The Atlantic Coast Conference took another evolutionary step this week, hitting New York City to officially welcome Syracuse and Pitt to the family full time and Notre Dame in everything but football. Next summer, Louisville will slide fully into the defection vacancy left by Maryland.
With the grants in media rights agreement locking down all parties, that should be it for awhile – unless Notre Dame one day decides to take the plunge and bring its football program, leaving a place at the table for a Connecticut or Cincinnati to land. Since the Irish aren’t likely to do that in most of our lifetimes, let’s not worry about that.
For ACC lifers, this takes a lot of getting used to. Fans of the expansion justifiably contend that the new ACC is better than it ever was. Critics (see this hand raised) believe that while the conference is undeniably stronger (especially in basketball), that doesn’t automatically translate to “better” than it was before the collegiate world went realignment crazy.
Old-fashioned sentimentalist? Guilty as charged.
But there’s no use crying about the good ole days – when every football team in the conference played everyone else annually to determine a true champion and basketball employed a perfect home-and-home rotation. Regrettably, those days are gone forever.
The new ACC – built at the expense of the now defunct Big East – has the largest footprint in collegiate sports, reaching more television households than any other conference. The basketball supremacy it once held will be restored into a true behemoth with a range of superpowers that no other conference can touch.
But the new logistics leave a lot to be desired. It would be nice if the ACC would honor those old memories and rivalries by properly realigning itself.
The current Atlantic/Coastal football framework with the new teams plugged into a 14-team structure makes no traditional (or geographic) sense. As an ACC alumnus, it’s still impossible to even tell you which teams are in what division without a program. Pitt and Syracuse have been reflexively relegated to opposite sides. Next year, Virginia inherits Louisville as its permanent crossover opponent – naturally?
The ACC has steadfastly resisted reasonable realignment proposals that have come from every corner. Here’s yet another plan to chew on – the Originals vs. the Expanders.
By Original, we’d go back to pre-1992 when Florida State first joined in the slippery-slope effort to upgrade football.
The seven-team Original bracket would include Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, North Carolina, N.C. State, Virginia and Wake Forest. The Expansion seven would be Boston College, Florida State, Louisville, Miami, Pitt, Syracuse and Virginia Tech.
If the ACC brass would go for this, most traditional rivalries would be settled simply by division. The only essential crossover rivalry would be Virginia-Virginia Tech. However, some nice matchups could be established such as Clemson-Florida State or Georgia Tech-Miami.
If Notre Dame did ever decide to make the football leap, just lump the Irish and whomever becomes the 16th team into the Expansion bloc and flop Virginia Tech in with the Originals and there would never be another need for any permanent crossovers.
Critics might say that creates lop-sided power in the Expansion half with Florida State, Virginia Tech, Louisville and (to a diminishing extent) Miami together. But that thinking didn’t stop the new Big Ten from placing Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State all in its Eastern division.
The idea is to preserve long-standing rivalries that fans care deeply about and not force feed something new down everyone’s throats.
As great as the new basketball collective can be, it’s not without its own headaches.
The ACC has opted to go without divisions in its 15-team basketball plan. The odd number obviously makes it awkward, but the 18-game schedule means that some great traditional home-and-home rivalries will be lost.
There is a simple fix that could be easily installed – create three five-team micro-divisions that preserve some treasured alliances. Teams in each micro-division would play each other home-and-home annually and play all 10 teams from the other micro-divisions once per season.
My preferred micro-division plan would preserve the central Tobacco Road foursome, adding Notre Dame in with Duke, UNC, N.C. State and Wake Forest. The other divisions would be geographically aligned. The northern bloc would be Boston College, Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia and Virginia Tech. The southern tier would include Clemson, Georgia Tech, FSU, Louisville and Miami.
That would create fairly balanced strength in each micro-division. When postseason tournament time comes, just seed them 1-15 regardless of divisional association.
Should the conference eventually decide to add a 16th team, just break it down into four micro-divisions and it all works out. The old fears that the ACC was too influenced by Tobacco Road will melt away with such strong outposts, meaning there’s no reason to break up that Carolina core just for the sake of de-centralizing it.
The expansion genie is never going back in the bottle. Nor should it. But it would be nice if the conference leaders would do everything they can to retain some traditional comforts amidst all the forward progress.