Atlantic Coast Conference officials are headed to North Carolina this week for their fall meetings. Perhaps Dallas or one of two California spots — Stanford or Berkeley — would have been a more appropriate location as a new scheduling format is discussed to accommodate the league's expansion.
Travel to those locations would have given athletic directors and administrators a preview of what they will be asking of their teams and fans when SMU, Stanford and Cal join the league in 2024.
League officials are expected to discuss a new scheduling format for next year's debut of the 17-team football conference. North Carolina coach Mack Brown and others are concerned about possibly losing rivalry games — a concern that other leagues, like the Big Ten, are also grappling with among all the changes.
“With all this realignment going on, it’s kind of crazy,” Brown said Monday. “I’m a traditionalist and I love rivalries. I think championships and rivalries are the two things that this sport has been built on. And rivalries are about fans picking at each other and loving it.”
Another new format must be devised only one year after the ACC dropped its Coastal and Atlantic divisions. Moving away from divisions enabled each school to be assigned three annual scheduling partners for this season.
For Brown's Tar Heels, that meant the ability to protect annual rivalries with North Carolina State, Duke and Virginia, even though he bemoaned not playing Wake Forest and Virginia Tech this year.
Expansion meant this season's “3-5-5” format will last only one year, possibly leaving some rivalry games at risk in the deliberations on Thursday and Friday in Charlotte.
Even if state rivalries such as Miami-Florida State and Virginia-Virginia Tech are preserved, some painful decisions may be necessary to make room for the three new schools. For example, will Georgia Tech keep its annual game against Clemson, a short drive up I-85?
Dropping the divisions enabled N.C. State to make its first visit to No. 16 Duke since 2013 on Saturday, a 24-3 win for the Blue Devils. This week's meetings could help determine how long the Wolfpack will have to wait for a return visit.
“I think having a team 30 minutes from your campus that you never face is kind of strange,” said N.C. State coach Dave Doeren. “Getting a chance to play Duke in the rotation, whether it’s every year or at least every two years home and away, would be outstanding.”
Duke coach Mike Elko says there is value in "keeping the conferences a little bit more regional, making sure we keep in mind this part of football a little bit.”
“These games are a lot of fun for the kids, when they get to go and play the schools that are right down the road, and the kids that they’re going to bump into all spring when they’re out in Raleigh, and vice versa," Elko said. “Those things matter.”
Some ACC teams don't have conference rivals “down the road.” Will those teams be asked to accept more travel?
Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi will have his eye on how the North Carolina and Virginia schools fare in comparison to such other teams as Boston College, Syracuse and his Panthers, to say nothing of SMU.
“I think we’ve just got to make sure that there’s some people that aren’t traveling too much and some people are not traveling at all,” Narduzzi said. "That would be my biggest concern, not the rivals but who’s traveling, who’s taking buses every week.
“It can’t be like the Virginia, North Carolina teams playing the round-robin down there every week. They get to jump on their bus for 15 minutes and go play each other while someone else is flying 700 miles to get to their game and then gets back at 3 in the morning.”
Narduzzi says he believes the ACC will try to “keep some of those” rivalry games but added “I think everybody worries about disruption.”
The ACC expanded to remain relevant, joining the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten and Big 12 as the power conferences solidifying their futures while the Pac-12 was dismantled.
Adding three teams makes the ACC stronger. Even so, devising the new schedule will be a challenge.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Brown said. “I’ve tried to look at it. I think we’ll will play somebody one year, miss the next year, play the next year, it looks like is kind of what’s happening out there. And then your natural rivalry games you play every year and that seems to be what we’re doing.”
Georgia Tech athletic director J Batt said he looks forward to Cal, SMU and Stanford joining this week's meetings “to continue discussing some of the details that need to be nailed down.”