dame weren’t in it — no offense to its supporters.
Monday, the Atlantic Coast Conference made a move sure to add controversy to the college-football playoff debate when it opted by an 8-6 vote to stick with an eight-game ACC schedule, plus one non-league game against a team from the rest of the Big Five leagues (ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12).
It’s the same plan hatched recently by the SEC, the one which drew the ire of several Pac-12 coaches (particularly Stanford’s David Shaw), who want to see a level playing field as 2014 ushers in the big-school college playoff era.
The SEC was an outlier. Now, with the ACC joining hands, this is sure to grow into a full-fledged argument.
The ACC’s stance seems more reasonable than the SEC’s, for what it’s worth. When Notre Dame agreed to play a limited ACC schedule — five games a year — that meant the league was adding a high-level BCS program to five of its schedules (a factor the SEC doesn’t have). But several of the ACC schools have traditional games with the SEC — Clemson against Georgia (some years), Florida against Florida State, Georgia Tech against Georgia — that also must be factored in. So Florida State, for instance, would be playing 11 heavyweight games a season with a nine-game league schedule in years when it played Notre Dame.
In the Pac-12, USC and Stanford have traditional games with Notre Dame, ensuring that both those programs have at least 10 BCS-conference games a season. That’s one of the reasons a Pac-12/Big Ten coalition for scheduling a couple of years ago blew up before it ever became reality.
The ACC move is seen as protection for the top teams in its league, Florida State and Clemson, and their chances of cracking the top four that will contend for the title.
Another thought: Since we’re now adding, say, half a dozen programs annually in the ACC to those needing to find a high-level opponent outside the league (14 minus the five playing Notre Dame, minus the ones already with traditionals) to the 10 or 11 that must look for those games from the SEC starting in 2016, is it going to be tough to meet those conference requirements? Not every Pac-12, Big Ten or Big 12 team is going to be eagerly seeking such non-league partners because those programs already play nine in league and may not want a Big Five opponent (especially if they’re trying to schedule six wins to get to a bowl game). My guess is, the ACC and SEC are likely to be seeing a lot of each other.
If the SEC vote hadn’t already done it, this ACC move will likely cause more introspection within the Pac-12 about whether a nine-game league schedule is the best way to go — especially if it were to come to pass that the SEC sneaks a second team into the title game ostensibly without severely testing itself outside the league.
The nine-game format seems to fit the Pac-12 well, serving a variety of interests — including, not incidentally, the need to satisfy fan bases that know the difference between a non-league matchup with Michigan or Eastern Michigan. Besides that need, non-league scheduling is simply more difficult in the West because there are fewer options.
In the short term, this much is more clear than ever: That playoff selection committee is doing to need to look very closely at strength of schedule — who skated and who scheduled hard.