The ACC has decided to officially go with an eight-game conference schedule, some three years after officially deciding to expand to 14 teams with Pitt and Syracuse. But those two decisions have created a problem: with the ACC also following the SEC's lead in maintaining annual cross-division rivalries like Florida State vs. Miami and NC State vs. North Carolina, games between teams in opposite divisions who aren't annual rivals will be few and far between.
How far between? Old Tobacco Road foes N.C. State and Duke are scheduled to play just once in the next 11 years. That's led some
"I think all the coaches felt like playing each other more, if there was a model for that, we'd be open to it," NC State coach Dave Doeren told ESPN. "When we don't have to play Notre Dame [outside of conference], playing Duke or Virginia or somebody from the Coastal that we don't play will be a discussion we want to have."
Per ESPN, the ACC's bylaws permit its teams to play each other outside of conference play, in games that would not affect the ACC standings. The practice is common in college baseball. And Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock admitted that without such games, ACC players likely wouldn't ever play many teams from the opposite division.
"The most difficult thing in this league, it seems like on this topic, is how often our young people can play teams from the other division," Babcock said. "And if you're not playing for 8-10 years, that's a little tough."
Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner also said this week that Big Ten teams scheduling such intra-conference nonconference games in the future was a "possibility." And though the idea seems to have little traction in the SEC, there's precedent in that league, too. (Alabama and Ole Miss played a pair of nonconference games in 1980 and 1981, for instance.)
The downside of such games from an FBS-wide, playoff-chasing perspective is that there's already far too few meaningful data points when it comes to comparing the strength-of-schedule of teams in different leagues; if, say, Babcock's Hokies play old Big East rival Syracuse as their major nonconference opponent and fill out the schedule with three paycheck opponents, they'll avoid playing any relevant game outside the ACC's borders.
But that perspective isn't nearly as important as the perspective of fans who deserve to see their teams play games that matter to them. Fans no doubt like the occasional high-profile out-of-region opponent, but there's no reason Duke and N.C. State can't play two lesser opponents (rather than three), a true nonconference marquee matchup, and each other. Look at the Blue Devils' 2014 schedule, and at NC State's; whatever the cost in either team's bowl chances, isn't replacing Duke's game vs. Tulane and NCSU's vs. Presbyterian with an in-state rivalry that was played every year from 1924 to 2003 the more intriguing option for fans, by far? And their respective major-conference dates with Kansas and USF would remain untouched.
There's other rivalries that could be renewed or maintained this way, too; Michigan and Minnesota could play for the Little Brown Jug, for instance, and Will Muschamp could get his wish for more meetings between Auburn and Florida. The bottom line is that while college football has become a national sport, it still has deep, deep regional roots -- and if teams want to return to those roots while providing their paying ticket-holders more bang for their buck, they should be encouraged, however awkward "ACC Team X vs. ACC Team Y in a non-ACC game" might seem.