Decisions on ACC football schedule, Notre Dame loom

Conference leaders will meet Wednesday, and a rumored “10‑plus-1” format could be the route chosen by the league

If the ACC adopts a 10-plus-1 schedule for the 2020 football season, long‑standing cross‑conference rivalry games — like the one between Clemson and South Carolina — could still be played. (Sean Rayford / AP Photo)

Coach Mike Houston and his East Carolina football team are scheduled to officially begin their preseason camp on Friday. Three days later, Dave Doeren and his NC State Wolfpack plan to hit the practice field for the first time, and everyone else around the state is set to be up and running by the middle of next week.

The NCAA, meanwhile, issued a blanket waiver on Tuesday that allows all FBS schools to move their opening games up a week to Aug. 29 to give them more scheduling flexibility.

All signs, it appears, are that college football is still aiming for an on-time — or earlier — start to its 2020 season. But then, as Major League Baseball is finding out thanks to a COVID-19 outbreak within the clubhouse of the Miami Marlins, plans can change rapidly because of the ongoing pandemic.

Because of that uncertainty, the ACC has put off deciding how and when it will conduct its football season for as long as possible.

The time for patience, however, is close to running out.

Commissioner John Swofford is scheduled to meet with the conference’s 15 university presidents on Wednesday to discuss scheduling scenarios for the upcoming season.

Although several plans will be on the table, including a radical pod system featuring home-and-home games against conference-only competition, published reports over the past week indicate that the favored model is one that includes 10 league games in addition to a “plus one’ nonconference opponent. 

The current divisional structure would be abandoned under such a plan. Teams with the best two conference records would then advance to the ACC Championship Game.

Another positive aspect of the 10-plus-1 format is that it would allow ACC members Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Louisville to continue their end-of-season rivalries against their respective SEC opponents — South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky — provided the SEC also adopts a similar plan. NC State could also keep its scheduled high-profile home date against Mississippi State.

The ACC is one of three Power Five conferences yet to determine its 2020 scheduling plans. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already announced that they will play conference-only schedules.

Other than the trend line of the coronavirus, which is headed in the wrong direction in several states within the ACC’s geographic footprint, the biggest unknown surrounding any plan the conference decides on is what to do with Notre Dame.

The Irish are currently scheduled to play six ACC opponents this season. Swofford, who has long been a staunch supporter of the conference’s all-but-football arrangement with Notre Dame, has repeatedly said that he wants to include college football’s most visible independent in any scheduling scenario, if possible.

“With the relationship that we have with Notre Dame, and they’re already playing six games with our teams,” Swofford said in May, ‘if that was something was best for the ACC and best for Notre Dame, we would certainly have that conversation.”

Not everyone in the league is quite as enthusiastic, especially when it comes to the revenue the Irish receive from its lucrative television contract with NBC.

“If they’re willing to share their money, sure,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said earlier this month. “You don’t get something for nothing.”

Like it or not, though, there is a strong possibility that Notre Dame will not only be part of the ACC’s scheduling plan moving forward, but that it could potentially be eligible for the league championship and its spot in either the College Football Playoff or the Orange Bowl.

No matter what the Irish’s involvement, it’s a safe bet that those schedule cards teams had printed up last spring when the games were first announced will be headed for the shredder after Wednesday’s meeting.

At the very least, two extra conference games will have to be added for each team. But because of travel concerns and other logistics, it’s more likely that the entire league schedule will be tossed aside and redrawn once a final plan is adopted.

At this point only a month away from the season’s kickoff, anything and everything is still on the table.

The only real certainty given the unprecedented circumstances, no matter what format is ultimately chosen, is that things can and probably will keep changing right up until — or if — the first game is played.