8 plus two scheduling model a small adjustment for most ACC teams

Coaches would rather play tougher non-conference slate than add a ninth ACC game

Jeremy Brevard—X02835
Jul 21

At the time the ACC Network was announced, in late July, ESPN and the league announced that there would be two additional basketball games, to help provide the network more inventory.Over the month, details have leaked out about potential changes to the ACC football schedule to meet the same purpose.According to several sources, including ESPN itself, the network is demanding that the ACC add a ninth conference game or commit to playing two Power Five opponents in addition to the existing eight-game conference schedule.The majority of the ACC football coaches have come out in opposition to the nine-game schedule.”I’m not in favor of it,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “I don’t see any advantage to it. To me, there are so many other things we can focus on. I think if we did it, it would only be for financial reasons.”North Carolina coach Larry Fedora agrees.”I would much rather stay at eight plus two right now, when Notre Dame is in the mix with you. Unless they count as one of the nine (conference opponents), then I’m not interested in doing that. I’d much rather have the flexibility of doing eight plus two.”Fedora said he would be hesitant to agree to neutral-site games against SEC teams, like last season’s opener against South Carolina and this year’s Chick Fil-A Kickoff against Georgia, if the Tar Heels were faced with playing nine ACC games.”Whether I’d have been able to decide that, goes above my head. Bubba (Cunningham, UNC Athletic Director) makes those decisions. I get to have my input, but the final decision is with him. My input would have been, ‘No. I don’t want to do that.’ That’s one of the luxuries of being eight plus two. I think you can go out and find great matchups and do those things.”Cutcliffe shrugged off the potential impact of an eight plus two requirement.”We’re kind of doing that anyway,” he said. “We’re the same conference as the SEC, where I spent my whole career. We have teams we’re playing traditionally from that league. We also have this Notre Dame thing on rotation. So the ACC is probably playing, overall, maybe the toughest schedule right now of any conference.”A look at the numbers show that Fedora and Cutcliffe are correct — adding Notre Dame has significantly upgraded the ACC’s scheduling over recent years. Here’s a look at how many current ACC teams played two Power Five non-conference foes each year.Since reaching a low point of just 15% of teams meeting the obligation in the year before Notre Dame was added to the mix, the conference has steadily improved to the point where more than half the teams are already meeting ESPN’s requirement. The definition of Power Five is also a point of contention. While independent Notre Dame is already considered part of the Power Five, Cutcliffe would like to see the service academies included as well. Duke has played Army or Navy in three of the last four seasons. Including the academies would give the conference a boost. Overall, since 2006, ACC teams have met the eight plus two standard in 47% of their seasons. Including Army and Navy improves that to 53%, including eight of the 14 teams this season. ACC teams have varied widely on non-conference scheduling. Looking at the past 10 years and the upcoming season, here’s how often each team has met eight plus two.It’s no surprise that the teams with a traditional SEC rival: Clemson (South Carolina), Louisville (Kentucky) and Georgia Tech (Georgia) play the most Power Fives. The recent additions to the conference — Syracuse and Pitt — rank highly because they played just seven conference games for several Big East seasons, allowing them five non-conference contests to play two Power Five teams. Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Pitt, Syracuse and Wake have all played three Power Five teams in non-conference at least once since 2006, although no ACC team has done it since 2014. If service academies are counted, Wake has twice played non-conference schedules with four Power Five teams included. The recent schedules seem to put to rest one argument against mandating an eight plus two—that there wouldn’t be enough games to go around.”The question will be is there going to be enough inventory out there for everybody to go eight and two,” Fedora asked. “There might not be.”Coaches are hesitant to admit it, but there’s another powerful argument against eight plus two: It makes it tougher to have a successful season.Games against weaker foes allow teams to rest starters and reduce physical wear and tear. It’s why teams frequently schedule a non-Power-Five game right before an important rivalry game. UNC plays The Citadel the weak before NC State this year. The Citadel is a popular tune up. In recent years, it has also played Clemson the week before the Tigers’ game against South Carolina and Florida State the week before the Noles played Clemson.There’s evidence that avoiding Power Fives helps a team throughout the season, essentially giving it an extra “half bye” week.Here’s a look at how non-conference scheduling has influenced ACC records over the last decadeDespite the fact that an eight plus two could cost teams an average of one win a year, the coaches appear to be moving grudgingly toward that model.Cutcliffe would rather have the conference devote its efforts to to making the schedule more stable from year to year.”I come from a conference that had traditional playing dates, and you could work around those to set your schedule,” he said. “I’d like to see some work done on that. How great would that be for TV inventory and fan inventory, to know that every third Saturday in October, this is who we’re playing and you can plan ahead and get more people traveling.””That seems to have a lot of benefit to me,” he added. “I think our fans would certainly like that. Not that I’m trying to run the conference.”